- Computer-Mediated Communication -

 - Lingua Ex Machina -

{Cover Illustration}

This is a well-received 5th term university paper in linguistic aspects of computer-mediated communication. The paper was finished at the 27th of November 1998 at Aalborg University, Denmark, under the (pro-forma :-) supervision of Paul McIlvenny, by:

© Copyright is retained by the author listed above, All Rights Reserved.

Comments are always encouraged! :-)

The paper was converted and cross referenced to hypertext by Mads Orbesen Troest (phew!).
Current document revision is 1.01, last altered at the 21st of March 1999.

Table of Contents

    1. Abstract
    2. Methodical Considerations
    1. Interactive Written Discourse
    2. Asynchronous Synchrony
    3. Conversation Management and Turn-Taking
    4. Structure, Fragmentation and Pace
    5. Paralinguistic Cues and 'Meta-Utterances'
    1. Literature
    2. Internet
    1. IRC Transcript A

1. Introduction

1.1 Abstract

      We are - so the media constantly remind us - living in an information society; realised to a very large extent by the all-encompassing channels of communication provided by novel technologies. True as this might be, it is actually a quite interesting assertion; why are we not, for example, said to live in a communication society?
      As the assimilation of the net-capable, 'wired', computer into an ever increasing number of 'average Western homes' continues, this somewhat youthful medium (carrying along its perhaps surprisingly disproportional weight of scrutiny and criticism) has, in recent years, affirmed its position as a medium of communication as well as - or possibly to an even higher degree than - one of mere calculation and scientific application.
      The computer was certainly never designed for this purpose, just as the global network, the Internet, connecting such vast amount of computers (and more importantly: their users) was never designed with the purpose it serves today in mind.[1] Humankind, it seems fair to observe, has a tendency to seize every conceivable opportunity for communicating, no matter how obscure a medium (including, perhaps, speech) might have appeared at its advent. One is inevitably reminded of the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen's classic, if somewhat ecstatic, proposal that the entire genesis of language is to be found in heartfelt, playful joy at the whole notion of interacting with other people.[2]
      But if the computer is becoming so central a means for inter-personal communication (across - allegedly - every conceivable border; national, cultural, class, etc.) in our contemporary society, and if we accept the fact that it is a medium not actually typecasted for the leading role it has come to play, some questions regarding its potential impact on our society and way of communicating must inevitably arise. Many consequences can be hypothesised - including sociological and ethnographic; this paper, however, focuses on linguistic aspects. It would, in particular, be interesting to question the extent to which this 'novel' medium influences the way people use (and interact through) language; is computer-mediated communication (henceforth CMC) merely an extension of existing communicative modes, or has its advent possibly brought about a whole new discursive genre (or rather: set of genres, honouring the many facets of the medium) which need to be analysed on their own terms? Is human communication perhaps always actuated and to some degree controlled by the implicit taxonomy of the medium employed?

      No channel of communication is easily and rigidly defined; neither is CMC. In fact, CMC covers a quite considerable - and still emerging - number of facets; indeed, it might be somewhat problematic to apply so general a term as CMC to cover the entire spectrum of communicative variants made possible by this medium. Certainly, all CMC share some fundamental characteristics (like inevitably being a form of tele-interaction[3]), but very visible - also in a quite literal sense, with the advent of 2D and 3D graphical interactional 'spaces' - differences exist. Attributes such as synchronous/asynchronous,[4] textual/audio/visual[5] (and various combinations hereof), iconographic/'reality rendition'[6] vary notably between different manifestations of the phenomenon simply referred to as CMC so far.
      In addressing the questions brought up in the above, this paper narrows its focus and takes as point of departure but one of these CMC instances; namely the so-called Internet Relay Chat (IRC).[7] Not because other aspects of CMC are less important or interesting - indeed, to pick an example, the currently observed transitional phase from pure textual, 'inter-narrative' discourse to an arguably increasingly world-like, and complex, semiotic system remains of paramount pertinence. These relatively recent developments are, however, beyond the scope of this paper. Some of what makes the discourse of the IRC particularly interesting from a linguistic point of view (recalling Otto Jespersen's frisky view on the genesis of language) is, perhaps, the generally unrestrained 'speech' taking place here. As Howard Rheingold has put it: "IRC was invented as a means of playing with communication, and that remains its most popular use".[8] The IRC medium does not in itself attempt to define a particular setting (like a 'work-scene', for example;[9] something certain another technologically mediated means of communication - e.g. video conferencing - has, to a notable extent, come to connote). The IRC provides a placeless place in which, unhindered, to study the flux of language in its crucible.

1.2 Methodical Considerations

      The following provides a brief description of the overall structure and motivation of the focal points of this paper, as well as commenting on inherent ethical and critical issues.

      Initially, a (necessarily brief) introduction to the IRC medium is given, followed by an examination and discussion of its linguistic attributes. Experimentally, these attributes of the language of the IRC is related to both written and oral theoretical discourse frameworks, in order to investigate whether this genre owes more similarities to either of these, or whether one can argue for a status of independent communicative genre.
      Finally, extrapolating from the findings of chapter 2, a more general discussion on the influence our communicative media exert on the way we communicate concludes the paper.

      Please observe that all references appear as endnotes, listed in the final chapter 6, whereas other notes and comments appear as footnotes throughout the paper. {Note to Web-edition: In this edition, all notes and references appear as endnotes.}

Data Collection and Ethical Perspectives

      In spite of the fact that CMC has now been seriously studied academically for about two decades, methodological and ethical considerations remain somewhat unresolved and experimental, if highly debated, issues (which, perhaps, is only natural, considering the still relative infancy of these studies).[10]

      Generally, the medium gives scholars a rather unique advantage, as Susan Herring notes, in that:

      "[...] interactions come already entered as text on a computer; [...] observers can observe without their presence being known, thus avoiding the 'Observer's Paradox' that has traditionally plagued research in the social sciences".[11]

      The question, however, is whether such unobtrusive logging can be considered ethical, whether a person's statements should be anonymised before publication - or the other extreme: whether a person's statements are automatically copyrighted material, given its written nature.[12]
      In an IRC context, some people might not, for various reasons, like their nickname, their pseudonymous on-line handle, published; if they are regular users and 'stick to their nick', an IRC nickname is, arguably, just as compromising in the electronic realm as a 'real' name is beyond. One might argue, of course, that an open IRC channel is a public 'space', that talking there is similar to talking at e.g. a café; one problem with this notion is, however, that in spite of the apparently obvious lack of any real privacy, a lot of CMC systems come to suggest a form of 'perceived privacy' (borrowing Susan Herring's descriptive term)[13] which interlocutors might feel violated.
      Important as these issues are, a thorough discussion of the ethics - and general methodology - of academic study of CMC cannot be included in this paper, as this topic itself readily provides the foundation for separate polemics and papers. For a more comprehensive treatment of these aspects, please refer to such sources as Susan Herring's "Linguistic and Critical Analysis of Computer-Mediated Communication - Some Ethical and Scholary Considerations".[14]

      The IRC transcripts serving as exemplifying data in this paper (listed in the appendix, chapter 5) are used with explicit consent from all parties involved in the exchanges. The transcripts themselves were created by making the IRC client log all channel activity to a file; hence the format is dictated by the client and possibly not entirely optimal for later analysis. A discussion and legend of the transcription format (what it shows and what it fails to show) can be found at the top of chapter 5, along with other comments relating to the transcripts.

Criticism of Sources

      A number of sources from the Internet have been employed, and where the information from these is, of course, believed to be correct and from serious, permanent sites, the very dynamic nature of this global computer network poses a special requirement for caution. Since virtually anybody with access to the net can publish their own 'facts', care has been taken in selecting only sources from sites judged to be official, serious and stable. Furthermore, the very transient nature of a construct like the Internet makes references problematic; a source available today might, theoretically, be gone or metamorphosed the next - especially on non-official sites. Hence, as a precaution against this, hardcopies of the applied material exist, in the event of any applied resources expiring or being altered on the network.

