Conversational Writing

A Multidimensional Study of Synchronous and Supersynchronous Computer-Mediated Communication

by Ewa Jonsson (Author)
©2016 Thesis 353 Pages
Open Access
Series: English Corpus Linguistics, Volume 16


The author analyses computer chat as a form of communication. While some forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC) deviate only marginally from traditional writing, computer chat is popularly considered to be written conversation and the most «oral» form of written CMC. This book systematically explores the varying degrees of conversationality («orality») in CMC, focusing in particular on a corpus of computer chat (synchronous and supersynchronous CMC) compiled by the author. The author employs Douglas Biber’s multidimensional methodology and situates the chats relative to a range of spoken and written genres on his dimensions of linguistic variation. The study fills a gap both in CMC linguistics as regards a systematic variationist approach to computer chat genres and in variationist linguistics as regards a description of conversational writing.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Table of Contents
  • Tables
  • Figures
  • Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 Speech vs. writing vs. conversational writing
  • 1.2 Aim and scope of the study
  • 1.3 Synchronicity of communication
  • 1.4 Notes on terminology
  • 1.5 Outline of the study
  • Chapter 2. Background
  • 2.1 Introductory remarks
  • 2.2 Survey of the literature on speech and writing
  • 2.3 Biber’s (1988) dimensions of textual variation
  • 2.4 Halliday’s and others’ essentially qualitative approaches
  • 2.5 Survey of the literature on CMC
  • 2.6 Description of the media for conversational writing
  • 2.7 Chapter summary
  • Chapter 3. Material and method
  • 3.1 Introductory remarks
  • 3.2 Creating and annotating a corpus of Internet relay chat
  • 3.3 Creating and annotating a corpus of split-window ICQ chat
  • 3.4 The Santa Barbara Corpus subset
  • 3.5 Standardization and dimension score computation
  • 3.6 Average figures for writing and speech, respectively
  • 3.7 Chapter summary
  • Chapter 4. Salient features in conversational writing
  • 4.1 Introductory remarks
  • 4.2 Distribution of modal auxiliary verbs and personal pronouns
  • 4.3 Word length, type/token ratio and lexical density
  • 4.4 The most salient features
  • 4.5 Paralinguistic features and extra-linguistic content
  • 4.6 Inserts and emotives
  • 4.7 Chapter summary
  • Chapter 5. Conversational writing positioned on Biber’s (1988) dimensions
  • 5.1 Introductory remarks
  • 5.2 Dimension plots
  • 5.2.1 Dimension 1: Informational versus Involved Production
  • 5.2.2 Dimension 2: Narrative versus Non-Narrative Concerns
  • 5.2.3 Dimension 3: Explicit/Elaborated versus Situation-Dependent Reference
  • 5.2.4 Dimension 4: Overt Expression of Persuasion/Argumentation
  • 5.2.5 Dimension 5: Abstract/Impersonal versus Non-Abstract/Non-Impersonal Information
  • 5.2.6 Dimension 6: On-Line Informational Elaboration
  • 5.3 Chapter summary
  • Chapter 6. Discussion
  • 6.1 Introductory remarks
  • 6.2 Hypotheses revisited quantitatively
  • 6.3 From genres to text types
  • 6.4 Research questions revisited
  • 6.5 Chapter summary
  • Chapter 7. Conclusion
  • 7.1 Summary of the study
  • 7.2 Suggestions for further research
  • Appendices
  • Appendix I. Texts used in Biber’s (1988) study
  • Appendix II. Descriptive statistics for genres studied
  • Appendix III. Raw frequencies of linguistic features
  • Appendix IV. Examples of excluded material
  • Appendix V. Features with a |standard score| >2.0
  • Appendix VI. Statistical tests of salient features
  • Appendix VII. Word lists for the corpora studied
  • Appendix VIII. Dimension score statistics for Biber’s (1988) genres
  • Appendix IX. Computation of cluster affiliations
  • Appendix X. Dimension scores for individual texts
  • List of References

← 12 | 13 →


Table 1.1:    Principal synchronicity and direction of communication in various genres

Table 2.1:    Linguistic features studied in Biber (1988)

Table 2.2:    Summary of co-occurring features on each dimension

Table 2.3:    Halliday’s three metafunctions in language and related concepts

Table 3.1:    Size of corpora compiled/sampled and annotated for the present study

Table 3.2:    Tags used in the annotation of the first twelve turns in Internet relay chat text 4a (UCOW)

