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Review of  Mediating Discourse Online

Reviewer: Mariza Georgalou
Book Title: Mediating Discourse Online
Book Author: Sally Sieloff Magnan
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Book Announcement: 19.3871

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EDITOR: Magnan, Sally Sieloff
TITLE: Mediating Discourse Online
SERIES: AILA Applied Linguistics Series (AALS)
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2008

Mariza Georgalou, MA Language Studies, unaffiliated scholar

This is an edited volume that brings together a collection of twelve papers,
most of which were previously presented at the triennial meeting of the
International Association of Applied Linguistics held in Madison, Wisconsin in
July 2005. As the editor, Sally Sieloff Magnan, elucidates in her concise
introduction (p. 3), the focal point of this volume is to propose an ecological
heuristic for exploring how discourse can be collaboratively construed and how
fresh ways of thinking and interacting can ensue from computer-mediated exchange.

The review pieces and studies introduced here are organized in five parts. Part
I (chapters by Chun and Blyth) offers an overview of existing research with
respect to learner interaction in instructed, digital environments. Part II
(chapters by Johnson, McBride and Wilder-Bassett, and Wanner) looks at ways of
''creating collaboration'' by dint of online bulletin boards and course management
systems. The next part (chapters by Kost, Van Deusen-Scholl, Reinhardt, and
Worth) is concerned with the ''co-construction of interactions'' via chat
practices. Part IV (chapters by Jin and Thorne), ''Mediating social spaces'',
highlights the role of instant messaging and online gaming in intercultural
learning. The final part (chapter by Ortega and Zyzik) addresses the ''ethical
ramifications of work in online environments'' raising a series of compelling

In her chapter, ''Computer-mediated discourse in instructed environments'',
Dorothy M. Chun explains why computer-mediated communication (CMC) has become an
integral part of second language acquisition (SLA). She unfolds the theoretical
backcloth to the discussion in tandem with interactionist and socio-cultural
perspectives, placing emphasis on linguistic competence, oral and written
proficiency, negotiation of meaning, pragmatic and intercultural competence.
Chun reports that most research has shown positive effects of CMC in terms of
quality and quantity of second language (L2) production. Nevertheless, there are
still some challenges which can hinder successful L2 learning, namely the lack
of an appropriate theoretical framework for using CMC in L2 learning; the
assumption that learners notice their errors and that their native speaker (NS)
partners correct them; the transfer of written online discourse to spoken
face-to-face (FTF) discourse; the existence of different norms, conventions and
genres; the extralinguistic, socio-cultural factors; and learners' individual
differences. The paper concludes that the ideal for intercultural L2 education
would be to blend together technology-mediated and traditional forms of instruction.

Carl S. Blyth's chapter, entitled ''Research perspectives on online discourse and
foreign language learning'' starts by displaying the most commonly used metaphors
in conceptualizing computer-mediated language learning. His literature review
reveals nine metaphors which have guided CMC research and L2 pedagogy: the
conduit, the berry-bush, the magister, the pedagogue, the environment/world, the
tool, the community, learner-as-machine and learner-as-apprentice metaphor. In
the second part of the chapter, Blyth analyzes the major approaches to CMC
research, that is technological, psycholinguistic, socio-cultural and
ecological, in terms of three criteria: theoretical, methodological and
linguistic. He specifically endorses the holistic nature of the ecological
approach viewing the Internet as a network of networks – an ecology – and
learners as living organisms engaged in a complex network of relationships with
the other elements in the environment. Blyth, however, recognizes that all four
approaches constitute tokens of a growing interest in the social context of L2

The next contribution, Neil H. Johnson's ''Postcards from the (turbulent) edge
(of chaos): Complexity theory and computer-mediated communication'', deals with
the meaning-making interactions of graduate students (both native [NSs] and
non-native speakers [NNSs] of English at the University of Arizona) within
WebCT®, an asynchronous computer-mediated environment. Drawing from
dynamic/complexity theory (Larsen-Freeman 2002), the author seeks to address how
learners' interaction patterns are reshaped as they come together and
collaborate in WebCT®. His findings show that CMC not only enables learners to
carry out meaningful and effective learning activities, but it also assists the
instructor in functioning as an ''equalizer'' of participation. Johnson concedes
the limitations of his project, since graduate students do not constitute a
typical student population, and underscores that CMC technology should be
employed with due care and consideration for L2 pedagogical practice.