2. Internet Relay Chat

      The following provides a brief introduction to the IRC; for more thorough information on the system's topography, usage, etc., please refer to the IRC Primer and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) listed in the bibliography (4.2).

      The IRC medium can celebrate its 10-year anniversary this year; the first IRC system went on-line - in Finland, followed by the rest of Scandinavia, and later the world at large - in 1988. It was designed (by Jarkko Oikarinen) to be a 'synchronous'[15] means of communicating, textually, with a number of other people (possibly geographically dispersed).[16]
      Users connect via the Internet, using an IRC client, to an IRC server which, again, is connected to a number of other servers throughout - quite literally - the world. This effectively enables connected users to 'talk' (write) to each other in near-real-time, no matter where in the world they happen to be situated. Such talk takes place in various channels, i.e. in virtual, spaceless 'rooms', typically - but not necessarily - with specific topics assigned to them; unless users 'talk' directly to each other (called querying or msg'ing),[17] everyone in a particular channel can 'hear' what is said (i.e. all text written on a channel appears in the channel windows of all users on the channel in question). Users are identified by a so-called nickname (or nick), which is theoretically transient in that it can be changed at any time.[18] A user may be on any number of channels simultaneously,[19] and everybody can, at any time, open new channels to suit their particular needs. Normally, channels (and there are typically hundreds, even thousands as the Internet continues its exponential growth, of them; a great deal 'persistent', others ephemeral) are open to everybody, but a mechanism for making a channel private (in which case an explicit invite is needed in order to join) exists.
      The IRC network is not a total anarchy, some minimal means of maintaining 'law and order' exist. The person who created a channel has operator rights on that channel; the operator can perform various settings on the channel (e.g. making it private), can kick out people who misbehave and ban them (i.e. preventing them from joining at all) if they repeat their offences. An operator can also grant other users operator rights on the channel, as well as depriving them of the privilege; on persistent channels the operator rights are typically shared between a core (or 'staff') of regulars, who don the operator hat partly in order to maintain the channel, partly as a sort of status symbol.
      Unobtrusive mechanisms[20] for querying whether a user is on-line, getting general information about a user, querying what channels the user is on as well as the seconds since he or she last typed anything on one of the channels are provided. However, the information revealed is determined by the users themselves; anonymity is proverbial on the IRC,[21] and it is not rare to see nothing but a comment reminding one to mind one's own business, when 'scanning' people. In any event, the IRC system thus - as will be discussed later - introduces mechanisms that are not available in neither written nor oral interaction.

2.1 Interactive Written Discourse

      Given the indisputable fact that the IRC is a communicative system operating solely through the transmission and reception of text, it is, perhaps, tempting not to instinctively ascribe the established attributes of written discourse to this genre. "A written discourse [...]", as Jan Renkema contends in his comments on written contra verbal interaction, "[...] is not part of a shared situation [...]" and consequently "[speakers] and listeners are more involved in communication than writers and readers".[22] Other researchers of oral and written discourse have, however, commented that:
      "Computers permit the production of a new kind of written language. Although it has not been extensively researched, the way in which written language is produced by computer operations may dramatically change not only the nature of writing as a process, but also the nature of language as an object."[23]

      As Christopher Werry also pointed out in his study of the linguistic and interactional features of the IRC, CMC might well have brought about a sort of hybrid where these established distinctions do not automatically apply: varying degrees of synchrony (with the IRC having near-synchrony, cf. the next section) can be found in various facets of the medium, but "[increasingly], forms of computer-mediated communication are emerging that enable 'conversation' to take place in real time through the medium of written language".[24] That amalgamation is the object of this study, and is designated - following the terminology of other CMC-scholars like Ferrara et al. - 'interactive written discourse'.[25]

2.2 Asynchronous Synchrony

      It has already been mentioned a number of times that the IRC provides means for essentially synchronous communication; it involves "[...] the production of writing via computer such that synchronous textual dialogue takes place between spatially distant interlocutors", as Christopher Werry contends in his study of the language of the IRC.[26] However, at this point there has also been allusions to the potentially problematic application of the term 'synchronous' in this context; something apparently disregarded by several investigations of the IRC.[27]
      The main problem stems from technicalities regarding the topography (as well as the 'demography') of the IRC system and the Internet as a whole. Depending on network-traffic and the number of users connected to the various IRC servers, significant time lags (or just lags in the native IRC terminology) can occur, delaying the reception of 'utterances'. When a user is "badly lagged", delays for 30 seconds or more can occur, above which point conversation becomes rather too asynchronous to be effective at all.[28] Such lags are extreme, but smaller lags will always be a part of the IRC; it does after all - even at optimal conditions - take a little time to relay an utterance from, say, Denmark to New Zealand.
      Another source of delay between utterances - one not owing to technical constraints of the medium, but perhaps rather to its possibilities - is the fact that a person may, in fact, be engaged in a number of conversations on several channels at once[29] (and even multiple dialogues inside the channel, as described in section 2.4); 'cycling', as it were, between the discourses, responding to what relevant utterances has arrived since attention was last focused on that particular conversation. As the IRC system provides an unobtrusive means for querying which channels a user is on, as well as the number of seconds since that person's last utterance in any channel, it is quite common to 'scan' the interlocutors one is engaged in conversation with (particularly if they seem slow to respond), to find out - from the number of channels that person is on and the elapsed seconds since last utterance - what kind of delay to expect. An example of such a 'scan' (through the invocation of the IRC whois command) can be found in the lines 8-13 of transcript A (see section 5.1, page 26) - the user Eek (with the orthographically rendered paralinguistic suffix 'ill'[30]) is expecting conversation with TheSeer, and consequently does a 'scan' of him to find out if he is active or away from the computer (deduced from the number of seconds since last utterance), as well as to see what channels he is on, in order to forecast the delay to expect.

      Apart from the varying (and normally relatively small) delays between utterances, the system's decentralised nature gives rise to something that must be appreciated by IRC users in order to successfully conduct a conversation: the fact that the sequence of utterances arriving at one's channel window is not necessarily - rarely, in fact - exactly the same as in the channel windows of other participants. In other words, the chronologically sequential organisation of turns found in normal face-to-face interaction[31] cannot be relied upon by IRC interlocutors for the attainment of a fluid and coherent exchange of utterances. This is an important realisation with inherent consequences for the interpretation of speaker transitions and turn allocations (cf. the following section); indeed, the whole cognitive process of educing meaning from this sequentially jumbled influx of utterances.

2.3 Conversation Management and Turn-Taking

      One respect in which the IRC takes after oral interaction, in spite of its orthographic rather than phonetic means of conveying 'utterances', is in its 'synchronic' mode of interaction. Unlike established forms of written discourse, the IRC provides 'real-time' fora for interactive discourse; i.e. the parties engaged in 'conversation' immediately respond and react to the counterpart's most recent utterance(s) or 'actions'.
      In order to produce coherent discourse in an interactive context, this should necessitate certain agreed-upon conventions for speaker transition points as well as speaker allocation mechanisms (the number of people on a single channel is often around 10, and on some of the more 'loosely defined' chat channels, the number can commonly reach 50-100 or even more). Just as verbal interaction is governed to a large extent by such implicit protocol - reflected in linguistic theory by the turn-taking model developed by Sacks et al.[32] - one might expect identifiable devices/strategies for governing the conversational flow in an IRC channel. "Most important, synchronous interaction introduces features such as turn-taking and repair that has attracted attention in conversation analysis"; also in a machine-mediated context,[33] as Sherri Condon and Claude Cech stated in their functional comparison between face-to-face and computer-mediated decision making interactions.[34]

      Briefly sketched, traditional turn-taking theory states that:[35]

