In his book “How Language Works” David Crystal discusses the possible effect computer-mediated communication (CMC) has had on both spoken and written language. CMC is the written communication that takes place on the internet, emails, forums etc. David Crystal infers that CMC is not like written or spoken language.
An elementary social grace we learn at an early age is that of turn-taking when we hold a conversation and “Turn-taking is so fundamental to conversation that most people are not conscious of its significance as a means of enabling interactions to be successful.”
When we ask a question and expect an answer; or expect a complaint to be followed by an excuse or apology; even when we acknowledge the receipt of information with a “thank you” we are turn-taking. This social formality allows people to take turns when they talk and not compete to talk at once.
On the internet turn-taking is dictated by the software rather than the people involved in the conversation. It is your turn after you push the “send” button and when it is received by the other party, which could be days if they are infrequent with checking their email.
Similarly, CMC is not like traditional writing because it can lack the permanency and traditional structure. Because there is so much perceived pressure to communicate some people are happy to send their messages with typographical errors, misspellings, erratic capitalisation and lack of punctuation. It would appear the care taken to revise their writing is of little or no importance to most authors of communication.
Written language has always had problems of interpretation when compared to face-to-face conversation but no amounts of “????”; “!!!!”; or smiley emoticon on emails or Facebook will replace the quizzical look or a raised eyebrow as immediate feedback to a statement.
By Peter Kenyon: North Brisbane Maths Tutor