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Review of  Social Interaction in Second Language Chat Rooms


Reviewer: José Ignacio Aguilar Río
Book Title: Social Interaction in Second Language Chat Rooms
Book Author: Christopher Joseph Jenks
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.2331

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Robert Arthur Cote

SUMMARY

Christopher J. Jenks' “Social Interaction in Second Language Chat Rooms” is a 10 chapter monograph that “examines language chat rooms from a social-interaction perspective” (Jenks, 2014: back cover). Jenks' monograph is divided into three main parts: survey, analysis, and application each containing three chapters. There is a complete and a relatively up-to-date references section at the end as well as a useful index.

Chapter 1 is an introduction, where the author states the scope of the present work, that is ‘computer mediated communication’ (henceforth CMC). This is a general construct, which Jenks later narrows down to ‘computer mediated spoken interaction’ (henceforth CMSI). The author takes on a “social interaction perspective” approach (ibid.: 1).

The following section is entitled “Survey” and is composed of chapters 2 through 4. Chapter 2 is entitled “Social Interaction and Chat Rooms”. Adopting a conversation analysis approach, the author characterises social interaction in a large sense before specifically addressing the characterisation of spoken interaction and then CMSI. Jenks insists on the validity of the conversation analysis methods in order to study both macro and micro-social issues that can be identified in social interaction, spoken interaction, as well as CMSI. Chapter 2 is completed with technical details concerning the basic functioning of network communication (ibid.: 14). Chapter 3 is entitled “Computed Mediated Communication and Applied Linguistics”. Here Jenks describes applied linguistics as a “reflection of contemporary society” (ibid.: 18), which justifies the nature of the current work. A brief history of Computer Assisted Language Learning (henceforth ‘CALL’) is provided which accounts for research questions such as the language learning affordances provided by ICT solutions. The author also discusses the relationships between language and discourse as well as between sociality and culture. Chapter 3 ends with a through review of recent works on CMSI from all over the world (ibid.: 29). Chapter 4 is “Introduction to CMSI”. The first two thirds of the this chapter are of a technical nature. Jenks distinguishes CMC – which the author associates with written communication – and CMSI – whose main feature is its oral, spoken nature. The author then reviews pieces of CMSI software. “Skype”® and “Skypecasts”® stand out insofar as this is the very technology used by Jenks for his fieldwork. Some specifications concerning transcription convention follow, whereby the authors aligns with previous works of conversation analysts, namely Atkinson and Heritage (1994). The chapter ends with a characterisation of “English as an add language” (Jenks, 2014: 47), which is precisely the code studied by Jenks.

The next section is called “Analysis” and contains chapters 5 through 7. Chapter 5 is entitled “CMSI factors” and describes “the basic interactional features of CMSI” (ibid.: 51): turn construction and transition, overlapping utterances, turn allocation and identification practices. Jenks methodically and systematically points out what distinguishes CMSI from everyday, ordinary talk, namely the influence of “technological affordances and constraints” (ibid.: 67). Excerpts taken from the author's CMSI corpus help illustrate this. The title of Chapter 6 is “Turn-taking in chat rooms: texting versus talking”, where Jenks points out “the dearth of studies that investigate, and make comparisons of” text-based CMC and CMSI (ibid.: 77). At the end of the chapter, he insists on empirically characterising “texting and talking [as] distinctive communication endeavours” (ibid.: 93). Chapter 7 is entitled “Contextual variables in CMSI”. These are presented as CMSI specific aspects, which determine the quality of the interaction and consequently its analysis.

The last section is entitled “Application” and contains chapters 8 through 10. Chapter 8, entitled “Teaching and learning”, is of an obvious pedagogical nature. The author pleads for “second language chat rooms” as devices that may grant “rich and authentic input” for learners (ibid.: 123). Jenks suggests the learning validity of CMSI L2 chat rooms drawing on SLA literature, namely Michael Long's models. The author also points out task-based (R. Ellis, 2003), L2 learning affordances that are made possible due to CMSI. Chapter 9 is entitled “Social and cultural issues”. Jenks insists of the complex relationships among language, discourse, society and culture, this time he concentrates on the pedagogical adequacy of CMSI in order to sensitize learners to such complex, subtle matters. The final chapter presents a general conclusion on CMSI second language chat rooms. The author insists on the ethical aspects of any research that uses naturally-occurring data, such as his. He finally points out future directions for social research interested on CMSI, namely multitasking, multimodality, CMSI features and asynchronous CMSI.

EVALUATION

Christopher J. Jenks' monograph presents a thorough study of computer mediated social interaction. The author's conversation analysis approach is well-founded and allows for an empirically rigorous analysis of the ways in which specific interlocutors may use “English as an add language” (ibid.: 47) as the participate in spoken chatrooms. Jenks shows clearly how technology comes to determine interactional features and opportunities. What Jenks does not show as efficiently is whatever affordances second language chat rooms may bring to the process of learning a new (or ;’add’) language. Notwithstanding the empirical adequacy of his theoretical standpoint – namely, Michael Long's interaction hypothesis and Rod Ellis' task-based approach – Jenks' choice of second language chat rooms as fieldwork seems obscured by what comes about as his main interest, that is, the characterisation of CMSI as social practice. All in all, language pedagogy and SLA seem secondary to conversation analysis. The author's extensive knowledge of CMSI literature (Table 3.1., ibid.: 29) is impressive. In effect, it seems rare for French scholars to be accounted for by English speaking authors. Due to the large number of acronyms used, a short appendix containing a list may have been useful. Ultimately, Jenks’ monograph will interest both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as Ph.D. candidates and scholars whose research interests lie in the fields of communication and technology. Readership lacking a base knowledge on conversational analysis may find this reading demanding at times.

REFERENCES

Atkinson, J. M. & Heritage, J. (1994). Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenks, C. J. (2014). Social Interaction in Second Language Chat Rooms. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río is a Senior Lecturer at Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3 University in France. He teaches undergraduate and post-graduate courses in education and applied linguistics. His research interests are in classroom interaction, foreign language teacher education and research methodology. He has presented papers at international conferences in Europe. His works have been published in international reviews.

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