      A closer examination of these central points will, however, reveal that even if IRC discourse is similar to verbal interaction in its spontaneity and casuality, its methods of conversation management are not, and cannot be, the same. In particular, the points stating that: but one person speaks at a time, that simultaneous talk is avoided and that transitions occur with minimal delay/overlap can be observed to fail when sought applied to an IRC conversation.
      Given the disembodied presence of 'voices' in an IRC channel, the non-verbal interactional cues between participants that spoken conversation seems to rely heavily on[36] are simply not available. There are no other indexes to the state of mind, ironic intentions, etc. of an interlocutor than what is reflected in the orthography of the lines of text appearing at the screen. Whereas emulation of prosodic/paralinguistic devices is heavily used in the language of the IRC (please refer to section 2.5 for an elaboration on this theme), such emulation is not suitable for turn co-ordination. First of all there is the problem of not having true synchrony (recalling section 2.2), but emulated non-verbal cues (NVCs) also differ in another important respect from 'real' NVCs in that the former must always be produced (and rendered orthographically) deliberately, and is, consequently, only available if a participant specifically opts to include such cues. In face-to-face interaction, the latter provides a separate, parallel channel of communication; a channel with surprising bandwidth when it comes to negotiation and allocation of turns.[37] Consequently, IRC interlocutors really have no other means than their utterances to allocate turns for their utterances; a paradox that would seem to render known methods of turn-taking impossible.
      Other studies of the interactional features of IRC have also pointed out that turn-talking, in any conventional form, is apparently not taking place in IRC exchanges.[38] Or rather, perhaps: nothing but quite literal turn-taking is taking place, but there are no clear 'out-of-band' negotiations as to what is an unnatural pause or when it is 'proper' for a participant to interject an utterance.[39] Consider the situation found in transcript A, in which TheSeer - presumably busy on the channel #OS/2Ger[40] - does not respond to Eek's greeting[41] for nearly half an hour.[42] This is not considered rude by Eek, rather he infers that TheSeer is busy elsewhere. Neither is there anything particularly rude about the way TheSeer announces his presence through a sudden shout of Eek's name (in fact, this is the typical modus operandi between familiars on the IRC), nor the immediate further fragmentation of the conversation following his entry into it. Hence, customary notions of interruption and overlapping do not apply (though it is the author's view, in contrast to some other studies, that a certain form of interruption - albeit imperceptible to the 'perpetrator' - can actually occur; please refer to section 2.4 for an elaboration on this); an IRC interlocutor, evidently, makes use of other means than strict sequential organisation to educe coherence.

      One such means, and an important one at that, is undoubtedly provided by the medium itself: the fact that even though 'synchronous' discourse differs from written discourse in being episodic,[43] IRC discourse has a considerably longer 'half-life' (as Werry puts it) in a channel window[44] than an similar orally produced statement would have.[45] In verbal interaction, interlocutors have nothing but short-term memory of recent utterances, whereas an utterance produced by an IRC interlocutor remains visible in a channel window for some time (and most current IRC clients even allow one to scroll back, reviewing the entire conversation in the channel from the moment one entered it). Thus, parties engaged in conversation have more time - and means - to evaluate incoming utterances in terms of their relevance to the threads they are engaged in than do speakers in face-to-face interaction; the notorious linguistic notion of 'the co-operative principle'[46] presumably remains very central indeed to this process, as relevance becomes almost the only remaining factor to determine which utterance relates to which.
      In order to be able to do this evaluation (which is a prerequisite for conversing successfully), it seems likely that IRC users must internalise new discursive skills that can arguably be said to differ entirely from cohesive principles of both spoken and written discourse. It is necessary to rapidly filter and assess the incoming utterances in the channel window(s) for their relevance to the conversational threads in which one is involved (rapidity is, of course, particularly important on channels where a high amount of active 'speakers' produce substantial 'noise'), lest one looses 'turns' and eventually fails to continue taking active part in the conversation.[47] This noise does not have any equivalents in established written discourse, but it might be possible to aliken it to the massive communicative noise found in face-to-face interaction at social gatherings like cocktail parties.[48] Except, as Jill Serpentelli argues in her evaluation of the conversational structure of IRC, that there is no escaping the noise at all on the IRC; one cannot step aside, breaking off into smaller groups,[49] as would most likely happen in a face-to-face context.[50] For further discussion on the noise, fragmentation and pace of the IRC, please refer to section 2.4.

      Another mechanism IRC speakers make use of in order to minimise conversational ambiguity regarding the intended party/parties is explicitly naming the person for whom an utterance was intended; by convention through beginning an utterance by the recipient's nickname followed by a colon and the utterance itself.[51] This is a de-facto convention that is not necessarily followed, particularly not when only a few speakers are active. Returning to transcript A, this high degree of what Werry has termed addressivity[52] is clearly illustrated at the point where TheSeer enters the conversation[53] (which then comes to include three interlocutors); before this point, only Eek and CoCo was active in the channel and the extensive addressivity, consequently, not pertinent. In face-to-face interaction designation of the intended receiver(s) of an utterance is normally achieved through means of NVCs, occasionally assisted, of course, by explicitly indicating the receiver's name (especially when initiating a conversation or switching to a new receiver). To most people engaged in face-to-face discourse, however, it would probably appear somewhat eccentric if an interlocutor insisted on prefixing each and every utterance with a name; with the absence of NVCs, however, it becomes an essential part of managing conversational threads on the IRC.

      It might also be worth noting that most current IRC clients implement various strategies for assisting users in their conversation management. Many are, for example, capable of highlighting utterances that include one's name, or even alert one, through various means, if somebody mentions one's name (or any 'cue word') on a channel that receives only superficial attention at the moment. Such 'schizophrenic' omni-presence certainly has no equivalents in 'real life' interaction. Some clients also assist users in addressing other interlocutors (cf. the above) by providing a quick method of 'completing' user names, through pattern-matching, from only the first couple of letters of the name.
      Quite interestingly, said feature introduces the possibility of actually miss-addressing an utterance due to being 'too quick on the keys', as it were, (if, say, some user would like to address an utterance to Doe, and there is both a user called Doe and a user called Donald;[54] entering "do" and hitting the completion key only once will complete Doe rather than Donald, and failing to notice this can result in a 'misfire').[55] Thus, notions of failure and repair normally associated with oral interaction can come to apply to a CMC context also. (Another type of repair can actually be found in transcript A, line 49 (page 27): CoCo realises a typing mistake and mends it by sticking the missing 'g' onto 'bankin' after 5 seconds. An interesting correction, in fact (cf. the next section), since the word would undoubtedly be understood without it.)

