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Review of  Approaches to Internet Pragmatics


Reviewer: Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky
Book Title: Approaches to Internet Pragmatics
Book Author: Chaoqun Xie Francisco Yus Hartmut Haberland
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 33.105

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Review:
SUMMARY

Edited by Chaoqun Xie, Francisco Yus, and Hartmut Haberland, “Approaches to Internet Pragmatics” examines several theoretical, methodological, and empirical aspects of internet communication from a broadly conceived pragmatic perspective. It aims to explore new pragmatic phenomena and challenges that appear as people tend to spend more and more time interacting on the internet, or in different forms of technologically mediated communication. Since pragmatics deals with communication in context and how more gets communicated than is said (or typed), applications of pragmatic phenomena to internet interactions in internet specific communication on WhatsApp, WeChat and Twitter, are not only welcome, but necessary.

The internet, as a new life action space “seamlessly” connected with the physical world, has become a crucial “social field” bringing both convenience and inconvenience, information and misinformation in our lives. With the emergence and development of internet technologies, internet pragmatics also progresses and presents a functional perspective on every facet of linguistic, visual, and/or multimodal behaviour/(inter)action that occurs on and via the internet. Relying on a prototypical act of internet-mediated communication, the volume addresses issues of how to engage in interactions online, what contextual constraints exist in every act of communication, how internet users’ intentions are expressed by speech acts, how the coded versus contextualized discourse is interpreted, how online interactions are triggered and structured, and, finally, what effects are produced on addressees depending on their conceptualization of the broader social and cultural context.

The volume brings together 11 chapters and is divided into three parts. Part I, “Theoretical and methodological perspectives”, consists of five contributions addressing theoretical and methodological issues pertinent to internet pragmatics. The second part, “The discursive management of self on the internet”, with three chapters, focuses on how users manage self and identity on and via the internet. Finally, the third part, “Pragmatics of internet-mediated texts”, contains three chapters addressing the pragmatics of internet-mediated texts across different genres.

In Part I, Chapter 1, “Expanding pragmatics: Values, goals, ranking, and internet adaptability”, Jacob L. Mey engages in a discussion of how expanding pragmatics is necessary and possible by attaching importance to the central concepts of the “pragmeme” and of “adaptability” in societal connections. His contribution shows how pragmatics, when studying the use of our senses and gestures in communication, needs to situate itself within the confines of value- and goal-oriented human interaction, both in its voice- and/or writing-based forms on the internet. In order to help us envisage our adapting actions in a more consistent and transparent manner, Mey gathered speech, along with gestural, mediatized, artistic, and other communicative activities.

In Chapter 2, “Computer-mediated discourse in context: Pluralism of communicative action and discourse common ground”, Anita Fetzer examines the contextual constraints and requirements of CMD (Computer-Mediated Discourse), considering their particularisation resulting from the interdependencies of CMD’s multi-layered participation framework, logical typing, and pluralism of communicative action. Utilizing data, metadata, and meta-representations from the coverage of a former refugee taking up a Lord Mayor post, the author shows how the pragmatic universals undergo medium-specific particularisation.

In Chapter 3, “Cyberpragmatics in the age of locative media”, Francisco Yus deals with various stages of internet interaction mediated via locative media as follows: constraints, intended manifest and mutually manifest information, inferred information, and non-propositional effects (e.g., self-concept and identity, sense of community and group membership, feeling of being connected and personal feelings). He argues that in any instance of virtual communication the addressees also infer the information provided in the shared location and derive a number of (ir)relevant effects from it.

In Chapter 4, “Interpreting emoji pragmatics”, Ashley R. Dainas and Susan C. Herring describe the methods and overall findings of the Understanding Emoji Survey, which explores the pragmatic functions of 13 popular emoji in comment postings in public Facebook groups. They find that the function chosen most often in response to the emoji survey item was “tone modification”, followed by “action”, “mention”, “softening”, “reaction”, “multiple functions”, “decorative”, “other”, “I don’t know” and “physical”. They argue that emoji are not functionally interchangeable, but rather specialize to some extent for specific functions.

Chapter 5, “Speech acts and the dissemination of knowledge in social networks” by Paolo Labinaz and Marina Sbisà, analyses how social media participants engaged in discussions under a public post contribute to knowledge dissemination through their verbal behaviour in the light of an Austin-based speech act theoretical framework and the four main classes of illocutionary acts (verdictives, exercitives, commissives, and behabitives). The authors discuss examples from comments on Facebook posts concerning health- and politics-related issues.

Part II, “The discursive management of self on the internet”, has three chapters and focuses on how users manage self and identity on and via the internet.

Carmen Maíz-Arévalo, in Chapter 6 “Humour and self-presentation on ‘WhatsApp’ profile status”, investigates the use of humour as a self-presentation strategy based on both quantitative and qualitative analyses of a corpus of 206 WhatsApp statuses in Spanish. She argues that recurrent patterns (e.g., intertextuality and incongruity) do exist in people’s display of humour in profiles and that the variables of gender and age seem to play a crucial part in determining whether or not users choose humour as a self-representation strategy to invite rapport-building with present and potential future contacts.

