Macquarie University
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Conversational structure: a socio-semiotic study of Chinese instant messaging discourse

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posted on 2022-03-28, 19:45 authored by Xiaoyan Chen
Like any other types of human verbal encounters, language activities mediated via computer networks are reflexes of the situational and cultural realities of the communication situation. An accurate linguistic description and interpretation of such a burgeoning locus of social interaction can only be achieved by linking what goes within the text to what goes beyond the text. This thesis aims to provide an integrated linguistic account of the conversational structure of Chinese instant messaging (IM) discourse as the encoding of a cohort of socio-cultural parameters, and thereby enrich the linguistic repertoire for examining electronic discourse (e-discourse) and computer-mediated communication (CMC). Grounded in the theoretical underpinnings of Systemic Functional Linguistics as a natural schema for exploring everyday social interaction, the research employs 82 texts of naturally occurring two-party IM conversation gleaned from the three most prevalent IM programs in China: QQ, MSN and Aliwangwang. More specifically, it scrutinizes the patterning of speech functions and exchange structures in the discourse-semantic system of NEGOTIATION as evidenced by Chinese IM discourse, linking it downwards to their grammatical reflexes in the MOOD system, and upwards to their contextual determinants of Mode and Tenor. The study has three principal findings. Firstly, a "Mode" portrait of Chinese IM discourse is outlined, incorporating the experiential and the interpersonal space as well as eight aspects of technological affordances, so as to reach a socio-semiotic definition of this emerging text type. In doing so, the thesis virtually refutes the claim in prior linguistic studies that identifies speech and writing as the comparators against which e-discourse is dubbed as the third discourse type, and proposes a Systemic Functional alternative of addressing the nature and taxonomy of computer-mediated language varieties. Secondly, the model of conversational structure for analyzing oral conversation is modified and clarified to accommodate the Mode configuration of Chinese IM setting. By applying such a modified model, a multitude of Mode-sensitive features of Chinese IM conversation are detected both at the exchange rank in terms of exchange classes and proceeding, and at the move rank in terms of speech function occurrence and realizations, which acts to confirm Hasan's (1995) hypothesis on the dynamic metafunctional-contextual hook-up, and Martin's (1992) postulation on the mediating effects of Mode on the NEGOTIATION system. Lastly, the shaping power of Tenor as another socially constructive factor of discourse is explored, since the computer medium itself is by no means the sole influence on communicative outcomes of IM discourse. Four types of role relationships between IM interlocutors are brought to the forefront of our attention, i.e. peer co-workers, supervisor-supervisee, parent-child and vendor-customer. Data sets of the first two types of relationships reveal a reciprocal pattern in equal peer interactions while a strikingly nonreciprocal pattern in unequal conversations. Power and social distance have imposed systematic impact on the general discourse features, exchange structure classes, participatory roles, exchange roles, move complexing, exchange interleaving, speech function classes and realizations. Linguistic manifestations of the role relationships are also observed in the later two types of interactions in both exchange roles and speech function realizations. It is therefore argued that IM communication is marvelously susceptible to the contextual component of Tenor, and that the interpersonal demesne of CMC, despite being accused by cues-filtered-out scholars as inefficient for interpersonal bonding, should never be understated when evaluating the linguistic choices of online interactants.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. A linguistic view of electronic discourse -- 3. Toward a systemic functional model of conversation -- 4. Describing instant messaging discourse 5. Conversational structure as encoding of mode -- 6. Conversational structure as encoding of tenor -- 7. Conclusions -- References -- Appendices.


"September 2013 Includes bibliographical references A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy"

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Canzhong Wu

Additional Supervisor 1

Christian Matthiessen


Copyright Xiaoyan Chen 2013 Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (xiii, 291 pages) illustrations

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