2.4 Structure, Fragmentation and Pace

      An oft-cited property of spoken versus written language is the former's fragmentation as opposed to the latter's integration.[56]
      It has already been mentioned that IRC users can be - and frequently are - on more than one channel simultaneously; either primarily focusing attention on one channel for a length of time, or cycling through them, keeping up - or at least trying to - with the multiple discursive fora (each of which may require the use of a particular register) at the same time. It has also been mentioned how interlocutors are quite frequently engaged in conversation with several people inside a channel simultaneously. This fragmented, multi-threaded conversational style continues right down to the level of dialogue between two persons: even here, multiple, simultaneous conversational threads are constantly being spawned or concluded. Even though topical fragmentation is an attribute generally associated with oral discourse,[57] it is not exactly common practice between interlocutors in face-to-face interaction to juggle multiple topics at one; rather, fluctuations in the essentially single-threaded topic of the conversations are the manifestations. In 2.3 it was mentioned how the IRC medium allows for such 'clocked-up' fragmentation through the fact that though in principle ephemeral discourse, utterances are available for review at considerably longer time than an orally produced utterance. This is likely to be part of the cause why ongoing threads remain open whenever a new topic is brought into the conversation, in contrast to spoken discourse.[58]
      Another potentially important contributor to the fragmentation is the fact that whilst composing an utterance, an interlocutor "hangs in limbo", as Werry has it;[59] i.e. producing an utterance demands full attention and one cannot simultaneously attend to the stream(s) of incoming utterances. Thus, impatiently waiting for a response, a user may initiate a new conversational thread - either in the same dialogue, with another person on the channel or in a different channel altogether. And again, self-inducingly: while the composer of the awaited reply completes the utterance, the interlocutor is attending to the new thread, and so the composer may too initiate a new thread while waiting. This is typically going on between several people at once, producing, in Werry's words, "[...] rapid shifts in topic [...]" and "[...] separate conversations intertwining [...]"[60] criss-crossing the spaceless space of the channel. Consequently, Jill Serpentelli contends in her study that: "Conversation on the busier channels is almost impossible beyond a superficial level; it would be impossible to keep track of a serious conversation with so many people talking."[61] Some also observe that in order to 'keep up' with the conversational threads, the mode of conversation experienced on IRC can become almost aggressive, with interlocutors vying for each other's attention in the chaotic flux of incoming utterances.[62] This, however, is - in the author's view - not necessarily the case, but maybe more of a question of developing and applying the particular communicative skills needed for IRC interaction, just as one needs to learn the conventions of any other form of discourse. No-one forces a user to attempt to juggle more threads the he or she finds manageable, and if a conversation has a 'purpose' (other than competition on IRC skills, which certainly may seem a purpose in itself on some of the more loosely defined chat channels), participants are, of course, not interested in out-writing each other, but in meaningful interaction.[63]
      Whether or not IRC discourse is regarded as a veritable competition (and as the above implies, this may be the case on some channels), one incentive to rapidity - and hence brevity - is to avoid what one might denote a 'virtual interruption'. In section 2.3 it was suggested that, contrary to most views on the very loosely defined turn-taking witnessed on the IRC, a special sort of 'invisible' interruption may, in fact, take place: whilst a user is engaged in composing an utterance, a new incoming thread or sub-thread in the channel might pre-empt what the user is currently writing, and revisions - or a total scratch - of the utterance under composition may be the result.[64] Contrary to interruptions in face-to-face interaction, however, the 'perpetrator' is never aware of having caused such a 'virtual interruption'; but having experiences such interruptions may add to an interlocutor's inclination towards brevity, lest the effort spent in composing an utterance be wasted.
      This may lead to another clearly distinct attribute of IRC discourse: the generally high degree of abbreviation, lack of capitalisation[65] and absence of diacritics. Werry finds that most utterances on the IRC are quite short[66] (a figure increasing somewhat, however, when only a few people is active on a channel).[67] In transcript A it seems that utterances are, generally, considerably longer than six words (and when TheSeer joins the conversation, the average length is not affected discernibly),[68] but it may well be an appropriate figure on one of the looser defined, busier channels. Werry contends that: "In general, one can observe a tendency on IRC for words to be stripped down to the fewest possible letters that will enable them to be meaningfully recognised. Thus the vowels of some words will commonly be left out [...]".[69] Again, transcript A does not seem to support this particular point,[70] but if one is prepared to lend credit to the author's claimed experience on the IRC, he can confirm that in busier channels/conversations vowel-less words like 'ppl' (people), 'pls' (please), 'cu' (see you), etc. are exceedingly common, as well as the application of a wide range of indigenous acronyms as 'btw' (by the way), 'bbl' (be back later), 'brb' (be right back), 'gtg' (got to go), 'afaik' (as far as I know), etc.
      Such linguistic factors - including lexis, lexical density and grammatical intricacy - are rather established distinguishing factors in traditional speech/writing discrimination,[71] and further study of how these factors manifest themselves in the discourse of the IRC are, consequently, relevant indeed. Constraints on the scope of this paper, however, necessitates deferral of subsequent analysis to a later time.

2.5 Paralinguistic Cues and 'Meta-Utterances'

      In section 2.3 it was briefly asserted that emulation of prosodic/paralinguistic devices is heavily used in the language of the IRC; this is, perhaps, one of the most intriguing attributes of the genre. In order to compensate for the lack of the parallel communicative channel provided by NVCs in face-to-face interaction, CMC users have, in the course of time, developed and widely adopted what Werry terms 'orthographic strategies'[72] to provide mechanisms of reflecting such elements as marked facial expressions and intonation.[73]

      These include what has become somewhat of a CMC-cliché in popular representations of the medium: the 'emoticons',[74] more commonly known as 'smileys' in an affectionate diminutive of the 'smiles' they emulate. Smileys are orthographically rendered iconographic representations of facial expressions, serving as indexical signs - to apply 'Peircian' terminology - to an interlocutor's non-verbal reaction to a received utterance or general state of mind at the time of producing an utterance. Following is a couple of examples of some central smileys (rotating them 90 clockwise will clearly demonstrate their iconographic nature):

      :-)     smile, happy face
      ;-)     winky, ironical face
      .-)     wink
      :-/     somewhat dissatisfied/unhappy face
      :-(     'anti-smile', unhappy face
      >:-(    frown, angry face

      It is worth noting, however, that smileys are used very creatively and independently by different 'speakers';[75] there is no entirely fixed convention on how to produce or interpret them (though, of course, basic elements like the 'direction' of the mouth are conventionalised), and the periodicity, variation and range of expressions also vary markedly between speakers. E.g. in transcript A, one can observe how the three interlocutors produce different syntagms from varying, but intersecting, paradigms of smileys.
      A semantic equivalent to the emoticons described in the above can be found in acronymic codes, typically enclosed - to indicate their NVC-status - in either asterisks or angle brackets (whichever fits the interlocutor's ontology).[76] These 'meta-tokens' in an utterance rely on convention to a higher degree than smileys (because meaning cannot be deduced visually); however, even if smileys may be of iconic origin, it would probably be wrong to assume that these are easier to interpret per se. As in other forms of interaction, one must master a code, or set of codes, in order to participate; both the use of smileys and their acronymic parallels may seem somewhat enigmatic to a novice user, but they develop into natural, necessary devices with the internalisation of the code.[77] A couple of examples of these acronymic (often playful) paralinguistic cues are:

      *g*         grin
      <bg>        big grin
      <lol>       laughing out loud
      *rotfl*     rolling on the floor laughing
      *hugs*      hugging someone

      Also, onomatopoeia are common features of an IRC discourse,[78] as well as use of other orthographic means, like capitalisation[79] or pseudo-italicisation,[80] to indicate stress or emphasis. In transcript A, one can furthermore see another paralinguistic device by which the user Eek 'looks ill'; he has appended 'ill' to his nickname, and it is interesting to see how CoCo (knowing Eek) immediately reacts to this upon his 'arrival'.[81]

      Existing studies of the IRC tend to pay some attention to these, indeed fascinating and innovative, paralinguistic devices, but continuously refer to them as simulation or emulation of 'real' speech and face-to-face interaction.[82] The question is whether this view is entirely correct, or whether it rather is the result of trying - possibly unconsciously - to fit CMC discourse into to established theoretical frameworks of oral/written discourse. It is the author's view that even if the devices described in the above often serve a purpose similar to the paralinguistic cues found in face-to-face interaction, they function somewhat differently and need to be regarded in their own context.[83]
      One respect in which paralinguistic tokens found in IRC utterances differ notably from their verbal equivalents is the fact that in an IRC discourse these cues can - and very frequently do - function as a complete conversational turn in their own right. In face-to-face conversation, NVCs are primarily used as a secondary, parallel, channel of communication; it is, for example, quite common to nod while voicing a confirmation of sorts, but considerably less common to answer a question by non-verbal means only. On the IRC, devices like smileys can both serve as back channel cues[84] (in which case they can more rightly be said to emulate NVCs), and as a separate utterance, 'turn-yielding' (within the very loosely define turn-taking/allocation structure experienced on the IRC, cf. 2.3) in the thread in which it occurs. Furthermore, as was also touched upon in section 2.3 (see page 4), another marked difference between 'NVCs' as they appear on IRC and as they appear in face-to-face interaction is the fact that they must always be wilfully produced and made available, whereas 'real life' NVCs to at least some extent provides an always open channel, available for 'reading' whenever an interlocutor wants to do so.[85]
      Another discursive device belonging, it is believed, solely to the conversational genre of the IRC (and its descendants) is the possibility to produce 'meta-utterances', bringing something intriguingly similar to the rhetoric of written fiction into play.[86] Everyone on a channel has the option to produce 'passive' statements about themselves, appearing rather in the way an omniscient author would describe a person's actions or feelings in a literary production. When issuing the IRC command "/me (descriptive utterance)", the utterance appears in the form of an 'action'; e.g. if the user Doe types "/me feels ill...", the outcome would be " * Doe feels ill..."[87] This mode of communication exceeds any form of communication found in oral discourse, in which persons generally do not have the possibility of literally 'thinking out loud'. Supplementing the IRC code's provisions for conveying paralinguistic signs is, in other words, something beyond; something capable of communicating what the author proposes to term metalinguistic signs. Through these, a person has the option to mimic 'real life' actions through a manner of speech acts (see below), but perhaps more importantly: also to disclose thoughts or feelings that lie beyond the scope of any established communicative channel: a statement like " * Doe thinks Cogito sounds drunk!" simply has no equivalent in oral/written discourse, other than a conversion to a normal active statement ("You sound drunk, Cogito!"), [88] which does not produce quite the same effect. This device rather mimics the 'thought bubbles' found in cartoons, thus augmenting representative aspects normally associated with written discourse (including genres like cartoons).[89] Accordingly, and fascinatingly, IRC discourse can perhaps be described as a unique representation of representation of speech rather than merely the representation of speech such interactive written discourse is often said to be; a play on established norms of language and genre that can but captivate linguists.[90]

