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Review of  The Routledge Handbook of Language and Digital Communication

Reviewer: Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky
Book Title: The Routledge Handbook of Language and Digital Communication
Book Author: Alexandra Georgakopoulou Tereza Spilioti
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Chinese, Mandarin
Greek, Modern
Issue Number: 27.2901

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


“The Routledge Handbook of Language and Digital Communication” by Alexandra Georgakopoulou and Tereza Spilioti provides a comprehensive, state-of-the-art overview of language-focused research on digital communication, registering the latest trends that set the agenda for future developments in this thriving and fast-moving field. The twenty-eight contributors of the volume are all leading figures or established authorities in their areas, covering a wide range of topics and concerns in the following seven sections. Part I takes stock of ‘Methods and perspectives’ that have been used for the study of language and digital communication, while Part II, ‘Language resources, genres and discourses’ brings together the early wave of research with the latest insights. Part III, ‘Digital literacies’, deals with relevant research on digital literacy in socio-culturally oriented perspectives, including identities and meanings embedded in particular activities and contexts of use. Part IV, ‘Digital Communication in Public’ focuses on different areas of public or professional communication, such as workplace interaction, advertising, and corporate blogging. All the chapters in Part V, ‘Digital selves and online-offline lives’, present evidence for the porous boundaries between online and offline worlds and building on this, Part VI, ‘Communities, networks, relationships’, moves to a closer examination of how online communities can be defined and identified. Finally, Part VII addresses ‘New debates and further directions’ in the field. The volume is an essential resource for advanced undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers within English language and linguistics, applied linguistics, and media and communication studies.

Part I, ‘Methods and perspectives’ clusters together methods used for studying language in terms of linguistic forms, the relations between individuals and of wider social structures, the specific activities and cultures of use, and the semiotic resources for meaning making and communication. Chapter 1, ‘Approaches to language variation’ by Hinrichs,provides a critical overview of research on language choice and variation in digital environments informed by advances in related fields of linguistics, such as sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics. In addition, Hinrichs critically discusses a range of quantitative (e.g., descriptive and predictive statistics) and qualitative (e.g., conversation analysis, critical discourse analysis, interactional sociolinguistics) methods used in previous studies. The chapter concludes with foregrounding the advantages of a mixed-methods approach to the study of language variation in digital environments.

In Chapter 2, ’Network analysis’, John C. Paolillo introduces and applies the ‘network’ (i.e., a web of relations) as an abstract mathematical concept to the study of digital communication. He argues that approaches to network analysis generally follow one of three patterns: visualization, structural modelling (block modelling and ERG models), and modelling as complex dynamical processes. In terms of future directions, Paolillo sets out the basis for an ethical agenda in the network analysis of ‘big data’ that includes the issue of consent on data collection, the identification of vulnerable subjects, and complications arising from different perceptions.

In Chapter 3, ‘Digital ethnography’, Piia Varis sheds light on the processes and the different layers of contextualization, which can, at times, appear more visible to the analyst through practices of remixing, copying and pasting, and, at times, become more opaque. Varis’s chapter also problematizes a number of methodological issues pertaining to online ethics and the use of ‘big data’. She calls for heightened reflexivity and flexibility in designing and undertaking fieldwork online in order to do justice to the complexities of digital contexts and practices.

Chapter 4, ‘Multimodal analysis’ by Carey Jewitt discusses relevant approaches for undertaking multimodal analysis in digital environments, which shifts the attention from language as a single semiotic mode to the interdependence of a range of modes (verbal, visual, aural, etc.) in the production of meaning.

Part II, ‘Language resources, genres, and discourses’ is preoccupied with a longstanding question of what constitutes a genre and in particular a novel genre in digital communication. In the next two chapters a shift away from text-based analyses implies a gradual turn to identities, to an exploration of the ways in which communication choices and devices serve as resources for self-representation. In Chapter 5, ‘Digital genres and processes of remediation’, Theresa Heyd identifies three phases of technological development that have fed into the transition of research from an emphasis on the formal to the functional properties of genres. Her overview shows how genre analysis takes into account contextual parameters that have been attuned to the sociotechnical aspects of digital communication. Remediation, deeply ingrained in CMC, is aimed at capturing the historicity and inter-relationships of new media genres. Heyd argues that the latest technological developments have been instrumental in directing analysts’ attention to genre overlaps, networks and co-existence.