In ''Interpersonal and intercultural understanding in a blended second culture
classroom'', Kara McBride and Mary E. Wilder-Bassett pore over the development of
intercultural understanding among undergraduate students of a German university
course (taught in English) in terms of a blended format of CMC and FTF
modalities. Approaching language and culture pedagogy from a critical social
constructivist point of view, they gathered both quantitative (survey) and
qualitative data (interviews, written assignments, discussions and postings on
''Desire 2 Learn'', the course management software). As the authors verify, the
online environment, on the one hand, promoted criticality, sociality,
co-construction, self- and other-awareness, and on the other, it enforced the
blended nature of the course by minimizing the chances of losing face and by
increasing students' participation.

Anja Wanner's ''Creating comfort zones of orality in online discussion forums''
gives a meticulous account of the discourse organization in discussion forums
and chatrooms. The two communicative settings are compared and contrasted on the
basis of synchronicity and simultaneousness, dialogicity, transitoriness and
publicness, topic-orientedness, oral and written language. Her study is centered
on ''Zeit-Debatte'' forum, the electronic edition of the German weekly ''Die Zeit''
(''The Time''), and especially on ''Lounge'', the only section constructed around
the interests of the forum participants. Employing discourse analytical tools,
Wanner demonstrates that ''Lounge'' is characterized by a ''comfort zone of
orality'' (par excellence attributed to chats) which serves a community-creating
and community-stabilizing function leaving a traceable discourse history.

Claudia R. Kost's chapter, ''Use of communication strategies in a synchronous CMC
environment'', is concerned with the communication strategies that beginning
learners of German deploy when doing online role plays, their negotiation of
meaning and the issue of whether some of the topics discussed on the chat elicit
more strategies than others. The research was conducted at the University of
Arizona involving mostly NSs of English whereas the tasks consisted of a guided
Internet-based info search, followed by role play. In line with Dörnyei and
Scott's (1997) taxonomy, Kost found that the majority of students preferred
direct and interactional strategies, and more precisely, self-repair, asking for
clarification and code switching (not marked by elementary students; marked by
proficient students). It follows from her data analysis that synchronous online
discussion is beneficial for learners' language production, their ability to
trace and correct mistakes, and their use of various communication strategies.

Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, in her chapter ''Online discourse strategies: A
longitudinal study of computer-mediated foreign language learning'', attempts to
identify the discourse strategies that students exploit in computer-mediated
interactions and the role of these strategies to L2 learning. For that purpose,
she collected a large corpus of CMC data which included online text and voice
interactions of beginning and advanced learners of German. Adopting a discourse
analytical approach, she documents how CMC learner data can be applied to an
increasingly individualized pedagogy that takes into account students' strengths
and weaknesses, recognizes different learning styles, and aims at certain
communicative needs.

''Negotiating meaningfulness: An enhanced perspective of interaction in
computer-mediated foreign language learning environments'', by Jonathon
Reinhardt, amalgamates heuristics from both interactionist and socio-cognitive
approaches with a view to offering insight into the relationship between
research epistemology and pedagogy. The author reanalyzes chat data from Belz's
(2006) corpus of German and English telecollaborative data focusing on two dyads
of language learners (one American and one German). At the core of his
discussion lies the extension and/or alteration of Varonis and Gass's (1985)
negotiation for meaning model in digital environments. In accordance with his
findings, the interactionist framework considers self-correction as a form of
negotiation for meaning whereas the socio-cognitive framework gives prominence
to the negotiation of positive and negative face (Brown and Levinson 1987).

