This paper examines a phenomenon most notably associated with Bakhtin (1981), namely that of ‘heteroglossia’, or the use of diverse voices in texts. The texts in this case are interactive written discourse (IWD), a form of online writing composed in real time, normally classified as a type of computer-mediated communication (CMC). CMC is defined here, after Herring (1996: 1) as 'communication that takes place between human beings via the instrumentality of computers'.
CMC has opened up the possibility of new kinds of interaction across cultural boundaries without the need for physical relocation. However, new online spaces still require participants to establish a presence, drawing on the resources of language to construct an identity, but without the visual and acoustic cues available to interactants in face-to-face contexts. In IWD, this has to be done at high speed, since this new hybrid form of communication combines the production of graphic symbols characteristic of writing with the synchronicity typical of spoken contexts (see Goddard, 2004, for discussion of IWD as a hybrid of spoken and written features).
The investigation of heteroglossia reported on here is based on two corpora of online interactions from student groups, one a UK-only group, and the other a UK-Swedish group, totaling 36,000 words. While work done on speech, using Bakhtin’s concept (for example, Rampton, 1997), has suggested that constructed voices provide liminal spaces where participants can negotiate their identities, there has been no comparable investigation of IWD.
Using the broad framework of mediated discourse theory (Scollon, 1998, 2001), the analysis here focuses on two related questions: what is the function of heteroglossia in these online contexts?; and are there particular kinds of heteroglossic strategies in evidence in online intercultural encounters?
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