LINGUIST List 5.71

Thu 20 Jan 1994

Disc: Lingua franca on the Internet

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  1. Celso Alvarez-Caccamo, A lingua franca on the Internet

Message 1: A lingua franca on the Internet

Date: Wed, 12 Jan 1994 4:32:47 A lingua franca on the Internet
From: Celso Alvarez-Caccamo <>
Subject: A lingua franca on the Internet

I've got three comments, if I may, to Harmut Haberland's well-organized
message on the lingua franca on the Internet. In a previous
message, I suggested that one issue to look at would be the role
of linguistic behavior in the Internet on other people's behavior
(Haberland summarizes this in his point 3). Clearly, the issue
goes beyond the effect of Internet language on computer-literate
elites -- the second part is, how and to what extent do these
elites shape everybody's everyday's writing practices? We
shouldn't overestimate this role until reality and history prove
us otherwise.

Haberland also introduces the distinction between "identification"
and "communication" intentions in linguistic behavior.
Pragmatically, both are interrelated, and we would pay little
service to the analysis of communication by reducing this
distinction to a deterministic dichotomy -- one between "socially
determined choices." Loosely paraphrasing Haberland,
participant constellations are also shaped
through a current speaker's language practices, so that the use of
a minor (or 'minorized') language in a given exchange may work as a
participant-selection device. But, isnt't this self- and
other-identification a part of the (ideological) content to be
communicated? "Ideological hailing," perhaps? I speak thus,
therefore I appear to be.

Thirdly, I wonder if continuing to look at linguistic behavior in
terms of "languages" (English, linguae francae, etc.) leads us as
far as we could go. Symbolically and socially, what links the
transnational community of computer-literate elites together is
not the use of a given language per se, but the mastery of the
authorized technological code(s) and the discursive protocols of
distinction. These resources are, as others, unequally
distributed and differentially available. Internally, though, we
need an equilibrium: the belief that we "speak the same language".
But, in practice, Internet, as any other forum, is also sustained
on the game of persuasion and visibility. Within its linear
territory, discussants discursively manage locally-bound hegemonic
or subaltern positions. Which one "language" is used in this
identity+communication story may be marginal, even epiphenomenal.
I quite honestly don't feel I'm now writing in "English," not even
in "bad English": I'm writing in "Computer." In Tzotzil, as John
Haviland mentions (if I'm not misquoting, in "Con Buenos Chiles",
Text, 1986), they refer to the fact of being literate as "to know
paper." In LINGUIST we simply "know computer". Isn't that the
lingua franca we use?

Celso Alvarez-Caccamo
Depto. de Linguistica Geral e Teoria da Literatura
Universidade da Corunha, Galiza (Spain)
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