In the chapter, ''Foreign language resistance: Discourse analysis of online
classroom peer interaction'', Robin Worth analyzes interaction in an online
chatroom (the paper is a reworking of a subset of data from a broader critical
ethnographic microanalysis) placing weight upon resistance against some of the
discourses of power in an Italian classroom at a research institution in the US.
Influenced by critical social theories, she contends that power and resistance
are ubiquitous and situational means for constructing identity. Her analysis
demonstrates that opposition to language and culture imperialism was expressed
by virtue of code switching, the counter-discourse of ''playing dumb'', and
resistance to instructor's discourse ''Italy is the best'' and ''When you go to
Italy''. If such resistance is taken into consideration, language learning and
teaching experience will become more fruitful, Worth claims.

Li Jin's chapter, ''Using instant messaging interaction (IMI) in intercultural
learning'', investigates the impact as well as the characteristics of instant
messaging (IM) in Chinese as a foreign language students' intercultural
learning. Her study involved seven American university-level students and seven
NSs of Chinese who communicated via IM. The tasks were designed in concurrence
with Byram's (1997) and Kaikkonen's (1997) models whilst data collection relied
on ethnographic tools. Jin distinguished four features of IM-mediated
intercultural learning: use of meaningful tasks, formation of hyperpersonal
relationships, negotiation of language and culture, and reciprocal learning.
What is more, learners held mostly positive attitudes toward the use of IM in
their intercultural learning.

In his chapter, ''Transcultural communication in open Internet environments and
massively multiplayer online games'', Steven L. Thorne maintains that engagement
in freely chosen web applications, such as online gaming, offers unprecedented
opportunities for language socialization and immersion in cultural and
task-based settings. Opting for ''World of Warcraft'' (WoW), a massively
multiplayer online game, the author describes one instance of intercultural
communication between two WoW gamers, one from North America and the other from
Ukraine. Through his analysis of the two gamers' dialogues, it becomes evident
that language learning in such virtual spaces is not an end in itself. On the
contrary, language functions as a resource for creating and maintaining social
relationships germane to participants' lives.

The final contribution, Lourdes Ortega and Eve Zyzik's ''Online interactions and
L2 learning: Some ethical challenges for L2 researchers'', understands the term
''ethical'' as the value that guides research programs and as the appropriate
conduct of research involving human subjects. The authors advise researchers to
be open-minded when examining online participation and productivity, and when
designing their studies. They also warn them about the idyllic view that
telecollaborative studies usually promote. As they argue, technology is
unequally distributed and, concomitantly, the images of learners privileged in
L2 research on CMC interactions have to be studied critically. It is imperative
for L2 researchers to mention in their studies how inform consent was acquired
and how participants' rights were considered. A study can be regarded as ethical
when it ensures anonymity in virtual interactions; it guarantees reliability and
validity; and gives the participant some agency over the collected data. The
authors do not provide a single answer to researchers' ethical dilemmas. In
juxtaposition, they suggest scrutiny and clarity in carrying out research in

This is a volume worthy of a thorough read by anyone interested in discourse
analysis, computer-assisted instruction, CMC and data processing, and
intercultural communication. Yet, it requires having some prior knowledge of
research in the networked topology of the mediated world along with foreign
language learning approaches.

By and large, the contributions are well-balanced, putting forward a plethora of
examples in multifarious digital spaces, through different languages and with
fluctuating levels of L2 proficiency. The authors provide helpful and
comprehensive summaries of existing literature while their bibliographical
references constitute a wonderful, up to date, rich resource.

A praiseworthy feature of the book is the chapter on ethical challenges by
Ortega and Zyzik because, without sounding dogmatic, they offer a solid base for
research conducted from scratch cautioning for potential thorny issues.

Chun and Blyth do a fine job outlining vital theoretical points in tabular
format. Readers can find succinct and pleasant to the eye figures on modes of
CMC, types of CMC interlocutors, studies on the use of CMC for SLA,
intercultural exchanges and CMC, and taxonomy of CMC research.

In their appendices, McBride and Wilder-Bassett, Kost, Reinhardt, Worth, and Jin
bring to the fore interesting details of their survey, class syllabi,
participants' information, rating scales, description of role plays, chat
transcripts and translations, and questionnaires, all invaluable for those
aiming to explore in depth the ecology of online L2 communication.

