February 8, 2012
Chapter 5: Illustrations

Fig 16:


Fig 17:

February 8, 2012
Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Learning Language; Conclusion.


Learning language is generally a process of association and emersion. Children learn better than adults as their associations are based on visuals, rather than on previously learned words. The meaning applied to a new object is therefore a meaning of it’s own. A tree is a tree; as opposed to an adult’s understanding, that a tree could be somewhere to hang a seat from, or a food source. This theory of subjectivity affecting a basic semiotic conclusion is something that gets played with a lot by linguistic theorists.

And, in conformity with the nature and mode of givenness of the object, the ex­pectations, which are immediately coawak-ened and refer to what it exhibits of itself by way of its properties, are more or less deter­mined. The object is present from the very first with a character of familiarity; it is already ap­prehended as an object of a type more or less vaguely determined and already, in some way, known* In this way the direction of the expec­tations of what closer inspection will reveal in the way of properties is prescribed. (Husserl, E. 1948. p273)

Husserl highlights the necessity that at least a vague recognition of the signified, within a previously defined group, must exist in order to understand its identity. In other words, some subjective significance must inform any objective understanding. The deconstruction of these understandings, therefore, becomes integral to language learning; deconstructing the elements of the signified and signifier into categories of understanding, ranging from the subjective memories to absolute objective knowledge. This differs from the way language teachers approach students who require knowledge of new words. 

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses generally agree that emersion is the best way to learn a new language, a method that negates any prior objective or subjective knowledge of the word, object, or topic. Where emersion is not possible, combining the visual, sound and written elements of language, including gesture, are the best ways to teach. Even if someone’s actual vocabulary isn’t strong, it can be possible to detect subject matters and opinions through gestures and inflections in the voice. This is mirrored in new-media language with emoticons; where someone may have used unusual acronyms, it is still possible to gain the gist of the message by the emoticon, or common acronyms, included at the end. 

In the case of an SMS text, it could read: “Jst wtchd tht nw flm u wr on abt J”. (personal text, sent to —————- on 5th December 2011)

Or an online social networking site: “I’ve just watched that film you were on about (Y)” – ‘(Y)’ or ‘[LIKE]’ automate the ‘like’ symbol on most popular social networking sites; a thumbs up (fig 16).

This crossover between new-media and spoken language is the main focus of this chapter, the way it is learned is something that has been present in most types of learning. Traci Gardener, as in Chapter 1, states that new-media language in particular contains more layers than what has passed:

These rich, multilayered texts demand multimodal literacy skills of their readers, who must navigate the different, intersecting media. These media can include visual, auditory, textual, and spatial ways of making meaning.” (Gardener, T. 2007. p.93)

The comparisons, aside from the direct intersection are, however, apparent in language in all its states. Signs are always being represented in some form or other, but in new-media they become combined; alphanumeric systems are twisted and used in conjunction with image, rather than the spoken word, which is untwisted, bar the occasional colloquy, in order to portray an image, an object or a happening.

Image becoming an integral part of learning is the main change that has taken place, other than the way in which we present the language and the media through which we send it. Even within the classroom, visual prompts are now commonplace. Claude Levi-Strauss comments on the clash of the two: 

“One way indeed in which signs can be opposed to concepts is that whereas concepts aim to be wholly transparent with respect to reality, signs allow and even require the interposing and incorporation of a certain amount of human culture into reality” (Levi Strauss, 1966. The Savage Mind. p.20)

The idea that culture is interposed into reality is one that raises the question; How did this cross over between signs and reality begin? If the signifier is now necessary to understand the signified, where did it become necessary? In The Savage Mind (1966) there is an illustration of all the letters of the alphabet represented by an ornithological list of birds with the same initial (fig 17)[1]. This association is useful for children when they are learning to write; if they can associate a sound with a particular sign or symbol then it becomes easier to pick up. This is the level on which Levi-Strauss must be questioned; where it becomes impossible to separate reality from interpretation; where a subjective interpretation becomes part of what should be an objective sign. Lichtenberg considers the issue:

If one thinks much, one finds much wisdom inscribed in language. Indeed, it is not probable that one brings everything into it by himself; rather, much wisdom lies therein, as in proverbs. (Lichtenberg, G. C. From: Mitchell, A. J. 2010. p.88.)

