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Interactive written discourse: pragmatic aspects of SMS communication

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Rossi, G. (2010). Interactive written discourse: pragmatic aspects of SMS communication. Talk presented at The conference: Diachronic Perspectives on Genre in Specialized Communication. Gargnano del Garda, Italy. 2010-06-24 - 2010-06-26.

Little agreement has been reached on how “textese”, the language used in text-messages, should be qualified. Some linguists call it a “new genre”, others a “style for special purposes”, others an “emergent register”. In this paper, I take a step backward and analyze SMS communication as one of the “modes of interaction” available to speakers in our contemporary multimedial world. Our everyday language is shaped by the social, situational, and technological context in which we find ourselves using it. Context is more decisive than the “physical consistency” of the medium (written/oral) we employ. It has been argued that in SMS, much in the same way as in Computer-Mediated Communication, while resting on a written text, language users interpret the specific interactivity of speech. In the terms of Koch and Österreicher (1990), text writers’ linguistic production is determined by how they “conceptualize” the communicative exchange. Whether or not different aspects of a technology are a constraint or an opportunity, it invariably depends on the user. Young writers are able to make the most of the communicative resources afforded by SMS and to give form to particular discourse practices here analyzed from a pragmatic point of view. They infuse an ostensibly asynchronous technology with a certain synchronicity, which leads them to turn an SMS exchange into an interactive dialogue. As temporal and spatial deixis usages show, these conversations are very often established in a sort of “telepresence”, which has gained them the label of “face-to-face scripturality”. Moreover, constant and potentially immediate accessibility gives rise to forms of “perpetual contact”, reflected in anaphoric phenomena. In particular, this paper concentrates on the metatextual links set up by the use of certain discourse markers. Evidence of a conceptualization conformed to “communicative immediacy” comes also from syntax and cohesive devices, in that they display text construction and planning phenomena that are typical of oral performances. Finally, SMS communication becomes “written speech” also in the light of the reproduction of spoken prosody realized by means of punctuation; in certain cases punctuation marks fairly resemble the segmentation of speech resulting from intonation units.