Chapter 6, ‘Style, creativity and play’ by Yukiko Nishimura also tackles a longstanding issue, namely how CMC relates to face-to-face interactions. Nishimura provides historical perspectives on style, creativity, and play and how these can characterize entertainment-oriented, private realms of digital communication such as bulletin board interaction and text messaging. She illustrates how the same linguistic resources can be variously recognized as creative or not, depending on who the ‘adjudicators’ are.

In Chapter 7, ‘Multilingual resources and practices in digital communication’, Carmen Lee shows the gradual transition of language choice from the early days of the dominance on the uses of English to multilingual practices in a broad sense within a range of platforms from older media such as email and IRC to newer social media such as Facebook and Flickr. By emphasizing the importance of code-switching as a resource for self-positioning and identity performance, Lee highlights the importance of visibility and audibility of minority or non-standard languages (e.g., Cantonese, colloquial Arabic) in many social media platforms (e.g., YouTube).

The last chapter in this section, Chapter 8, ‘Digital discourses: a critical perspective’ by Tereza Spilioti turns attention to the ideologies and discourses surrounding the uses of and communication new media. Spilioti discusses four dominant discourses of digital media: (1) sociality, (2) equality and diversity, (3) young people and digital media, and (4) the so-called ‘digital language’. She shows how these discourses are densely contextualized and historicized, and are connected with neo-liberal ideologies.

The chapters in Part III, ‘Digital literacies’, firmly root relevant research in socio-culturally oriented perspectives, a nexus of social practices, identities and meanings embedded and situated in particular activities and contexts of use. In Chapter 9, ‘Digital media and literacy development’, Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear examine literacy development in terms of ‘personal literacy development’ and of ‘development in the cultural stock of literacies’ in primarily out-of-school contexts. The shift of attention to young media producers and consumers of digital artefacts and the prevalence of ‘affinity space’ for understanding social learning environments are among the key tenets of their research. Knobel and Lankshear also reveal a ‘new ethos’ emerging in digital literacies (e.g., interactivity, feedback, sharing of expertise, collaboration). By foregrounding multiple literacies in action, the authors critique the dominant school-centric perceptions of literacy

The distinction between institutional (e.g., school) and vernacular literacies is taken up in Chapter 10, ‘Vernacular literacy: orthography and literacy practices’ by Josh Iorio. He argues that the study of vernacular literacy is concerned with: (1) the identification of digital contexts, (2) the orthographic form and linguistic structures, and (3) the relationship between form, structure, context, and social meaning. Iorio shows how the different literacy practices co-exist in digital environments, blurring the boundaries between the personal and the professional and between the local and the global

A particular type of orthographic innovation (‘textism’) and its relation with language learning are discussed in Chapter 11, ‘Texting and language learning’ by Sam Waldron, Nenagh Kemp, and Clare Wood. Their chapter provides evidence in support of the idea that there are positive links between children’s use of textism and their literacy abilities; however, the picture is less clear in adults. The authors claim that as text messaging continues to evolve, investigators should continue to develop ways of collecting and studying message data because mobile technology has the potential to act as a versatile tool for learning.

Part IV, ‘Digital communication in public’ addresses the issue of boundaries between the public and the private, the collective and the personal by focusing on workplace interaction, advertising, corporate blogging, and Twitter. In Chapter 12, ‘Digital media in workplace interactions’, Erika Darics advocates the development of an interdisciplinary approach (i.e., business communication research, business discourse studies, and computer-mediated discourse studies) to the communicative complexity (e.g., timing issues, persistence of the transcript) of workplace environments. Darics highlights the communicative norms, practices and conventions, as well as the appropriate style and medium-specific features used in spoken and written genres. She points out that digital discourse research should embrace mainstream topics of sociolinguistic research on workplace interaction such as power relations and contribute to their further theorising.

Kelly-Holmes in Chapter 13, ‘Digital advertising’, examines how digital advertising has been shaped by the recent developments of increased interactivity and participation in web 2.0 environments. She addresses two issues relevant to the inter-relationship between marketing and digital communication: first, the loss of control on the part of the marketer; and second, the rise of individualised web marketing in the forms of mass personalisation and mass customisation. The chapter concludes with a critical discussion of methodological approaches (such as ethnography) that can address such complex processes.

Chapter 14, ‘Corporate blogging and corporate social media’ by Cornelius Puschmann and Rebecca Hagelmoser, traces the evolution of blogging from personal blogs to employee blogs. The authors contextualize this evolution within broader social changes, such as a general loss of trust in public-facing corporate discourse and a shift towards personalization of relationships between institutions and individuals. Finally, they discuss genre analysis and narrative analysis as important methodological instruments for the study of corporate social media (e.g., the Whole Foods Blog).