      An interesting way to possibly characterise one aspect of these metalinguistic utterances is to associate them with speech act theory from the field of pragmatics.[91] A somewhat similar connection, albeit in a Multi-User Dimension (MUD) context,[92] has been established by Anna Cicognani and Mary Lou Maher in their paper on 'design speech acts' in virtual communities.[93] They draw attention to the fact that the question regarding "How to do things with words" (as John Austin called his book introducing the notion of speech acts) has an inherent similarity to how 'virtual discourse' strive to 'do things' - interact vividly - with words, although the taxonomy might have to be mended somewhat to fit this new context. (It is noted, for example, how the classic categorisation of performatives cannot be immediately transferred to a 'virtual' context; for that reason, Cicognani and Maher suggest a new classification scheme). Further discussion of how speech act theory can possibly relate to CMC discourse lies beyond this paper, but it certainly is a relevant connection to make and to investigate further.

3. Conclusion

      "The essence of language is human activity - activity on the part of one individual to make himself understood by another, and activity on the part of that other to understand what was in the mind of the first."
- Otto Jespersen, "Philosophy of Grammar"

      This paper has focused on the IRC - a single facet of the recent, but significant, phenomenon known as CMC - in order to inquire whether the introduction of a knew communicative medium inherently means the simultaneous introduction of a distinct discursive genre, the mould of which is shaped both by the limitations and unique possibilities of that medium. In doing so, it must also be noted that this paper has focused on - and drawn examples from - but one of the variety of the multitude of genres appearing on the IRC.[94] However, though this paper does by no means pretend to be an exhaustive study of the discursive properties of the IRC, it is believed that its findings may, cautiously, be transferred to a wider context.
      It should be apparent that the structure of IRC conversation - given its near-synchronous mode of interaction - lends more similarity to that of oral discourse than it does to that of written. It demonstrates an active, concurrent negotiation of meaning between interlocutors - complete with communicative break-downs and repair - but at the same time it draws on certain discursive devices normally associated with written discourse; e.g. 'illustrative' metalinguistic utterances. Hence, it cannot be fitted into either of these established frameworks without compromising the irrefutably unique features it can be witnessed to contain. These include the highly multi-threaded structure, the peculiar turn/exchange-'structure', the orthographically rendered addressivity and paralinguistic cues - and even indigenous lexis (with its own native etymology) and behavioural code and norms (e.g. the highly conventionalised way of greeting a person by uttering his or her nickname followed by exclamation mark(s) or a 'smile').[95]

      In other words, the author finds it plausible indeed to argue that on the IRC one can witness an autonomous form of language; an intriguing prospect, as it is a language that has no spoken version at all, a language that has sprung - surprisingly quickly - from both the constraints and opportunities of the medium. This notion has led some researchers to feel that CMC can be problematic because they regard users as being potentially controlled by the medium rather than controlling it;[96] the author would, however, like to pose the question whether this is not always the case and whether this is at all a problem. Is this, for example, different from what happened with the advent of written discourse? Few people would dispute the important differences between oral and written language; one has to learn how to produce and interpret both - mastering the one does not necessarily mean one masters the other. Thus, the acceptance of the notion that the language of the IRC has assumed its form due to the particular communicative possibilities this medium provides must induce the further question whether the taxonomy of the media through which we communicate do not always influence the modes in which we communicate; including our primary communicative means: speech.
      This may sound disconcertingly 'Whorfian' to some, but based on the observed fact that IRC discourse (and other technologically mediated means of communication[97]) works, as it were, the author subscribes to the notion that rather than focusing on the limits CMC - or, indeed, any medium - might impose, one should focus on the fact that human interaction is really all about the activity, as Otto Jespersen put it, of negotiating meaning - through, we might extrapolate, whatever communicative means available. What is important, then, is that one obtains - and has, at all, the opportunity to obtain - the communicative competence required for successfully interacting through whatever media one employs; just as one once had to learn how to cope with speech and face-to-face interaction.
      The living discourse of the IRC would seem to support the notion that languages and modes of interaction are not mere static objects, but more like 'organisms' in constant flux. This ought not disconcert us, the users of language; it is, after all, through our own incentive for - and play with - communication that this ceaseless development takes place. CMC remains but one of our plenteous means for human interaction.

4. Sources

4.1 Literature

Davids, Boyd H. & Brewer, Jeutonne P.: "Electronic Discourse - Linguistic Individuals in Virtual Space",
       State University of New York Press, 1997

Graddol, David & Cheshire, Jenny & Swann, John: "Describing Language",
       Open University Press, 1987

Herring, Susan C. (ed.): "Computer-Mediated Communication - Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives",
       John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1996

Herring, Susan: "Linguistic and Critical Analysis of Computer-Mediated Communication - Some Ethical and Scholary Considerations",
       Taylor & Francis, 1996

Horowitz, Rosalind & Samuels, S. Jay (eds.): "Comprehending Oral and Written Language",
       Academic Press, 1987

Jespersen, Otto: "Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin",
       Macmillan, 1921

Kerr, Elaine B. & Hiltz, Starr Roxanne: "Computer-Mediated Communication Systems - Status and Evaluation",
       Academic Press, 1982

Renkema, Jan: "Discourse Studies - An Introductory Textbook",
       John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1993

4.2 Internet

Cicognani, Anna & Maher, Mary Lou: "Design Speech Acts - 'How to do things with Words' in Virtual Communities"; via

Donath, Judith S.: "Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community"; via

"Internet Relay Chat FAQ; via"; via

"IRC Primer"; via

Reid, Elizabeth M.: "Electropolis - Communication and Community on Internet Relay Chat"; via

Rheingold, Howard: "The Virtual Community" (Online Edition); via

Serpentelli, Jill: "Conversational Structure and Personality Correlates of Electronic Communication"; via

5. Appendix

      This chapter contains the IRC transcripts serving as exemplifying data for this paper. The transcripts were made by instructing the IRC client - Virtual IRC for OS/2 - to log all channel activity to a file. As Christopher C. Werry has noted in his study of the IRC, it is worth noting (and keeping in mind when analysing the data), "[...] that reproducing the conversations on the static printed page sacrifices the crucial dimensions of pace and tempo that occur as IRC dialogues unfold in time".[98]
      Apart from minor typographical enhancements (boldface and italics) to improve readability, and addition of line numbering for reference purposes, the transcripts presented here are 'raw' data, appearing exactly as they appeared on the screen of one of the participants. {Note to Web-edition: The reason for the non-steady increase of line numbers is in order to preserve line references from the original printed text.}

Transcription Legend

      Three asterisks at the beginning of a line indicates an 'out-of-band' message from the IRC server or client; e.g. notifications and responses to queries and commands. These messages have been italicised here (in the IRC client they appeared in a separate colour).