Here, if one can use words with personal significance to themselves to relay a message, then that becomes part of language as well. Without disregarding basic level semiotics language can become a creative tool. Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (2007), as the most notable example, explores this idea of visual relations to otherwise assigned symbols. “O” replaces ‘oh’ on one occasion through the book, at the very end, where his life is coming to a close, symbolising, fairly clumsily, the circle of life. This is used as an example of such during the A-Level syllabus (WJEC, 2008) on the novel. The fact we are taught to recognize these linguistic anomalies, only further focuses the idea that language must be taught with experience in mind. A child must be given base symbols to learn from on every level, but sound and word association, rather than visual association can be used to teach a foreign language, or indeed, new language areas (specialist terms) to adults.

The way we learn txt, however, presents a new problem; txt is learned, almost entirely, by acquisition. As we come across new terms, they are picked up and, due to their simplicity are learned quickly and become part of everyday vocabulary. In academic texts, it is generally agreed that these acronyms should not be included, at least not as part of the main discourse, however, when we see literature such as ‘Th Hly Bbl’ (cur|editing, 2010), ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (Austin, J. 1813) and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Shakespeare, W. 159?) being translated into txt[2] for the purposes of simplification, could that be questioned.

BBC News reported on an unnamed university professor who condensed the two classics into a few short lines of txt: 

“Pride And Prejudice

5Sistrs WntngHsbnds. NwMeninTwn-Bingly&Darcy. Fit&Loadd. BigSis Jane Fals4B,2ndSisLiz H8s D Coz Hes Proud. Slimy Soljr Wikam Sys DHs Shady Past. Trns Out Hes Actuly ARlyNysGuy&RlyFancysLiz. She Decyds She Lyks Him.Evry1 Gts Maryd.”

“Romeo & Juliet

FeudTween 2hses-Montague&Capulet. RomeoMFalls_<3w/_JulietC@mary Secretly Bt R kils J’s Coz &&is banishd. J fakes Death. As Part of Plan2b-w/R Bt_leter Bt It Nvr Reachs Him. Evry1confuzd-bothLuvrs kil Emselves” (BBC, 2005)

These two examples of txt books were, in fact, used by the professor as a teaching tool, where a basic knowledge of the themes in a secondary-resource book become necessary to inform the primary resource material. The professor stated that the method “amply demonstrates text’s ability to fillet out the important elements in a plot” in an attempt to explain his reasons behind the transcriptions. The fact that these abbreviations are becoming integral to language to the extent that they are used to teach it starts to toy with the phenomenological ideas of Derrida:

As soon as one seeks to demonstrate in this way that there is no transcendental or privileged signified and that domain or play of signification henceforth has no limit one must reject even the concept and word “word” itself – which is precisely what cannot be done.” (Derrida, J. 2001. Writing and Difference Page. p.354.)

The idea that the word has no significance beyond the signified, in Derrida’s eyes, creates the paradoxical case where the word must define the object. So if the word, the signifier, is abbreviated, does that mean that in some sense, the object, the signified is in someway abbreviated? The example of a tree used in most phenomenological essays (WJT Mitchell[3] most notably) could, hypothetically be, through txt, be represented by a tr wth n brnchs. The interpretations that pass between seeing ‘tr’ written down as opposed to seeing ‘tree’ is, however, a more complex process, especially within an academic text like this; The initial interpretation of the word ‘tree’ toward the image of a tree, from an interpretation of the alphanumeric sign, must further be expanded on; The alphanumeric signs must be re-evaluated and considered as a series of objects with missing vowels (Star? Tear? Teir? True? Tree?) and the most relevant becomes the object of focus.

Now consider the combination of Hash-tagging a txt; not only would the words be expected to be evaluated in their own right, but also to be separated from each other in the first place. #TXTPNMNLLGYSCN: ‘txt phenomenology scene’.

