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Review of  The Multilingual Internet


Reviewer: Liwei Gao
Book Title: The Multilingual Internet
Book Author: Brenda Danet Susan C. Herring
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
English
French
Greek, Modern
Japanese
Portuguese
Spanish
Thai
Book Announcement: 19.861

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Review:
EDITORS: Danet, Brenda; Herring, Susan
TITLE: The Multilingual Internet
SUBTITLE: Language, Culture, and Communication Online
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2007

Liwei Gao, Defense Language Institute, Monterey, USA

SUMMARY
This volume consists of eighteen articles on different aspects of language,
culture, and the internet, some of which have been published earlier in a
special issue of the _Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication_ in 2003. These
collections revolve around five central topics: 1) writing systems and the
internet, 2) linguistic and discourse features of online communication, 3)
gender and culture, 4) language choice and code-switching, and 5) language
diversity.

Chapter One is Introduction. In this chapter, Danet and Herring first provide a
theoretical framework for research on the intricate interactions among language,
culture, and communication. Then they introduce the contents covered in the book.

Part I, Chapters Two through Six, deals with writing systems. In Chapter Two, ''A
Funky Language for Teenzz to Use: Representing Gulf Arabic in Instant
Messaging'', David Palfreyman and Muhamed Khalil examine how female college
students in the United Arab Emirates use the ''ASCII-ized Arabic'' (Roman)
alphabet to write vernacular Arabic online. Their analysis identifies influences
not only of typographic character sets, but also of different varieties of
spoken Arabic, Arabic script, English orthography and other pre-computer
mediated communication Romanized forms of Arabic.

In Chapter Three, ''The Multilingual and Multiorthographic Taiwan-Based
Internet'', Hsi-Yao Su investigates the creative use of writing systems in
college-affiliated electronic Bulletin Board Systems, including the rendering in
Chinese characters of the sounds of English, Taiwanese, and Taiwanese-accented
Mandarin, and the use of a transliteration alphabet used in primary schools.

In Chapter Four, ''Neography'', Jacques Anis explores unconventional spelling in
short text messages by French mobile phone users, where Anis presents a
constraint-based model of mobile-mediated written communication and a typology
of neographic transformations.

In Chapter Five, ''It's All Greeklish to Me!'', Theodora Tseliga looks at
Roman-alphabeted Greek in asynchronous internet communication from both
linguistic and sociocultural perspectives and finds out that Greeklish messages
are more conducive to the initiation of certain discourse strategies.

In Chapter Six, ''Greeklish and Greekness: Trends and Discourses of
'Glocalness''', Dimitris Koutsogiannis and Bessie Mitsikopoulou focus their study
on discourse about Greeklish in the Greek press. Adopting a critical discourse
analysis approach, they identify three different types of reactions: a
retrospective trend that views Greeklish as a threat to the Greek language and
the Greek cultural heritage, a prospective trend that considers Greeklish as a
transitory phenomenon, and a resistive trend that highlights the negative
effects of globalization.

Part II, Chapters Seven through Nine, investigates linguistic and discourse
features of online communication. In Chapter Seven, ''Linguistic Innovations and
Interactional Features of Japanese BBS Communication'', Yukiko Nishimura not only
identifies features familiar to readers in English-based computer mediated
communication (CMC) but also those unique to Japanese, such as innovative
punctuation and the use of final particles as in spoken Japanese conversation.

In Chapter 8, ''Linguistic Features of Email and ICQ Instant Messaging in Hong
Kong'', Carmen Lee provides a comprehensive overview of linguistic features in
CMC in the Hong Kong context, such as the mixture of Cantonese and English and
morpheme-by-morpheme literal translations. Lee demonstrates that these features
differ from other Chinese-speaking communities.

In Chapter 9, ''Enhancing the Status of Catalan versus Spanish in Online Academic
Forums: Obstacles to Machine Translation'', Salvador Climent, Joaquim Moré,
Antoni Oliver, Míriam Salvatierra, Imma Sànchez, and Mariona Taulé explore a
corpus of email messages in Catalan and Spanish and discover that in addition to
errors caused by interference between the two closely-related languages,
characteristics of the email register also challenge machine translation.

Part III, Chapters Ten through Twelve, discusses the issue of gender and
culture. In Chapter Ten, ''Gender and Turn Allocation in a Thai Chat Room'',
Siriporn Panyametheekul and Susan Herring conclude that females possess
apparently more power in the Thai chat room, as seen from turn allocation
patterns, which is contrary to previous findings on gender in CMC. More
generally, their study indicates that gender interacts with culture in more
complex ways in CMC.

In Chapter Eleven, ''Breaking Conversational Norms on a Portuguese Users'
Network: Men as Adjudicators of Politeness?'', Sandi Michele de Oliveira analyzes
politeness violations on a netizens' discussion list of a university in
Portugal. The study indicates that while expected patterns of gender behavior
exist in Portuguese CMC, evidence is also there that males are more prone to
chastise transgressions.

In Chapter 12, ''Kaomoji and Expressivity in a Japanese Housewives' Chat Room'',
Hirofumi Katsuno and Christine Yano pose such questions as what role Kaomoji
('Japanese-style emoticons') plays in CMC among Japanese housewives and
concludes that, among other things, Kaomoji form a boundary of inclusion and
exclusion.