      Each 'utterance' by a remote user is normally prefixed by a time stamp in square brackets. It is important to recognise (cf. section 2.2) the fact that these stamps may vary between the connected users; chances are that even the sequence of utterances is slightly different in the windows of other users, due to varying time lags in relaying the text through different servers.
      Immediately following the time stamp of an utterance (and preceding the utterance itself) is the user's nickname, enclosed in angle brackets (boldfaced here).
      Own utterances, as they are transmitted into the channel, appear (without time stamp or nick indication) following a 'right arrow'. The fact that own utterances are not time stamped must be considered a shortcoming in the transcripts, and taken into account when analysing the data. Also, this transcription method does not reveal whether an incoming utterance preceded or 'interrupted' the composition of an own utterance, before that utterance was transmitted to the channel.
      If a user performs an 'action', no time stamp or 'angled' nick indication appears - rather, a single asterisk appears, followed by the user's nick, followed by the 'action' itself. This enables 'meta-utterances' of the kind " * Eek frowns questioningly..."; the fact, however, that the used IRC client does not provide a time stamp for these utterances has to be taken into account when analysing the data.

5.1 IRC Transcript A

      Transcript A is an exchange between three 'regulars' at the IRC Net channel #OS/2 (topically devoted to the PC operating system OS/2, but between regulars all sorts of general and personal conversation often takes place). These interlocutors know each other quite well from previous talks.

[ LOG Session Initiated, 1998-11-06 02:51:37 - Virtual IRC for OS/2]
  1     *** Eek_ill [Eek@abnxr1.ras.tele.dk] has joined #OS/2
  2     *** Topic in #OS/2 is (International OS/2 Warp Channel)
  3     *** Names on #os/2 are: Eek_ill @TheSeer @zaoliAFK @samie @i-sob @timewarp @OS2LDR @caveman99 
  5     End of /NAMES list.
  6     *** Channel MODE in #OS/2 is +tn 
  7     [02:51:39] *** MODE change [+o Eek_ill] by OS2LDR
  8     *** TheSeer [theseer@warp.freepoint.de]
  9     *** Comment: Warp-Faktor !
 10     *** On Channels: @#os/2 @#os/2ger 
 11     *** IRC server: Netsurf.DE 
 12     *** Idle 7 seconds
 13     *** End of /WHOIS list.
 14     -> Heya TheSeer!
 15     *** CoCo [CoCo@rhein-main.de] has joined #os/2
 16     [02:54:55] <CoCo> Schur :)
 17     [02:54:59] <CoCo> Eek ?
 18     [02:55:02] <CoCo> What's up with you ?
 19     -> CoCo!!!!!
 20     [02:55:11] <CoCo> :]
 21     -> * Eek_ill 's got some throat infection; don't come near... ;)
 22     [02:55:41] <CoCo> Eek_ill: Heard about warm beer will help with nearly all diseases
 24     [02:55:46] <CoCo> ... the more the better ;)
 25     -> :>
 26     -> Actually I plan to try the beer-method out tomorrow ;)
 27     [02:56:12] <CoCo> But nothing serious, I hope ?
 28     [02:56:16] <CoCo> *G*
 29     -> Been in bed for almost a week, so now I must try alternative methods ;)
 31     [02:56:46] <CoCo> hehe ... no human being around to help you sweat ? *g*
 33     -> nope, heh ;)
 34     [02:57:37] *** MODE change [+o CoCo] by Eek_ill
 35     -> so what've you been up to lately??
 36     [02:58:09] <CoCo> Thanks, eek :)
 37     [02:58:50] <CoCo> Uhm
 38     [02:58:51] <CoCo> Work
 39     -> ah, the usual... ;)
 40     [02:59:01] <CoCo> Mostly
 41     [02:59:17] <CoCo> I'll quit my job soon, I'm fed up
 42     -> yeah?
 43     -> where do you work?
 44     [02:59:44] <CoCo> So I had other things to do, like to negotiate with some people which are interessted in hiring me
 46     -> * Eek_ill wishes CoCo good luck...
 47     [03:00:14] <CoCo> I work in a small (actually very small) highly specialized company, which creates software for bankin
 49     [03:00:19] <CoCo> +g
 50     -> os/2?
 51     [03:00:42] <CoCo> Actually we care about the stock-market (Futures/Options esp.)
 53     [03:00:53] <CoCo> Unix, VMS, MS Windows and OS/2
 54     -> ... and what not... :)
 55     [03:01:16] <CoCo> OS/2 is our Workstation OS, development is done for VMS mostly
 57     [03:01:43] <CoCo> We don't use MVS, since the power supplies of these boxes would turn down half of Frankfurt ;)
 59     -> <g>
 60     -> tried Aurora yet?
 61     [03:02:35] <CoCo> We have an NT box, but it's more for showing its lacks to others *eg*
 63     -> hehe :)
 64     [03:02:58] <CoCo> We're about to install it, but not in a productive environment
 66     -> my brother working at a bank just installed it for testing on one of their servers :)
 68     -> it had better not crash ;)
 69     [03:03:36] <CoCo> I personally didn't have a single look at Aurora, yet
 71     [03:03:39] <CoCo> *G*
 72     [03:03:49] <CoCo> Did you hear about the Deutsche Bank ?
 73     -> No?
 74     -> Not another OS/2-gone-Windows story I hope?
 75     [03:04:10] <CoCo> They're throwing MS Windows/NT out completely
 76     -> really?
 77     [03:04:26] <CoCo> They are not "about to throw", they're in the process of doing so *g*
 79     -> how remarkably clear-sighted :)
 80     -> what do they use instead then?
 81     [03:05:13] <CoCo> Main argument: "No cost-efficiency, just binding manpower and money for too low effects"
 83     [03:05:33] <CoCo> They switch back to OS/2 completely (all but the Dealers, which are still on NT)
 85     [03:05:44] <CoCo> Even the clients will go back to OS/2
 86     -> wow! :->
 87     -> Best good-night story I ever had! :>
 88     [03:06:00] <CoCo> They are about to throw out MS Office
 89     [03:06:12] <CoCo> Replace it with StarOffice for OS/2 completely
 90     -> amazing...
 91     -> I would have thought something like that totally impossible...
 92     [03:06:32] <CoCo> Until now they have thrown out MS Excel, replaced it by StarCalc