These language cross-overs are no doubt going to carry on occurring and developing into new realms of phenomenology, perhaps just in the sense that linguistics will one day be standardised, so there is one language and one language only. The documentation of this would no doubt be fraught with combinations of symbols, as is what can be seen today in txt and hash-tagging alike. These visual prompts that are slowly becoming more standardised may be recognised as punctuation tools instead of the currently recognised punctuation marks, which could completely change. As the way humans communicate evolves, the media evolves with it and applies new constraints on the language. Within these rules new tools will ultimately become available, and then it must be left to the bricoleur to consider their uses.

Even Derrida himself, during the production of “Writing and Difference” (2001), outwardly changed his views on phenomenology. Leonard Lawlor (2002. Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology) investigates how “The Ends of Man” (Derrida, J. 1968) showed a change in Derrida’s views on phenomenology, from his common phenomenological critique, to the use of a “super-phenomenological critique” (Lawlor, L. 2002, p34); a form of critique which Derrida focused on Heidegger’s ontology, taking most of it’s ideology from the idea that phenomenology must be an absolute representation, as he always did.

This idea of phenomenology as an absolute representation of the subject cannot be used with in new-media language. Bricolage falls into the same camp as phenomenology, and phenomenology falls into the same camp as deconstruction. The three must therefore converse and inform each other to make language what it is, especially within the new-media outlook. This idea of bricolage then, becomes an idea of creating and deconstructing the subject based on the information we are given, much like the original bricoleur. Now however, the bricoleur is not a skill set, or something strived for, it is something that is a necessity within reading, speaking and interpreting language.[4]

[1] This figure is not the figure in The Savage Mind, it is ajudged replacement.

[2] (BBC, 2005)

[3] W.J.T Mitchell’s Word and Image (1996)

[4] End.

February 8, 2012
Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Live Language & Interpretation


The problem is to what extent thought that can and

will be both anecdotal and geometrical may yet be

called dialectical.”

(Levi-Strauss, C. 1966. p.245)

The use of new-media to talk in live situations, without live presence, has created an energetic lingual playground for experimental language use. Often the cross overs that occur are based in ironic humor, but never-the-less exist as ways to condense large amounts of information in to short areas. SMS[1], as the name suggests, started out “limited and aimed at business users” (Goggin, G, 2006, Cell Phone Culture. p.73), the charge for the service when it started was steep, so the acronyms and abbreviations became an integral part of that. When the service became more commonplace with a socially engaged audience, these partly fizzled out before they restarted. Now however, with the influx of internet shorthand, the shortening of these messages has taken on new levels.

Hash-tagging is now a fairly familiar virtual language medium among the social networkers of the world, and is now used to condense a subject down. The use of the tags is to set trends (particularly on Twitter) so that other tweeters can see the posts among other related posts. For example; #UKLANGUAGESCENE applies the post to sets of other posts related to language in the United Kingdom. This however, does become something of a useful tool for simply shortening text. When spaces are removed, one long word can look like gibberish, applying a hash-tag to this clarifies the removal of spaces and implies that it is a subject, rather than a statement. The following extract from an SMS conversation shows how the language tool can be used:


            L: #uknailontheheadscene x

            P: [Like]

            L: Shit. <3 screenshot for #dissertation?! X                              ”

(Personal text, sent to 07964909705 on 19th January 2011)

 This shortening of texts, is however, not something that has just arrived with the development of new-media. Colloquial language, is all it’s forms are certainly nothing new. Words commonly in use today, such as ‘Hi’, ‘Woulda’, ‘Wanna’ etc. are a great argument towards language not having developed, rather just the medium in which it is presented. Language, spoken or written is always shifting and evolving. Blesser and Slater touch on this in their book ‘Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?:

Another problem with the written history of aural experiences is readily illustrated by the etymology of aural words. Ancient cultures described their auditory experiences in terms of observable external events and objects. Thus, for example, the word reverberate is derived from the Latin root verberare, which meant “to flog or beat with a leafy branch “verbena” (Souter et al., 1968). Perceive is derived from the Latin percipere, meaning lo seize. Such definitions are actually referencing external events not aural experience. (Blesser, B. & Slater L. R. 2007. p.69)

An interesting example of the same sort of developing language through misuse of pre-defined words in modern language is the global difference on how what to name a carbonated soft drink[2]. In England, the most common term is ‘fizzy drink’ or ‘fizz’ a fairly literal term, but often the American ‘pop’ or ‘soda’ is used. In most areas of the South Americas they are referred to as ‘coolers’ (trans.). Possibly the most unusual though, is the Scottish ‘ginger’ – a fairly inexplicable use of a word, which has an entirely different meaning.

