From Variation to Heteroglossia in the Study of Computer-Mediated Discourse
In the methodologically diverse landscape of computer-mediated discourse studies, research focusing on linguistic difference has repeatedly made used the concept of language variation and associated variationist methods. Despite the insights they offer, such approaches have shortcomings in terms of what aspects of linguistic heterogeneity in the new media they seem able to capture. This was already pointed out with regard to widely observed instances of linguistic hybridity and mixture in “old” new media modes such as emails and chat. It is repeated today with regard to contemporary web environments whose production processes and semiotic characteristics—such as multi-authorship, translocality, multimodal layering, and modularity—result in “patchwork” compositions that transgress variationist concepts. Against that backdrop, this chapter discusses the concept of heteroglossia as an alternative window to the study of linguistic difference in computer-mediated discourse. It suggests that heteroglossia offers the sociolinguistic study of web environments a much-needed flexible and holistic approach. More specifically, the scope of heteroglossia goes beyond methodological limitations such as monolingual variation, referential equivalence of variants or clear-cut external variables. Moreover, heteroglossia focuses on relations between linguistic resources and their social and institutional meanings, and combines well with interdisciplinary notions such as layering, voice, and intertextuality. The chapter explores these analytic opportunities drawing on a range of case examples from social network and content sharing sites, including a case study of one social network profile page.
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