 94     [03:06:54] <CoCo> Stardivision was asked for fixes and upgrades by the DB, StarDivision did a good job
 96     -> big custumer :)
 97     -> Nice to see that /some/ people can think for themselves instead of just following dictated microsoft-trends!
 99     [03:07:25] <CoCo> Now the users at the DB put their bosses under pressure
101     [03:08:09] <CoCo> Main argument of the users: "If StarCalc is that superior to Excel, how big must the difference between the rest of this office suites be ?"
104     -> I hope others will be inspired by this! :)
105     [03:09:21] <CoCo> DB asked StarDivision for additions to the StarOffice
107     [03:09:33] <CoCo> Main thing: Import filters for MS Office
108     [03:09:41] <CoCo> The most recent releases
109     [03:10:33] <CoCo> DB _is said to_ have a written agreement from StarDivision about releasing ALL fixes/enhancements which are made for Deutsche Bank to the public
112     -> * Eek_ill hopes this to be true...
113     [03:11:00] <CoCo> Which means: Deutsche Bank said, that they want to see all the fixes and upgrades in official releases
115     [03:11:14] <CoCo> I know, that they want it that way
116     [03:11:22] <CoCo> But I do not know by now, if they succeeded
117     -> Well, it's good pleasing such large customer
118     [03:12:04] <CoCo> Fact is: Deutsche Bank is fed up with NT *G*
119     -> probably the single largest they have
120     [03:12:08] <CoCo> Yeah
121     -> figures :)
122     [03:12:23] <CoCo> Yes
123     [03:12:24] <CoCo> Exactly
124     [03:12:30] <CoCo> The single largest they have
125     [03:13:03] <CoCo> Best reference for Microsoft to get their foot into the door of professional banking  business
127     [03:13:28] <CoCo> And now Deutsche Bank slammed the door *g*
128     [03:13:37] <CoCo> And Microsoft says: "Ouch"
129     -> * Eek_ill applauds wildly :>
130     [03:13:39] <CoCo> ;o)
131     [03:13:46] <CoCo> *LOL*
132     [03:14:08] <CoCo> I smiled devilish, when I had that little conversation
134     -> :)
135     [03:14:22] <CoCo> And I asked 3 other people, very close to Deutsche Bank
137     -> I hope other banks will look at this and say, Hey, we dont HAVE to switch to NT just for nothing else than switching to NT
139     [03:14:31] <CoCo> And they _all_ told me nearly the same
140     -> I will forward this to my brother's bank and tell him to start lobbying... ;)
142     [03:15:17] <CoCo> There's even more about NT *g*
143     [03:15:23] <CoCo> ServicePack 4 woes *BG*
144     -> how so?
145     [03:15:45] <CoCo> Even ZD America (ms pros, as far as I know) is angry
146     -> :))
147     [03:15:57] <CoCo> ZD installed the fix on their servers
148     [03:16:06] <CoCo> Result: A bunch of them was down
149     [03:16:08] <CoCo> *LOL*
150     -> and they were actually ... SURPRISED? ;>
151     [03:16:22] <CoCo> I'll try to get an url for this one
152     [03:16:29] <CoCo> *ROTFL*
153     [03:17:02] <CoCo> I think they'll never admit, that they didn't expect something else than what has happened ;)
155     -> .)
156     [03:18:19] <CoCo> I'll try to get more details about the Deutsche Bank, I want some lines on some pieces of paper with some valid signatures beneath them ;)
159     [03:18:26] <TheSeer> Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekk !!! :-))
160     [03:18:36] <CoCo> Schur TheSeer :))
161     -> TheSeer! :>
162     [03:18:51] <TheSeer> CoCo: if you get this information please post it to webteam@os-2.de ;))
164     [03:19:10] <CoCo> TheSeer: I'll post it to the TeamOS2-Mailing list .)
165     -> and WarpCast, if it's official!
166     [03:19:30] <CoCo> Yeah *g*
167     [03:19:39] <TheSeer> CoCo: i don't care about that mailing list. i need it on the website of os2.org ;)
169     [03:19:44] <CoCo> hehe
170     [03:20:07] <TheSeer> Eek_ill: so how's your life ? still bad ?
171     -> TheSeer: well, improving I guess; still somewhat ill though :/
172     [03:20:33] <CoCo> TheSeer: I saw him getting better with every line I wrote about the Deutsche Bank ;o)
174     [03:20:41] <TheSeer> CoCo: btw.. do you know what happend to Commerzbank ? afaik they tried NT too and kicked it out for Unix ...
176     -> CoCo: It's a miracle! :>
177     -> I can walk, I can walk!
178     [03:20:58] <TheSeer> Eek_ill: so get well soon.. you're needed bad ;)
179     [03:20:59] <CoCo> As the Alianz-Versicherung did *eg*
180     [03:21:03] <CoCo> Eek_ill: *LOL*
181     [03:21:28] <TheSeer> CoCo: did  alianz switch to unix or back to os/2?
182     -> TheSeer: yeah :) I hope to have a normal uptime after the weekend
183     [03:21:40] <TheSeer> Commerzbank is on Unix afaik..
184     [03:21:51] <CoCo> TheSeer: No clar idea
185     [03:22:27] <CoCo> But as far as I know MS had to admit in written letters about their products inability to handle the job
187     [03:22:40] <TheSeer> <LOL>
188     [03:22:43] <CoCo> And so indirectly admit that they lied
189     [03:23:08] <TheSeer> live suxx for microsoft these days...
190     [03:23:18] <CoCo> There are so many papers I'd like to get an eye onto .)
192     -> let's split expenses and buy a couple of industrial spies :>
193     [03:23:58] <CoCo> I nearly laughed tears about Bill Gates' memory wholes .)
195     [03:24:12] <CoCo> Eek_ill: Why ? We have a working IP-Stack .)
196     -> hehehe :)
197     [03:24:29] <CoCo> holes, not wholes
198     [03:24:43] <CoCo> Or wholes ? Doh
199     [03:24:46] <CoCo> :/
200     -> a hole in the ground which is there the whole time
201     [03:24:58] <CoCo> I have to get regular here, again .)
202     [03:25:26] <CoCo> Eek_ill: That's a good one, hope I'll be able to remember it .)
204     -> .)
205     -> well, time for me to flatline again, I think...
206     -> CoCo: great news :)
207     -> TheSeer: See you on monday at #warpmail
208     -> every1 else, stay warped :)
209     [03:27:21] <TheSeer> sure!
210     -> Bye!
211     -> * Eek_ill heads off into the night...

