Digital language and communication have gained high social and political relevance in the early 21st century. Research in linguistics has documented a wide range of linguistic innovations that are motivated by users’ expressive and interactional needs (e.g. to encode emotional information and coordinate text-based interaction), while at the same time constrained by the technologies involved (Herring 1996, Baron 2008, Georgakopoulou & Spilioti 2016). Unlike early notions of a homogeneous ‘netspeak’ (Crystal 2001), research offers ample evidence for patterned variation in digital language in correlation to various social-situational factors (Nguyen et al. 2020), including the devices involved (e.g. smartphones do not afford touch-typing with ten fingers, unlike laptops).
The network’s basic working hypothesis is that digital language users devise innovative ways to visually communicate pragmatic, social, and affective cues by manipulating graphic signs in text-based interaction. Encoding expressivity and affect, in particular, is evolutionarily tied to embodied audio-visual cues (i.e., prosody and gesture), whose absence challenges the successful accomplishment of text-based interaction (Mc Sweeney 2018). Users overcome this limitation by mobilizing the graphic shape of linguistic and pictorial signs. In view of the global ubiquity of digital interaction today, these innovative strategies are consequential for the emergence of new registers of communication, and eventually for linguistic and semiotic change in the digital age. In view of these developments, the notion of ‘deviation from the orthographic norm’, often evoked in digital language research, lacks explanatory power. Instead, the network focuses on the interplay between linguistic variation at the level of graphic and pictorial encoding, on the one hand, and the communication of indexical and symbolic meanings, on the other. On a methodological level, we explore potential synergies between computational and interactional approaches to digital language research.
Against this backdrop, network partners explore form-function relationships, distribution patterns, and contextual conditions for selected features and categories of digital written language. The network provides opportunities to conceptualize and develop cross-linguistic and interdisciplinary research on these themes:
Visual prosody – the use of graphic signs to convey contextualizing information that is similar to spoken-language prosody
Entextualizing language varieties – the ways users manipulate written signs to index regional and social registers of speech
Entextualizing affect – deployment of linguistic and pictorial resources in practices such as celebrating and mourning online
Language variation in conflict talk – including written-language patterns associated with hate speech online