Lauren Squires concludes Part IV with a compelling chapter on ‘Twitter: design, discourse, and the implications of public text’. The first half of the chapter discusses the communicative affordances of Twitter, the distinctive practices that have emerged as part of discourse on the site, and the linguistic character of tweets. The second half of the chapter focuses on the consequences of the high degree of publicization given to text on Twitter, which sets it apart from other (older) forms of social media.

Part V, ‘Digital selves and online-offline lives’ moves to what can be seen as focal concerns within the second wave of language and digital communication research, namely the ways in which participants position, manage, present, and perform aspects of themselves in various capacities in (relation to) online environments. In Chapter 16, ‘The role of the body and space in digital multimodality’, Elizabeth Keating explores the influences of digital environments on multimodality by using three particular settings: online gaming, sign language in technologically mediated space, and engineers located across continents working together through digitally mediated communication settings. She claims that multimodality helps understand how culture and social life are maintained and how work and play are achieved, as well as the flexibility of humans in new interactive settings.

Ashraf R. Abdullah’s Chapter 17, ‘Second Life: language and virtual identity’ tackles a similar issue of how individuals construct a sense of place/space and embodiment as part of their online identity and community building within the environment of Second Life. The author uses Slexipedia, a neologism combining Second Life (SL) and Crystal’s (2004) term lexipedia, to describe the particular forms of SL vocabulary, which display characteristic word formation processes, creativity and playfulness. Abdullah advocates the synergy of ethnographic, discourse and corpus linguistic analyses for tapping into community (re)formation and their relations with multimodal choices.

In Chapter 18, ‘Online multiplayer games’ by Lisa Newon, the different approaches to online gaming are shown; how heterogeneous styles of play, practices, and activities of online players interact with multisemiotic communicative ways of negotiating disputes and disagreement, socializing players into the game and displaying distinctiveness’ and ‘authenticity’. The author argues that we need to move beyond the conceptualization of online-offline to more practice-based views of relations, such as in-game and out-of-game. The refocusing leads us to the relations between gamers and designers beyond the game platforms

In Chapter 19, ‘Relationality, friendship, and identity in digital communication’, Sage Lambert Graham examines the ways that identity, alignment, and relationality are connected. Next, she provides historical perspectives in identity research and raises critical issues in creating relationships in online environments. , Finally, she shifts our attention to the investigation of how one individual gains entry into a discussion forum “in-group”, thereby achieving greater power through an enhanced relationship with the e-community.

Part VI, ‘Communities, networks, relationships’, builds on the previous part and then moves to a closer examination of how online communities can be defined and identified. The section begins with Chapter 20, ‘Online communities and communities of practice’ by Jo Angouri, who provides an overview of the definition and conceptual development of online communities paying special attention to the community of practice (CofP) framework. The author addresses different research approaches and ethical issues surrounding the study of online groups drawing on her own current research (an online health forum) as well as representative studies from the sociolinguistic field. She closes the chapter with a discussion of the issues future research might address.

In Chapter 21, ‘Facebook and the discursive construction of the social network’, Caroline Tagg and Philip Seargeant discuss how making and enhancing social connections is managed on Facebook, namely, how users perform their identity through individual choices on their profile, and how they interact with friends. The authors pinpoint three issues that are central to the site: identity, community, and audience design. In their observations, Tagg and Seargeant focus predominantly on the use of the status update and subsequent comments, as these arguably have the greatest implications for social life

In Chapter 22, ‘YouTube: language and discourse practices in participatory culture’, Jannis Androutsopoulos and Jana Tereick outline the development and growth of YouTube in the past few years arguing that language is a key resource in its semiotic landscape. The authors examine YouTube as a complex discourse environment at three levels: the ‘big picture’ of discourse structure and participation framework; the range of multimodal digital recontextualization practices, called remix; and audience comments and interaction. They advocate multi-layered analyses and mixed methods research design to capture the interplay of these levels. The chapter illustrates this rich analysis in two case studies; one from a sociolinguistic, and the other from a corpus-assisted multimodal discourse analysis perspective

A similar case for mixed methods and a multi-layered discourse and sociolinguistic analysis is made by Samu Kytölä in Chapter 23, ‘Translocality’. Kytölä reviews the key contributions to the development of translocality, covering the notion of connectivity and transcultural(ity), as well as the related concepts of globalization and cosmopolitanism. He suggests that future studies should link translocality with the growing importance of superdiversity, multi-semioticity and resemiotization, which are the hallmarks of communication on many social media platforms, e.g., YouTube.