These colloquialisms become integral, common, parts of local language, but, as demonstrated here, do not become common within other parts of language. They do not crossover between ethnological sections. Dell Hymes talks over these sections of language that get lost in translation, communicators are required to translate between languages, but within one language there is an agreed upon and shared code:

“cultures communicate in different ways, but all forms of communication require a shared code, communicators who know and use the code, a channel, a setting, a message form, a topic, and an event created by transmission of the message” (Hymes, D. 1974, p.225)

The only part of speech that echoes this quality of new-media language, are common phoneme. Phonemic sections of speech are the cornerstone of all spoken language; they are used to make up full syllables towards the complete sentence. Within language teaching, it is generally agreed that, using phonemic charts to explain pronunciation is crucial. Certain words with ‘silent letters’, such as the ‘b’ in crumb, or the ‘k’ in kneel, are obviously very confusing to a learner of a new language.

TEFL Express[3] (TEFL, 2012) talks about the Schwa[4], probably the most common phoneme in the English language, as being the most confusing phoneme. In variations on the Latin alphabet, vowels are often applied with diacritics, umlaut or diaeresis[5] that apply more specific phonemes to them, but often, within the basis alphabet, within many words, vowels become near-void. For example, ‘taken’, the ‘e’ becomes almost silent; it is the shortest utter-able noise. When learning language this often causes confusion; another example given by TEFL express, is the common, and unfortunate, mispronunciation of ‘sheet’ – the two ‘ee’s have no applied accent, so are often assumed to have the Schwa applied.

One of the main arguments against txt is that they create ambiguity, but where this applies in txt, it often applies in spoken language. Homonyms for example, such as ‘I’, ‘aye’, and ‘eye’, have completely different meanings, but spoken, have exactly the same sound. To express these in txt would result in the same confusion, as txt is primarily an attempt to accurately represent pronunciation. Unlike most common language, which is restricted by rules that create these silent letters and homonyms, txt strives to represent the spoken word as accurately as possible. Jacques Derrida (2001, Writing and Difference) touches on this cross-over between written and spoken word both having this absence of representation:

‘The distinction between the mastering of absence as speech and the mastering of absence as writing. The writing within speech. Hallucination as speech and hallucination as writing.

‘The relationship between phoné and consciousness. The Freudian concept of verbal representation as preconciousness.

(Derrida, 2001, p.247)

The distinction between absence as speech and as writing here is particularly relevant. The absence of the phoneme being represented literally with absence in speech, but with the Schwa in writing; unless of course we touch on writing in new-media. The representation of absence in speech, is however not necessarily something which must be represented in writing by absence.

In opposition to this, Marcel Broodthaers’ ‘Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard’ (REF) (fig 14), an interpretation of the original work by Stephane Mallarme (2006) (fig 15) takes out all the words in an interpretation that assumes the position that the forms of the poem are more important than the words themselves. In concrete poetry this argument is always present, one element must be more important than the other, because that’s how the mind works, the two cannot be followed as one.

The philosopher Walter Benjamin turns this idea on its head, if something is not spoken, does it still require it being represented on a page. Shoshana Felman (1999) considers Benjamin’s silence to have been culture’s “most profound witness” when he fell silent (Felman, S. 1999. p. 336). His embodiment of the necessity of silence became crucial to his development as a writer, and an action which drew physical parallels between the written and spoken word. 

“The conceptual question that will override and guide this effort will be, What is the relation between the theory and the event (and what, in general, is the relationship between events and theories)? How does the theory arise out of the concrete drama of an event? How does the concrete drama of an event become theory? And how do both event and theory relate to silence (and to Benjamin’s embodiment of silence)?” (Felman, S. 2007. p.337) 

Both Broodthaers and Benjamin present interesting representations of silence, something not overlooked in new-media. The ellipsis has become the go-to-punctuation-mark of new-media language. A simple ‘…’, rather than imply a break or an interruption in speech, now represents blank space in speech. If all the character sets are being applied to speech, then there is even more of an argument towards txt being a more accurate representation of speech than common languages.