In Chapter 7, “Inviting a purchase: A multimodal analysis of staged authenticity in WeChat social selling”, Chaoqun Xie and Ying Tong explore how people doing social selling on WeChat present themselves in Moments and group chats and how emoji contribute to both self-presentation and social selling on WeChat. The results of the multimodal analysis of both screen data and user data of Moments show that the meticulously intertwined and multimodally presented communicative acts of social selling on WeChat are the outcome of frame-shifting and frame-overlapping strategies on the one hand and highly crafted staged authenticity on the other.

Chapter 8, “Online nicks, impoliteness, and Jewish identity in Israeli Russian conflict discourse” by Renee Perelmutter, examines how online interlocutors manipulate the nick(name), an important form of self-presentation and identity construction online. Studying an online community of ex-Soviet migrants to Israel, the author shows how interlocutors discuss, modify, substitute, combine with insults, and/or translate an opponent’s nick involving impoliteness (IIM- inappropriate identity markers) and jocular mockery. She argues that nick manipulation plays a crucial role in how individual or group identities are supported or attacked in online discourse.

Part III, “Pragmatics of internet-mediated texts”, contains three chapters addressing the pragmatics of internet-mediated texts across genres.

Chapter 9, “Candidates’ use of Twitter during the 2016 Austrian presidential campaign” by Helmut Gruber, explores the content level, the use of rhetorical actions, and selected aspects of the interpersonal level of Twitter messages the candidates posted during the 2016 Austrian presidential campaign. Results show that the candidates’ communication strategies cannot be fully explained either by innovation or normalization hypotheses, and, consequently, the two proposed hypotheses are too broad to account for contextual aspects of specific political communication situations.

In Chapter 10, “A study on how cultural and gender parameters affect emoticon distribution, usage and frequency in American and Japanese online discourse”, Barry Kavanagh compares how American and Japanese bloggers resort to emoticons to express semantic and pragmatic meaning in text-based online asynchronous blog comments. In addition, an examination of how emoticons interact with the linguistic text and other unconventional means of communication such as unconventional phonetic spelling is also given consideration. In sum, the use of emoticons is highly personalized and subjective, therefore, further studies will need to investigate why users use them, in what contexts, and with whom.

Finally, Chapter 11, “Migration through the English-Greek translated press” by Maria Sidiropoulou, focuses on pragmatic shifts in web-retrieved English-Greek translated press news text on the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe. She analyses cross-cultural variation of shifting patterns in verbally mediated instances of suffering and migration in the Greek translated press, arguing that the English news reports take a more threatening perspective on the issue of migration. She concludes that local perceptions of global conflicts may de/mobilize public sentiment and construct ethical intended sensibilities and citizenship roles.

EVALUATION

This publication is well-structured and breaks ground in the field of internet pragmatics by exploring new pragmatic phenomena and communicative needs, as well as the major similarities and differences between the online and offline worlds and their impact on people’s language use and interactions.

Following an introduction by the editors, each chapter provides valuable content and user-friendly terminology, which makes it easy to read. Taken as a whole, the individual articles build upon each other and add a variety of perspectives with respect to existing research and literature on the theoretical and methodological perspectives of pragmatics. However, I would like to make a small comment in connection with the order of the articles dealing with emoji. The pragmatic functions of emoji and emoticons are discussed in several chapters (i.e., Chapters 4, 6, 7, and 10), approaching them from different perspectives (e.g., intercultural or social media contexts), but they appear under different subheadings in the volume. For the reader it would perhaps have been better to have them under one subheading. As regards the contents and visual representations of the articles on emoji, they deserve praise as they are very informative, and the taxonomy presented in Chapter 4 can be applied to other types of graphicons-in use, such as stickers or GIFs on other social media platforms. In addition, I could not agree more with the authors that, even within the same culture, internet users often disagree on the interpretations of emoji as their pragmatic functions vary in authentic contexts.

For me, two of the contributions in the book are of particular interest: the one by Jacob L. Mey, which presents how values impact both human and animal behaviour from a very personal perspective, namely, from that of his cat and that of his wife, and the other, Anita Fetzer’s paper, which suggests that CMD can no longer be based on monolithic conceptualisations of intentionality and communicative action but should be captured from a holistic perspective (e.g., with an image selection).

In an age when the role of political discourse is gaining ground, it is important to be aware of the norms (e.g., politeness) and the many pitfalls (e.g., unintended connotations) one might fall into (Chapters 8, 9, and 11).

In conclusion, the book “Approaches to Internet Pragmatics” constitutes a solid set of resources for researchers, linguists, specialists in political discourse, language learners, and all those interested in delving into the historical evolution and/or on-going revolution in digital human interaction.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky is a full-time Senior Lecturer at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences, Centre of Modern Languages. Her research interests involve Business English language teaching, Intercultural Communication and Diplomatic Discourse.