Herring begins by defining Computer-mediated discourse (CMD) as a subfield of CMC “distinguished by its focus on language and language use in computer networked environments, and by its use of methods of discourse analysis to address that focus” (p. 1). Then she gives a brief history of CMD research, mentioning work as early as that of Baron (1984) and pinpointing the ‘serious’ interest in CMD that linguists began to take of by the early 1990s . We are shown how CMD was first described as "anonymous", "impersonal", "egalitarian", "fragmented" and "spoken-like", and how the first ‘wave’ of CMD scholarship was a reaction of such misunderstandings.
Classification of CMD
CMD networks, we are told, are often considered a medium of communication that has its own ‘constraints’ and ‘potentialities’ and that is distinct from writing and speaking. The channels, or sources of communication, that comprise the CMD media is briefly contrasted to those of face-to-face communication channels, and we are shown how CMD can be richly expressive as users try to compensate textually for missing auditory and gestural cues (in e.g., cybersex). Some mode variables (e.g., synchronicity and transmission) of CMD are spelt out and exemplified. The emic (culturally recognized) approach to classifying CMD is visited and examples of the various modes (e.g., e-mail, listserv mailing lists, Usenet newsgroups, IRC and MUDs) are introduced.
Properties of CMD
Some of the ‘popular’ perceptions of computer-mediated language (e.g., that it is less correct and less coherent than standard language, etc.) are mentioned and some counter research findings are provided, exemplified and discussed. Herring maintained that the number of strategies used by CMD users reflect their ability to adapt to the computer medium, not that their language production is impoverished or simplified. The language productions are related to medium variables such as synchronicity-asynchronicity.
Here Herring reviews a number of research finding related to interaction management. Two types of interaction management difficulties are identified: (1) disrupted turn adjacency and (2) lack of simultaneous feedback. However, and in spite of some claims that CMD is incoherent and fragmented, Herring seems to maintain that CMD is coherent but in a different way. For instance users can adapt to constraints on e.g., turn-taking in multiparticipant synchronous CMD by adopting what Werry (1996) labels addressivity. Two other strategies used for solving this problem of coherence are linking and quoting. Some further problems of CMD are discussed and attempts made by users to solve such problems are exemplified.
Herring touches on some of the early ‘idealized’ views about the social life on the Internet.
Socially conditioned Variations
Participant demographics and situational context are said to be two significant social factors that influence the linguistic choices of CMD users. The problems that face researches interested in capturing such an influence are said to be caused by e.g., anonymity of users. Age, gender, educational level, social class, race as are among the user demographics discussed. Herring also discusses situational factors such as participation structures, users’ previous experiences, groups’ norms, purpose of communication, etc. Herring maintains that “CMD, despite being mediated by "impersonal" machines, reflects the social realities of its users” (p. 10).
This is one of the most interesting sub-sections where Herring shows how “CMD constitutes social practice in and of itself” (p. 11). She shows and illustrates how users have developed a number of compensatory strategies [e.g., emoticons] to replace social cues normally conveyed by other channels in face-to-face interaction” (p.11).
Here are the seeds of the what I referred to in one earlier post as critical computer-mediated critical discourse analysis (CMCDA), where Herring shows how “[p]re-existing social
arrangements carry over into cyberspace to create an uneven playing field, and computer-mediated communication can be a tool of either oppression or resistance” (p. 13).
Herring concludes by showing how further specialization in CMD is ‘desirable’ and ‘inevitable’. She also refers to a number of related topics and the necessity to develop research in some directions. Indeed, “CMD is not just a trend; it is here to stay” (p. 14).