[1] Short Message Service

[2] Alan McConchie felt this issue so important that he created this website for a full overview of the language barrier just in North America: www.popvssoda.com (McChoncie, A. 199?)

[4] The phonetic symbol for Schwa = ə.

[5] Accents or additions to letters that define their sound.

February 8, 2012
Chapter 4: Illustrations

Chapter 4: Illustrations


Fig 14:


Fig 15:

February 8, 2012
Chapter 3

Chapter 3: New Media; Hypertext & TXT


“Mistrust absolutely someone who begins a sentence

with the words ‘To be honest with you’.”

(Breakwell, I. 2007. p.72) 

TBH (‘To Be Honest’) probably wasn’t one of Breakwell’s favorite acronyms, granting even easier access to a term that, in his view (so strongly it was included in his documented mantras (2007. p.72)) was a fairly ambiguous phrase. Initialising[1] anything comes with a good deal of ambiguity as it is, without being applied to such phrases. Depending on the scenario, and/or phrase, these staples of modern language can completely alter the meaning of a text[2].

These acronyms are often misinterpreted on a very basic level. The, now, in-famous example being the txt sent from a mother to her son: 

“Your great aunt just passed away. LOL.”

(@listentodavid, 2011)

The intended interpretation of the acronym here being ‘lots of love’, as opposed to the description officially prescribed to ‘LOL’ (‘laugh out loud’, or ‘laughing out loud’). The most common complaint with new-media-language is one of intergenerational conflict, where pre-txt generations, who have not grown up around this language miss meanings when interacting with post/present-txt generations. The fact is though, that acronyms and abbreviations have been around since language began. Language started through a series of tokens, used to account for stock and was evolved into specific tokens for specific needs, this was than shortened as a process, by doing away with tokens and replacing them with engravings, which gave us the first, accounted for, example of written language (fig 1).

Nowadays there are groups working on creating classics for the ‘SMS’ generation. The most unusual is one Christian group in Australia converting The Bible, the opening line of which is “In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth” (SMH, 2005). While this seems like an odd crossover, it was fairly well received; the society’s spokesman said of Th Hly Bbl, that it was done “to open it up for people of all ages, backgrounds and interests, and the SMS version is a logical extension of that.” (SMH, 2005). The recasting of old texts can however be done, just by making use of the new online platforms available.

One fantastic online example of intergenerational language is @DriverRoss (@DriverRoss/Ayres, C. 2012); a Twitter[3] account from 1940. Author and journalist, Chris Ayres, set up the twitter account after finding his grandfather’s diary (Ross Selkirk Taylor) from the first year of the Second World War, in which there were no entries longer than 140 characters, the limit twitter sets on posts.

This begs the question. How has new-media boosted, or changed language? If Ross Selkirk Taylor wrote in this way in 1940, limited by the size of his page, then it could be argued that the only difference is the medium in which the information is entered.

The big change that has come with the internet is hypertext (the ability to link multiple pages of web-space to supply supplementary information). This is the basis of most platforms of internet discussion, especially with the surge in social networking. Social networking, in this on-line format, has increased the amount of information sharing online hugely since it began. While forums and websites have always had the ability to link between one and other, there is an expected formality surrounding that brand of discussion.

Facebook (2004) in particular has revolutionized how the world receives information. In 2011 an average of one million links (to external sites) were sent, on Facebook, every twenty minutes (Hepbrun, A. 2011). This, in relation to its five hundred million users, and the fact half of which log in each day, equates to each user being sent between three and four links per day. This easy to access information has created a vacuum around these social networking sites. Nearly half of their users in 2011 admitted to keeping up with the news via Facebook, an astonishing statistic, considering the amount of active users has risen to land in it a situation where they can boast that in comparison to “the populations of the largest countries around the world it would rank 3rd behind China and India.” (Blumer, D. 2010). 

This is all backed up by the fact that Facebook enables over seventy languages on the site. The languages that it supports however all have a common understanding of many of the common English initialisms. Lol, for example, is now used in France, based on its wider appeal.

