LINGUIST List 19.3871

Tue Dec 16 2008

Review: Applied Linguistics: Magnan (2008)

Editor for this issue: Randall Eggert <>

        1.    Mariza (Maria) Georgalou, Mediating Discourse Online

Message 1: Mediating Discourse Online
Date: 16-Dec-2008
From: Mariza (Maria) Georgalou <>
Subject: Mediating Discourse Online
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EDITOR: Magnan, Sally SieloffTITLE: Mediating Discourse OnlineSERIES: AILA Applied Linguistics Series (AALS)PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing CompanyYEAR: 2008

Mariza Georgalou, MA Language Studies, unaffiliated scholar

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

The review pieces and studies introduced here are organized in five parts. PartI (chapters by Chun and Blyth) offers an overview of existing research withrespect 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 managementsystems. The next part (chapters by Kost, Van Deusen-Scholl, Reinhardt, andWorth) is concerned with the ''co-construction of interactions'' via chatpractices. Part IV (chapters by Jin and Thorne), ''Mediating social spaces'',highlights the role of instant messaging and online gaming in interculturallearning. The final part (chapter by Ortega and Zyzik) addresses the ''ethicalramifications of work in online environments'' raising a series of compellingquestions.

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

Carl S. Blyth's chapter, entitled ''Research perspectives on online discourse andforeign language learning'' starts by displaying the most commonly used metaphorsin conceptualizing computer-mediated language learning. His literature reviewreveals nine metaphors which have guided CMC research and L2 pedagogy: theconduit, the berry-bush, the magister, the pedagogue, the environment/world, thetool, the community, learner-as-machine and learner-as-apprentice metaphor. Inthe second part of the chapter, Blyth analyzes the major approaches to CMCresearch, that is technological, psycholinguistic, socio-cultural andecological, in terms of three criteria: theoretical, methodological andlinguistic. He specifically endorses the holistic nature of the ecologicalapproach viewing the Internet as a network of networks – an ecology – andlearners as living organisms engaged in a complex network of relationships withthe other elements in the environment. Blyth, however, recognizes that all fourapproaches constitute tokens of a growing interest in the social context of L2learning.

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

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

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

Claudia R. Kost's chapter, ''Use of communication strategies in a synchronous CMCenvironment'', is concerned with the communication strategies that beginninglearners of German deploy when doing online role plays, their negotiation ofmeaning and the issue of whether some of the topics discussed on the chat elicitmore strategies than others. The research was conducted at the University ofArizona involving mostly NSs of English whereas the tasks consisted of a guidedInternet-based info search, followed by role play. In line with Dörnyei andScott's (1997) taxonomy, Kost found that the majority of students preferreddirect and interactional strategies, and more precisely, self-repair, asking forclarification and code switching (not marked by elementary students; marked byproficient students). It follows from her data analysis that synchronous onlinediscussion is beneficial for learners' language production, their ability totrace and correct mistakes, and their use of various communication strategies.

Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, in her chapter ''Online discourse strategies: Alongitudinal study of computer-mediated foreign language learning'', attempts toidentify the discourse strategies that students exploit in computer-mediatedinteractions 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 voiceinteractions of beginning and advanced learners of German. Adopting a discourseanalytical approach, she documents how CMC learner data can be applied to anincreasingly individualized pedagogy that takes into account students' strengthsand weaknesses, recognizes different learning styles, and aims at certaincommunicative needs.

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

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

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

In his chapter, ''Transcultural communication in open Internet environments andmassively multiplayer online games'', Steven L. Thorne maintains that engagementin freely chosen web applications, such as online gaming, offers unprecedentedopportunities for language socialization and immersion in cultural andtask-based settings. Opting for ''World of Warcraft'' (WoW), a massivelymultiplayer online game, the author describes one instance of interculturalcommunication between two WoW gamers, one from North America and the other fromUkraine. Through his analysis of the two gamers' dialogues, it becomes evidentthat language learning in such virtual spaces is not an end in itself. On thecontrary, language functions as a resource for creating and maintaining socialrelationships germane to participants' lives.

The final contribution, Lourdes Ortega and Eve Zyzik's ''Online interactions andL2 learning: Some ethical challenges for L2 researchers'', understands the term''ethical'' as the value that guides research programs and as the appropriateconduct of research involving human subjects. The authors advise researchers tobe open-minded when examining online participation and productivity, and whendesigning their studies. They also warn them about the idyllic view thattelecollaborative studies usually promote. As they argue, technology isunequally distributed and, concomitantly, the images of learners privileged inL2 research on CMC interactions have to be studied critically. It is imperativefor L2 researchers to mention in their studies how inform consent was acquiredand how participants' rights were considered. A study can be regarded as ethicalwhen it ensures anonymity in virtual interactions; it guarantees reliability andvalidity; and gives the participant some agency over the collected data. Theauthors do not provide a single answer to researchers' ethical dilemmas. Injuxtaposition, they suggest scrutiny and clarity in carrying out research incyberspace.

EVALUATIONThis is a volume worthy of a thorough read by anyone interested in discourseanalysis, computer-assisted instruction, CMC and data processing, andintercultural communication. Yet, it requires having some prior knowledge ofresearch in the networked topology of the mediated world along with foreignlanguage learning approaches.

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

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

Chun and Blyth do a fine job outlining vital theoretical points in tabularformat. Readers can find succinct and pleasant to the eye figures on modes ofCMC, 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 Jinbring to the fore interesting details of their survey, class syllabi,participants' information, rating scales, description of role plays, chattranscripts and translations, and questionnaires, all invaluable for thoseaiming to explore in depth the ecology of online L2 communication.

Wanner's study questions the volume's unification and interconnection ofchapters. 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 electronicdiscourse, which absolutely justifies the general title of the volume, it wouldhave been preferable to add a separate section on studies that are notpedagogically driven. Alternatively, chapters could have been divided in termsof research questions and not CMC mode. In this vein, Jin's article could wellfit after McBride and Wilder-Bassett's in view of the fact that both addressintercultural learning. Still, this fact does not detract from Wanner'sthought-provoking work.

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

The point of departure for all articles, without exception, in this volume is USundergraduate and graduate students learning a foreign language. It would benice to see more ''answers'' on adolescents' use of CMC in L2 learning. Whathappens, 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-globallanguages 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 excellentexample'' iswritten 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 educationis still occurs''.

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

REFERENCESBelz, J. (2006) ''At the intersection of telecollaboration, learner corpusanalysis, and L2 pragmatics: Considerations for language program direction''. InJ. Belz and S. Thorne (eds.) _Internet-mediated intercultural foreign languageeducation_. 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 CommunicativeCompetence_. Bristol, PA: Multicultural Matters Ltd.

Dörnyei, Z. and Scott, M. L. (1997) ''Communication strategies in a secondlanguage: 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 ofLanguage. 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 ateenager writing on the Internet''. _TESOL Quarterly_ 34(3): 457-482.

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

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

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