Monday, November 3, 2008

Scholarly Journal Abstract #2

Crispin Thurlow. “From Statistical Panic to Moral Panic: The Metadiscursive Construction and Popular Exaggeration of New Media Language in the Print Media” from Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006.

The major problem this essay is addressing surrounds the negative nature of the popular discourse surrounding computer-mediated communication (CMC) such as text and instant messaging. Author Crispin Thurlow looked at 101 examples of print-media produced between 2001 and 2005 to prove his statement that the overall perception of new media discourse and communication is negative, condemning and indicting. Thurlow argues that, along with several of his more scholarly sources (there are 30 of them out of the 101 of the total corpus), that within CMC exists the possibility for “online social interactions to sustain and even enhance human communication” (668).

Thurlow presents the main points of his thesis in four well-constructed “themes” sandwiched between his introduction and main argument and his conclusion and call for action: Theme 1 illustrates the tendency for the print media to classify computer-mediated discourse as some sort of “linguistic revolution” (672). Theme 2 focuses on the title’s suggested panic over matters statistical in nature, while Theme 3 highlights the public’s shift into “moral panic” (677) over what Netspeak is doing to the grammar in youth. Theme 4 highlights the prevalence of using the exact language that these media outlets claim to hate in their titles (“Text messaging cr8ts a hul nu cltur: Is that gud or bad?” (695)) and how this fetishizes CMD even further.

Some of the major terms utilized throughout the work include CMC (computer-mediated communication), CMD (computer-mediated discourse), CDA (critical discourse analysis), and the idea of “metadiscourse”, or a discourse about discourse (exactly the nature of this essay) and “metalinguistic”, which is essentially the same concept as metadiscourse. He also uses the term “folk-linguistics” to refer to lay metalanguage, or the discussions on language that occur within the general population. Thurlow defines these terms both contextually and parenthetically, and the abbreviations make the text much simpler to digest and shorter in length.

The data in this study was comprised of a corpus of 101 articles from varying sources around the world. The analysis of the discourse data was on many levels, but mostly worked at proving, through multiple parallel citations within the articles, that the majority of popular discourse about CMC is negatively viewed, while the majority of scholarly discourse on the topic of CMC doesn’t view this type of communication as “a language all of its own” (672). The corpus is so large that it seems to accurately represent the available material. The text disproves, through examples from myriad articles, some of the figures thrown into the dominant sphere surrounding qualitative and quantitative claims of growth and usage of CMC; the text states these figures within the context of the original article are used erroneously as persuasive techniques.

One of the weaknesses in this work is that it doesn’t initially separate popular opinion from scholarly commentary. I think it would have been far more useful to compare the two, getting 101 examples of both scholarly articles and popular articles from around the globe. This might have served to better explain the disparities between the two, instead of focusing more so on the popular discourse and less on scholarly. Thurlow could have therefore been very selective in his choices of scholarly essays and only chosen those that support his thesis.

In my understanding of the field, the major contributions Thurlow adds to the current issue of metadiscourse on CMC is the view that while the method of communication presented through texting and instant messaging is certainly a unique form, it is not bringing about any substantial negative effects to the English language, and if this is the threat perceived by resisters of change that humans will soon come to see CMC as not a threat but a convenience and the new wave of interpersonal communication. Thurlow is opening the door for us to accept CMC not as a threat but as a an evolution of communication and language. As one of the scholarly sources in this article puts it, “spelling and language are always changing, the way we spell words is not set in stone.” (683).

1 comment:

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