“At a recent meeting of the Southeastern Conference on Linguistics at the University of Georgia, Virginia McDavid in her plenary speech looked back on fifty years of work in dialectology and lexicography. During the question period, she was asked about the most prolific source of new words in present-day English. Without a moment’s hesitation she replied, “Computers.”” (Algeo, J. and Algeo, A. 1995. p.303)

This ethnographic cross-over is becoming apparent. The way computers can affect the language of day-to-day speech, even when the type of language can be seen as out of place. In the same text by John and Adele Algeo (1995), they list new terms that have come from internet use, most of which are technical initialisms. For example, their reference to HTML – “HTML n See FTP 1994 Oct 3; HYPERLINK1 19 95 Apr 14” (p.310) – leads the reader to two separate references, a way of working that is not commonly found in printed academic texts, but far more often found in web documents[4]. 

Dell Hymes, in his book ‘Foundations in Sociolinguistics: an ethnographic approach’ (1974), approaches the cultural crossovers in language. At the time, the closest thing to this HTML/hyperlinking was Morse code, which was internationally recognized between any languages that used the Latin alphabet[5], with standards for specific letters.

“Cultures communicate in different ways, but all forms of communication require a shared code, communicators who know and use the code, a channel, a setting, a message form, a topic, and an event created by transmission of the message” (Hymes, D. 1974. p.225)

While he was talking in a time that predated the commercialisation of the internet, the statement still stands; there must always be a platform that accommodates all languages, where the basic structure can be understood. Today, HTML is one of these “codes”. Anybody, with training, can recognize the various parts of the code, whether it applies to layout.




<a href=“URL”>hyperlink</a>

The above show certain parts of text and their importance. Within them, in any language, the type of content can be assumed.

_…_ (new paragraph)

_._._ (start copying)

._._. (finish copying)

In the same way, certain parts of Morse code are used to clarify distinctions between sections of text. In this way, the same basic necessities are there through the development of new-media. They way they are approached however has developed to be easier to use for an outsider. Morse code requires a trained reader, whereas HTML, even at its outset, only required a trained writer. Now it has developed and people create templates so that any untrained user can create these hyperlinks without even having to think about it. Hyperlinks and txt talk can be picked up and carried out without a second thought, and as this platform develops it will no doubt become more popular and connect on an even larger scale. 

“Memory Bytes: History, Technology, and Digital Culture” by Lauren Rabinovitz and Abraham Geil (2003) looks at these new methods of communication with human limitations as their counterpart. Their statement that “human memory and its recollections don’t compute so neatly” (p.311) these cross overs in information transfer reflects the idea that hyperlinks provide the ability to phenomenologically transfer information between two points. If a piece of text, highlighted to indicate a link, can be the signifier to an entirely new source of information, the hyperlink itself must contain the representational information, something which the human mind could not process given the signs presented; The signified exists on a whole new plain, contained within a single line of HTML. This process can be represented in a line of text, something like this:

Original Web Page {contains – HYPERLINK {contains – HTML > Secondary Web Page {contains – HYPERLINK {contains (HTML x ??) > Numerous Alternate Web Pages}}}} 

Rabinovitz and Abraham describe the process as transformative:

Its search engines driven to the past by a present moment of desire (not utility), this is the eccentric, ever-extensible, yet localized logic of the hyperlink. The contingent nature and function of personal desire as well as the nonhierarchical and associative logic of the hyperlink transform the organization — and phenomenology — of the file cabi­net and the database into something quite other than it was. The file cabinet becomes charged with experience, temporality, and desire, and its hierarchical order becomes jumbled by logically incom­patible — if psychologically comprehensible — functions. (2003, p.311)

 Even now, txt and the internet has become such an integral part most daily lives that 28% of facebook users, aged 18 to 34, happily admit that they check their phone, and their facebook, before even getting out of bed (fig 13). This change in the frequency that people use the internet is creating a much wider range of language skills in new generations of users, uninhibited by language rules that other generations of internet users have previously established; even where, as Rabinovitz and Abraham state, they do not understand a lot of the building blocks of this new language. Initialisms are being much less frequently questioned as parts of language, despite the mistakes that are often made, like that of the txt example at the beginning of this chapter.

[1] The term generally given to txting acronyms despite the regular replacement of an initial with a numeric homophone; G2G (got to go) B4 (before). These examples are sometimes also described as ‘texting shorthand’ – See ‘www.netlingo.com’ (Netlingo, 2011) for more examples.