Table 4.1:    Frequencies of possibility, necessity and prediction modals per 1,000 words

Table 4.2:    Frequencies of first, second and third person pronouns per 1,000 words

Table 4.3:    Type/token ratio, with standard deviation

Table 4.4:    Unweighted lexical density for five corpora

Table 4.5:    Unweighted lexical density per clause and related measures

Table 4.6:    Frequencies per 1,000 words for the most salient linguistic features

Table 4.7:    Frequencies of inserts

Table 4.8:    Frequencies of emotives

Table 4.9:    Examples of turns with inserts in the three annotated corpora

Table 4.10:  Individuals’ emotives usage in the split-window ICQ corpus, by gender

Table 5.1:    Descriptive dimension statistics for the UCOW genres and the SBC subset ← 13 | 14 →

Table 5.2:    Results from ANOVA among the new genres and from Biber’s (1988: 127) tests among his genres

Table 5.3:    Results from t-tests among the new genres

Table 5.4:    Summary of co-occurring features on each dimension

Table 5.5:    Corrected dimension scores for the “ELC other” corpus of BBS conferencing presented in Collot (1991)

Table 6.1:    Distance of the three CMC genres to oral conversations measured as standard deviation units on each dimension

Table 6.2:    Distance of the conversational writing genres to oral conversations indicated as t-values on each dimension

Table 6.3:    Results from t-tests among the conversational writing genres and the conversational spoken genres

Table 6.4:    Summary of English text types

← 14 | 15 →


Figure 1.1:      Examples of asynchronous, synchronous and supersynchronous modes of written CMC

Figure 1.2:      Working relationship between modalities, media and genres/modes in the present study

Figure 2.1:      Metafunctions in relation to register and genre in semiotics

Figure 2.2:      Approximate emergence of modes for written CMC

Figure 2.3:      Screenshot of Internet relay chat window (SCMC)

Figure 2.4:      Screenshot of split-window ICQ chat (SSCMC)

Figure 4.1:      Distribution of possibility, necessity and prediction modals per 1,000 words

Figure 4.2:      Distribution of first, second and third person pronouns per 1,000 words

Figure 4.3:      Proportions for first, second and third person pronouns of total personal pronoun use

Figure 4.4:      Average word length in the five media

Figure 4.5:      Type/token ratio, with standard deviation

Figure 4.6:      Direct WH-questions

Figure 4.7:      Analytic negation

Figure 4.8:      Demonstrative pronouns

Figure 4.9:      Indefinite pronouns

Figure 4.10:    Present tense verbs

Figure 4.11:    Predicative adjectives

Figure 4.12:    Contractions

Figure 4.13:    Prepositional phrases ← 15 | 16 →

Figure 4.14:    Standard score distribution of the linguistic features that, in SCMC or SSCMC, deviate by more than 2 s.d. from Biber’s (1988) mean

Figure 4.15:    Inserts

Figure 4.16:    Emotives

Figure 4.17:    Distribution of emotives in the conversational writing corpora

Figure 5.1a:    Mean scores on Dimension 1 for all genres

Figure 5.1b:    Spread of scores along Dimension 1 for all genres

Figure 5.2a:    Mean scores on Dimension 2 for all genres

Figure 5.2b:    Spread of scores along Dimension 2 for all genres

Figure 5.3a:    Mean scores on Dimension 3 for all genres

Figure 5.3b:    Spread of scores along Dimension 3 for all genres

Figure 5.4a:    Mean scores on Dimension 4 for all genres

Figure 5.4b:    Spread of scores along Dimension 4 for all genres

Figure 5.5a:    Mean scores on Dimension 5 for all genres

Figure 5.5b:    Spread of scores along Dimension 5 for all genres

Figure 5.6a:    Mean scores on Dimension 6 for all genres

Figure 5.6b:    Spread of scores along Dimension 6 for all genres

Figure 6.1:      Matrix combining the degree of shared context and the synchronicity of communication in the genres studied

Figure 6.2:      Relationships found between modalities, media and the genres investigated

← 16 | 17 →


← 18 | 19 →

Chapter 1.  Introduction

1.1  Speech vs. writing vs. conversational writing


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2016 (April)
computer chat IRC communication split-window ICQ social media
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 353 pp., 25 tables, 31 graphs

Biographical notes

Ewa Jonsson (Author)

Ewa Jonsson is a researcher in English linguistics at Mid-Sweden University.


Title: Conversational Writing
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356 pages