6. Notes & References

1The Internet is actually of military origin. (See for example Rheingold, Howard: "The Virtual Community" (On-line Edition), chapter 3: "Visionaries and Convergences: The Accidental History of the Net"; via http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/3.html)
2Jespersen, Otto: "Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin", Macmillan, 1921
3Though the actual physical distance implied by the prefix 'tele' may, of course, be relatively small; e.g. the next office in a work-environment.
4E.g. Internet Relay Chat / UseNet discussion fora
5E.g. Internet Relay Chat / Voice Chat / Video Conferencing
6E.g. graphically enhanced chat systems like "The Palace" / (audio) visual chat systems like CU-SeeMe
7Characterised primarily by being a well-established, textual, 'synchronous' (in a somewhat modified sense, as will be discussed later (see section 2.2, page 9) medium.
8Rheingold, Howard: "The Virtual Community" (Online Edition), chapter 6: "Real-time Tribes"; via http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/6.html
9Although, certainly, it is possible to use the IRC for this purpose; the author has himself used the IRC for regular meetings and discussions with (quite geographically dispersed) co-programmers of a joint software development project.
10See for example Herring, Susan C. (ed.): "Computer-Mediated Communication - Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives", John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1996 - pp.2-6
11Herring, Susan C. (ed.): "Computer-Mediated Communication - Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives", op.cit. - p.5
14Herring, Susan: "Linguistic and Critical Analysis of Computer-Mediated Communication - Some Ethical and Scholary Considerations" from "The Information Society", no.12, pp.153-168, Taylor & Francis, 1996
15The problem of applying a term like 'synchronous' to this medium will be discussed in section 2.2; see page 9.
16Reid, Elizabeth M.: "Electropolis - Communication and Community on Internet Relay Chat", section 5; via http://people.we.mediaone.net/elizrs/electropolis.html
17Similar to 'ESP' or 'whispering' in other chat systems and Multi-User Dimensions (which also share a number of other similarities with IRC).
18Quite interestingly, however, it is considered bad etiquette to change one's nick often in a channel; and it does seem, generally, that most people prefer to 'stick to their nick', as it were.
19The illustration on the front-page of this paper shows multiple IRC channel and query windows.
20I.e. a user is not notified, and has no way of knowing, when another user performs one of these 'scans' (e.g. a so-called whois) on his/her 'presence'.
21See Donath, Judith S.: "Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community"; via http://judith.www.media.mit.edu/Judith/Identity for an applicable discussion of some central aspects related to anonymity in such virtual communities.
22Renkema, Jan: "Discourse Studies - An Introductory Textbook", John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1993 - p.86
23Horowitz, Rosalind & Samuels, S. Jay (eds.): "Comprehending Oral and Written Language", Academic Press, 1987 - p.26
24Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat" from Herring, Susan C. (ed.): "Computer-Mediated Communication - Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives", op.cit. - p.47 (emphasis added)
26Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.47 (emphasis added)
27E.g. Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. & Serpentelli, Jill: "Conversational Structure and Personality Correlates of Electronic Communication"; via ftp://ftp.lambda.moo.mud.org/pub/MOO/papers/conv-structure.txt & Reid, Elizabeth M.: "Electropolis - Communication and Community on Internet Relay Chat", op.cit.
28In which case the lagged user typically signs off or tries another IRC server.
29As illustrated on the front-page of this paper.
30See section 2.5 for a discussion of orthographic strategies for the emulation of prosody and paralinguistic cues in IRC-mediated communication.
31Renkema, Jan: "Discourse Studies - An Introductory Textbook", op.cit. - pp.112-115
32Renkema, Jan: "Discourse Studies - An Introductory Textbook", op.cit. - p.109
33Certainly, for example, in the established machine-mediated interaction taking place in telephone or video-conferencing exchanges.
34Condon, Sherri L. & Cech, Claude G.: "Functional Comparison of Face-to-Face and Computer-Mediated Decision Making Interactions" from Herring, Susan C. (ed.): "Computer-Mediated Communication - Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives", John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1996 - p.65
35Sacks et al. via Graddol, David & Cheshire, Jenny & Swann, John: "Describing Language", Open University Press, 1987 - p.150
36Graddol, David & Cheshire, Jenny & Swann, John: "Describing Language", op.cit. - pp.134-135
37It is quite striking how rapidly and smoothly turn transitions are negotiated and take place in face-to-face speech, generally without verbal cues at all. However (as pointed out by Graddol et al.), turn-taking appears to function very efficiently in another 'disembodied' context: telephone conversations. (Graddol, et al.: "Describing Language", op.cit. - pp.152-154) Yet, such conversations still have some paralinguistic cues in form of prosody and intonation; these are lacking from the IRC.
38Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Featuresof Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.51
39Not even in conversations between only two people; new topics and threads may be introduced (and languish) at any point, leading to a quite complex, fragmented conversational mode (see section 2.4).
40Cf. the results of the 'scan', line 10, and the idle time, line 12 (page 28).
41Issued in line 14 (page 28).
42Cf. line 159 (page 31).
43Horowitz, Rosalind & Samuels, S. Jay (eds.): "Comprehending Oral and Written Language", op.cit. - p.7
44The illustration on the front-page of this paper shows how IRC channel windows can typically appear in a contemporary IRC client; a user may scale these windows at will, as well as scroll back to review previous utterances.
45Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.51
46Cf. Herbert Grice; via Renkema, Jan: "Discourse Studies - An Introductory Textbook", op.cit. - pp.9-10
47Some investigations conclude that this phenomenon leads to an aggressive, almost competitive, mode of conversation; see section 2.4.
48Situations in which the human brain demonstrates a most remarkable efficiency in filtering out unwanted voices, distinguishing relevant utterances from background noise.
49Actually, it is possible by leaving the 'room', creating a new channel (but it might be felt somewhat like 'leaving the party'). This can sometimes be observed in the loose chatting channels with very high attendance; e.g. a channel - say #LooseChat - might occasionally spawn 'overflow channels' like #LooseChat2.
50Serpentelli, Jill: "Conversational Structure and Personality Correlates of Electronic Communication"; via ftp://ftp.lambda.moo.mud.org/pub/MOO/papers/conv-structure.txt
51Again, most current IRC clients include a helpful feature for this purpose, enabling interlocutors to quickly 'complete', through pattern-matching, the names of other participants from only the first couple of letters.
52Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.52
53Line 159 onwards (page 31).
54The nicknames Doe and Donald are fictional.
55There are no such examples in the enclosed transcripts; the author has, however, experienced this phenomenon several times during his IRC career.
56Renkema, Jan: "Discourse Studies - An Introductory Textbook", op.cit. - p.86
58This is not to say, of course, that threads to not dissolve and die out; skilled IRC interlocutors, however, seem to be able to handle quite a number of such simultaneous threads.
59Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.53
60ibid. - p.51
61Serpentelli, Jill: "Conversational Structure and Personality Correlates of Electronic Communication", op.cit.
62See for example: Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.53
63Consider transcript A: though several threads are handled simultaneously, discourse is neither over-abbreviated nor aggressive/competitive. (Section 5.1, passim)
64Most people familiar with IRC communication will probably recognise this. Unfortunately, the method in which IRC systems log channel activity makes such interruptions invisible in normal transcripts.
65Manifested to some extent in transcript A; e.g. lines 31, 79, 80, 174, 189; however, as is also evident, it is by no means a fixed 'rule' in the discourse. It is likely, though, that a faster paced conversation would incite 'loss' of capitals and other time-demanding compound keystrokes.
66Approximately an average length of six words.
67Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - pp.53-52
68See section 5.1, page 28.
69ibid. - p.55
70A couple of examples can, however, be found; e.g. "btw" in line 174, "every1" in line 208, etc.
71Horowitz, Rosalind & Samuels, S. Jay (eds.): "Comprehending Oral and Written Language", op.cit. - pp.59-65
72Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.56
73These strategies are heavily used on the IRC, but some of them (e.g. the 'emoticons' or 'smileys') came into existence before IRC was invented, and are used just as regularly in other fields of CMC, like electronic mail or newsgroups.
74See for example Reid, Elizabeth M.: "Electropolis - Communication and Community on Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - section 7
75Some people, for example, like to leave out the 'nose' of the faces, resulting in smileys like: ':)' or ':('.
76There are several instances of these in transcript A as well.
77Indeed, as an aside by the author, as an experienced user of CMC it is very hard to make do without these devices when writing e.g. 'ordinary' letters.
78Examples can be found, among other places, in lines 86, 159 and 196 of transcript A (pages 29, 31 and 31 respectively).
79E.g. line 150, page 30.
80E.g. line 97, page 30.
81Transcript A, lines 1 and 17-18 (page 28).
82See for example Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.58
83I.e. an independent theoretical discourse framework - to which this paper, it is hoped, contributes - should be nurtured; drawing, certainly, on established frameworks, but honouring the specific, self-contained attributes unique to CMC.
84I.e. immediate, minimal, phatic responses (cf. Graddol, et al.: "Describing Language", op.cit. - p.158 & Renkema: "Discourse Studies", op.cit. - p.49).
85Possible 'masking' of one's emotional state through acquired control over NVCs is disregarded here.
86Consider e.g. the almost literary quality Eek's final remark at line 211 of transcript A (page 31).
87See transcript A, lines112 (page 30) and 129 (page 30) for actual examples.
88The nicknames Doe and Cogito are fictional, as are these exemplifying utterances.
89Interestingly, recent graphical extensions of 'synchronous' chat systems, like the Palace, actually render interaction through cartoonish speech and thought bubbles and similar cartoon-like effects.
90And linguists in spe. <g>
91Renkema, Jan: "Discourse Studies - An Introductory Textbook", op.cit. - pp.21-28
92MUD discourse is comparable to IRC discourse to some extent; both provide 'synchronous' communicative interaction through textual means.
93Cicognani, Anna & Maher, Mary Lou: "Design Speech Acts - 'How to do things with Words' in Virtual Communities"; via http://www.arch.usyd.edu.au/~anna/papers/caadf97.html
94A conversation between three regulars on a fairly 'rigidly' defined channel; sharing some, but certainly not all, properties with the discursive genres of e.g. 'recreational' chatting channels.
95As seen, for example, in transcript A, lines 19, 159 and 161 (pages 28, 31, 31).
96E.g. Serpentelli, Jill: "Conversational Structure and Personality Correlates of Electronic Communication", op.cit. & Kerr, Elaine B. & Hiltz, Starr Roxanne: "Computer-Mediated Communication Systems - Status and Evaluation", Academic Press, 1982 - pp.89-160
97We may, for example, take interaction through telephone - or use of pen and paper for that matter - for granted, but one should keep in mind that these are all acquired communicative skills.
98Werry, Christopher C.: "Linguistic and Interactional Features of Internet Relay Chat", op.cit. - p.63