Wanner's study questions the volume's unification and interconnection of
chapters. It is the only one that does not pertain to language instruction.
Although Magnan sees it as a contribution to a mix of ecologies for electronic
discourse, which absolutely justifies the general title of the volume, it would
have been preferable to add a separate section on studies that are not
pedagogically driven. Alternatively, chapters could have been divided in terms
of research questions and not CMC mode. In this vein, Jin's article could well
fit after McBride and Wilder-Bassett's in view of the fact that both address
intercultural learning. Still, this fact does not detract from Wanner's
thought-provoking work.

For those mainly interested in systematic discourse analysis, Van Deusen-Scholl
embroiders her account with carefully-chosen and well-analyzed extracts while
Worth features an intriguing turn-by-turn analysis of chatspeak.
Notwithstanding, the latter – strangely – does not acknowledge any seminal work
on discourses of power, suppression and marginalization within the realm of
critical discourse analysis (for example, Fairclough 1989, 1995).

The point of departure for all articles, without exception, in this volume is US
undergraduate and graduate students learning a foreign language. It would be
nice to see more ''answers'' on adolescents' use of CMC in L2 learning. What
happens, for example, at high schools? Is CMC used for L2 instruction and how?
What is the case in other countries? What are the dynamics of non-global
languages when taught by means of web advancements?

The volume displays some bugs related to typos: on page 60, figure 2 is entitled
''negotiation proces'' in lieu of ''process''; on page 62, ''a excellent
example'' is
written in place of ''an excellent example''; on page 293, the word
''hyperpersonal'' is sometimes written as one word, at other times as two words;
on page 317, the copula verb is redundant in the phrase ''MOO use in L2 education
is still occurs''.

All in all, by combining an impressive range of relevant literature with
competent data analysis, ''Mediating Discourse Online'' succeeds marvelously in
contributing to a deeper understanding of the language-culture-technology
triptych. What is more, and as Thorne puts it forcefully, it provides fertile
soil for further research, especially on learning in non-institutionalized
digital settings, such as online games. It is highly recommended to all those
who wish to abide by the urgent need to keep up with ''an increasingly networked,
electronic, and globalized age'' (Lam 2000: 458) and broaden their scholarly
knowledge about online discourse and its mechanisms.

Belz, J. (2006) ''At the intersection of telecollaboration, learner corpus
analysis, and L2 pragmatics: Considerations for language program direction''. In
J. Belz and S. Thorne (eds.) _Internet-mediated intercultural foreign language
education_. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle. 207-246.

Brown, P. and Levinson, S. (1987) _Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use_.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Byram, M. (1997) _Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative
Competence_. Bristol, PA: Multicultural Matters Ltd.

Dörnyei, Z. and Scott, M. L. (1997) ''Communication strategies in a second
language: definitions and taxonomies''. _Language Learning_ 47(1): 173-210.

Fairclough, N. (1989) _Language and Power_. London: Longman.

Fairclough, N. (1995) _Critical Discourse Analysis_. The Critical Study of
Language. London: Longman.

Kaikkonen, P. (1997) ''Learning a culture and a foreign language at school:
aspects of intercultural learning''. hLanguage Learning Journal_ 15: 47-51.

Lam, W.S.E. (2000) ''L2 literacy and the design of the self: a case study of a
teenager writing on the Internet''. _TESOL Quarterly_ 34(3): 457-482.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2002) ''Language acquisition and language use from a
chaos/complexity theory perspective''. In C. Kramsch (ed.) _Language Acquisition
and Language Socialization_. London: Continuum. 31-46.

Varonis, E. and Gass, S. (1985) ''Non-native/non-native conversations: a model
for negotiation of meaning''. _Applied Linguistics_ 6(1): 71-90.

Mariza Georgalou is a graduate of the Faculty of English Studies, Department of
Language and Linguistics, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
(2005). She holds an MA (with Honours) in Language Studies from Lancaster
University, UK (2006). She is currently being prepared for a PhD in CMC. Her
areas of interest include critical discourse analysis, [new] media discourse,
multimodal communication and virtual ethnography. She works as a copy editor at
the technology magazines PC Magazine, PlayStation and T3 (Greek editions).