My doctoral research at Berkeley was on online discourse strategies across multiple languages. The thesis, straightforward enough, is that the expediency factor is mitigated by the specific contexts of the languages themselves. The morphological and semantic constructs that provide a frame for our communication affect both our spoken and written discourse.


The linguistic study of register and variation has primarily been concerned with spoken language and printed content. Very little research has examined register variation online (cf. Chapter 1) . The object of analysis of this thesis is linguistic variation across three different types of Web sites: news and research, e-commerce, and community, and across three different languages: English, German, and Russian. In this way it can be considered to be a contrastive linguistic study of the feature of register in the context of online discourse.

The data for the study were gathered from sites as they appeared on one day, October, 10, 2001, so that the corpus would remain stable. The study examines online content in the analysis fields of content structure, syntax, lexicon and semantics, and graphemics. In analyzing the four fields, the study uncovers several correlations. Thus, in this corpus, the type of site (news and research, e-commerce, or community) determines the organization of the site to a large degree, as well as syntactic and lexical features, such as use of loanwords. Additionally, the content type of a given piece of discourse (dynamic, static, navigational, or instructional) determines syntactic parameters such as type of clause (NP vs. VP, for example), and graphemic features such as use of abbreviations and special characters (the ampersand, for example).

These correlations show that the language phenomena observable in a Web page are the result not only of the requirements and constraints of the specific language (German, Russian, or English) but also derive from interactions of register, content type, and the requirements for online navigation, the last of which provides a different organizational model than the physical pages of a book or newspaper. For example, in a printed newspaper, all or a large part of an article appears on a single page; in an online newspaper, there is usually only a link or short teaser text linking to the full article. Indeed, the contrastive grids show that, across all three languages, the classification of discourse in terms of the categories of navigational, dynamic,or static content is the key to understanding linguistic variation online.

Copyright (c) 2003 Christopher Sean Ketchem, PhD

Read the full dissertation here

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