Part IV, Chapters Thirteen through Sixteen, revolves around language choice and
code switching. In Chapter Thirteen, ''Language Choice Online: Globalization and
Identity in Egypt'', Mark Warschauer, Ghada Said, and Ayman Zohry inquire under
what circumstances and for what reason the group of Egyptian Internet users
choose English versus Arabic. Their analysis suggests that English as a global
language possesses an instrumental function, whereas Arabic as a local language
is reserved for more intimate and personal use. This further confirms the claim
that language is medium of both global networks and local identities.

In Chapter Fourteen, ''Language Choice on a Swiss Mailing List'', Mercedes Durham
assesses how the general language situation in Switzerland - which is divided
into areas where French, German, Italian, and to a much lesser extent, Romansh,
predominate - affects and is affected by language choice in CMC. Durham
considers the relative importance of such factors as the native language of
participants in determining language choice.

In Chapter Fifteen, ''Language Choice and Code-Switching in German-Based
Diasporic Web Forums'', Jannis Androutsopoulos points out that it is helpful to
combine language choice with a code switching analysis in the study of
multilingual practices in online environment.

In Chapter sixteen, ''Anyone Speak Swedish?'', Ann-Sofie Axelsson, Åsa Abelin, and
Ralph Schroeder explore how different national languages interact in the virtual
space. Their research results show a tolerance for language shifting and a quite
positive environment for most language encounters.

Part V, the last part, comprises Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen. This part
discusses the issue of linguistic diversity. In Chapter Seventeen, ''The European
Union in Cyberspace: Democratic Participation via Online Multilingual Discussion
Boards'', Ruth Wodak and Scott Wright observe that the discussions were not
dominated by a small number of countries and that English is the primary
language for discussion. In Chapter Eighteen, ''How Much Multilingualism?
Language Diversity on the Internet'', John Paolillo looks into global linguistic
diversity and develops a measure to compare countries and regions. The chapter
concludes with a discussion of the sociolinguistic forces for Internet
multilingualism and a call for promotion of linguistic diversity in CMC.

EVALUATION
The majority of global Internet users are non-English speakers (Internet World
Stats 2007). Despite this reality, up until today most research on the Internet
and CMC focuses exclusively on situations where English is the medium of
communication. This volume is the first major work that investigates the
interactions among language, culture, and CMC in languages other than a native
variety of English. Languages represented in this volume feature a very broad
scope, specifically, Arabic, Catalan, three varieties of Chinese (Cantonese,
Taiwanese, and Mandarin), non-native varieties of English, French, German,
Greek, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai, among others.
This amazingly large range of languages will help to make this book a monumental
publication. The inclusion of research on CMC in the Chinese and the Japanese
language is particularly timely and welcome. Even though Chinese and Japanese
are among those languages used by most netizens in CMC, studies of online
communication in these two languages are disproportionately rare (cf. Gao 2007;
Tsujimura 2007; Yu, Xiong, Liu, Sun, and Zhang 2001). To some extent, this
volume complements another important and influential work of Herring (1996),
most articles in which revolve around the English language or the U.S. context.

Even more significantly, unlike many book-length publications on the Internet
and CMC that are almost exclusively descriptive or even anecdotal in nature, the
collections in this volume not only represent empirical studies but also
critical analyses and quantitative surveys, all of which constitute serious
academic research conducted within a variety of solid theoretical frameworks,
such as language and culture, language and identity, language and gender, and
language and social change. This also demonstrates another remarkable strength
of this volume, i.e., it is desirably multidisciplinary in that it spans a large
array of fields, including sociolinguistics, sociology, communication,
information sciences, media studies, and anthropology, among others.
Cyberculture is so complex a domain that any attempt to address it meaningfully
and successfully requires knowledge and expertise in more than one field.

China and India are the two countries with the largest population in the world,
where the use of the internet is also growing very fast, with China alone having
approximately one hundred and sixty-two million netizens by June 30, 2007
(http://tech.sina.com.cn/i/ 2007-07-18/14011623385.shtml). If studies conducted
in the mainland Chinese and the Indian context were incorporated in this volume,
it would be more desirably well-rounded. In the same vein, research on CMC both
in the Russian language and in Russia is missing from this volume. Despite these
trivial inadequacies, this book constitutes a landmark contribution to
investigations into varied facets of language, culture, and online
communication. Just as Baron comments, it will prove to be a classic work among
the internet literature. The volume will provide an invaluable reference for
students as well as researchers in an array of fields.

REFERENCES
Gao, Liwei. (2007). _Chinese Internet language: A study of identity
constructions_. Munich: Lincom GmbH.

Herring, Susan. (Ed.). (1996). _Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic,
Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives_. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Internet world stats: usage and population statistics. URL:
<http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm>. Accessed December 14, 2007.

Tsujimura, Natsuko. (2007). Language change in progress: Evidence from
computer-mediated communication. Paper presented at the 33rd annual meeting of
the Berkeley Linguistic Society.

Yu, Genyuan, Zhengyu Xiong, Haiyan Liu, Shuxue Sun, and Li Zhang. (2001).
_Wangluo Yuyan Gaishuo ('Survey of the Internet language')_. Beijing: China
Economy Publishing House.

Zhongguo neidi wangmin da 1.62 yi ('The number of Chinese netizens reaches 162
million'). URL: <http://tech.sina.com.cn/i/2007-07-18/14011623385.shtml>.
Accessed December 13, 2007.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Liwei Gao is currently Assistant Professor of Chinese at the Defense Language
Institute in Monterey, California. His research interests are primarily in
sociolinguistics, Chinese linguistics, and applied linguistics.
 

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