Part VII, ‘New debates and further directions’, explores how people’s embodied engagements with digital media and digital environments are interwoven into daily life. In Chapter 24, ‘Social reading in a digital world’, Naomi S. Baron reveals how technology shifts the balance between solitude and social in the world of reading. She touches upon issues like the relationship between the author and reader, the social reading of the markings we leave in the book margins, or the display of our bookshelves and goodreads, the role of literary gatherings and coffee houses or book clubs and other social reading options. She argues that talking about books with other readers (even virtually) can enrich both our intellectual and interpersonal lives.

Chapter 25, ‘New frontiers in interactive multimodal communication’ by Susan C. Herring, describes two emergent phenomena related to multimodality in digital communications: interactive modal platforms (Web 2.0 platforms) and robot-mediated communication (in which at least one party is telepresent through voice, video, and motion via a remotely controlled robot). Although both phenomena seem to be unrelated, these technologies mediate human-to-human communication, support social, as well as task-related interaction, and involve multiple modes or channels.

In Chapter 26, ‘Moving between the big and the small: identity and interaction in digital contexts’, Ruth Page highlights two aspects of complexity which raise questions about the methods we might use to analyse the online production of identity. First, the identities constructed online make use of semiotic resources that are recombined and transposed from one mode to another. Second, the digital medium means that the contexts of interaction also include additional information in the form of meta-data appended to the content published online. Knowing how to access, analyse and interpret this metadata requires specific tools and skills.

Chapter 27, ‘Surveillance’ by Rodney H. Jones, represents a further challenge, one in which we must adjust the way we conceive of “Texts”. In the past, texts were primarily regarded as information delivery devices, focusing on how they communicate meaning, while nowadays they are more like information gathering devices (e.g, pretexts). The biggest challenge for understanding surveillance is a larger socio-economic context in which the value of texts is ultimately reduced to their commercial value.

In the final chapter, Chapter 28, ‘Choose now! Media literacies, identities, politics’, Charles M. Ess emphasizes that future work should be mindful of what kinds of scenarios of self and what kinds of literacies are promoted or, equally, undervalued and discouraged in digital communication and what the ethical consequences of any gains and losses are.


“The Routledge Handbook of Language and Digital Communication” showcases critical syntheses of the established literature on key topics and issues, including discourse analysis, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and literary studies. At the same time, it reflects upon and engages with cutting edge research and new directions for study (as emerging within social media). One of the major strengths of the volume is that a wide range of languages are represented, from Japanese, Greek, German and Scandinavian languages, to computer-mediated Arabic, Chinese and African languages.

Another laudable feature of the handbook is the contributors’ approach to show how the specificity of focal concerns in the study of language and digital media has necessitated the process of revisiting, extending, fine-tuning, and, where appropriate, moving away from established concepts and methodologies. The volume does not only attest to the consolidation of a move from medium-related to user-related perspectives, but it also reveals a consistent approach to digital environments as multi-layered spaces, mutually constitutive of the language and communication practices that occur in them.

The chapters are self-contained and long enough to offer good breadth and depth, and there are references the readers may consult for further information. However, there is one thing that strikes me as a major weakness of the volume; namely, there are surprisingly few Internet sources mentioned although the main focus of the handbook is on digital communication. On a positive note, there are quite a few screenshot figures (e.g., in Chapter 10, 15, 17 and 23) which contribute to a better understanding of the issues under scrutiny.

One challenge with edited collections is that the focus and coverage of individual chapters vary, with some being more relevant to readers newer to the field and others being especially useful to those who already have some familiarity with the topic at hand. This situation exists with this handbook as well, e.g., in Chapter 2, where Paolillo introduces and applies the ‘network’ (i.e., a web of relations) as an abstract mathematical concept and suggests that people wishing to do network analysis need a background in the appropriate mathematics and statistics.

In sum, the handbook is a substantial contribution to the burgeoning field of digital communication, which can intrigue and inspire further fruitful research. Readers can surely benefit greatly from this comprehensive collection of research; therefore, I highly recommend it for anyone aiming to understand digital cultures and computer-mediated communication.


Crystal, D. (2004). A glossary of Netspeak and Textspeak. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh.
Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky is Associate Professor in the English Department at Budapest Business School, College of International Management and Business. Her research interests include discourse analysis, intercultural communication and English for Specific Purposes. She has published on business communication, intercultural communication and politeness issues in business emails.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415642491
Pages: 434
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