[2] For the purposes of clarification; txt will refer to language based SMS messaging through this chapter.

[3] Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest information about what you find interesting (Twitter. About Twitter).


[4] This idea is backed up by the supporting online document at http://languagethroughnewmedia.tumblr.com

[5] The most commonly used alphanumeric system in use today (A, B, C, D…)

February 8, 2012
Chapter 3: Illustrations

Fig 1:                                                              Fig 13:


February 8, 2012
Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Uses of Multimodal Language in Literature and The Arts.


The significant images of myth, the materials of the bricoleur, are elements which can be defined by two criteria: they have had a use

(Levi-Strauss, C. 1966. p.35)

Through a language medium, alphanumeric or not, people express their ideas in hugely varying styles. Between novels by Flann O’Brien (in which speech is not marked and fizzles through to the narrative) and theatre scores by George Perec (where no one actor can read his/her lines without the presence of the rest of their cast) there is an immeasurable amount of arms sprouting off into alternative textual genres, and there’s nothing to say that O’Brien or Perec set any sort of boundary. 

“          In what manner was he born?

He awoke as if from sleep.

His sensations?

Bewilderment, perplexity.

Are these not terms synonymous and one as a consequence redundant?

Yes: but the terms of the inquiry postulated unsingular information.

     (At this reply ten of the judges made angry noises on the corner with butts of the stout-glasses…” (O’Brien, F. 1939, At Swim Two Birds. p.45)


image link

(Perec, G. 1972. The Machine. From: The Review of Contemporary Fiction: Spring 2009, Vol. XXIX, No. 1. p.36)

Both of these excerpts require the reader/performer to come at them with a fresh mind in terms of how they read a spoken part. Each has the aside as well; O’Brien has the bracketed part within his conversational narrative; Perec has the aptly named System Control. 

What unites Play-Texts are authorial efforts to control the reception of the text, and their implementation of game-playing strategies in order to maintain this control. O’Brien’s, Beckett’s and Perec’s texts are intended to have a say in how they are interpreted. Each author is marked by an obsessive attention to structure and detail in his texts in an attempt to regulate readerly authority. Perhaps the antidote to post-Iserian anxiety of rampant readerly authority is the Play-Text, as it upsets, inhibits, impedes, and seeks to complicate interpretive processes. (Bohman-Kalaja, K. 2007. p.46)

 As well as a playwright, a novelist and filmmaker, Perec compiled crosswords. His obsession with words fed him and inspired a huge amount of his work. His life goal was “to have used to all the words in The Dictionary. That’s impossible. Not only to have used all of them, but to create some.” (Morley, K. 1981) This passion for words would have seen Perec thriving with the surge of neologisms through new media.

Similar texts written through, and with, a new-media language form have started seeping in to a mainstream literature scene. Lauren Myracle, being the most notable to date. Her books, ‘TTYL’ (2005), ‘TTFN’ (2006) and ‘l8r, g8r’ (2008) chronicle the day-to-day lives of Angela (SnowAngel), Maddie (mad maddie) and Zoe (zoegirl), three fictional teens, entirely in the form of IMs (instant messages). TTYL (IM acronym, commonly used to abbreviate “Talk To You Later”) was an incredibly revolutionary book. While it is difficult to compare Myracle and Perec on their literary merits, they both approached their genres in completely new ways, challenging the way an alphanumeric system is displayed. Myracle created whole new genre of teen literature, which has since been developed on and expanded for a less “fluffy” (Reading Watching Living, 2009) audience. Jess C. Scott, writer of the ‘blog-fiction’ novel Eyelash: A Blog Novel’ (2009) took the idea of the IM-novel, and adapted it for the slightly more grown-up, media-savvy, medium of blogging.

The differences in these two new forms of fiction is huge, showing that while a general language is being created through these new languages (LOL, OMG, etc.), there are also new cultural subsets developing: Social Media; Blog Culture; Social Networking; Forums; Instant Messaging; Email. All of these have their own etiquette around them with their own “Politeness Strategies” (Harrison, S. 2000. p.69) and “Face Threatening Acts”. New terms like these are coined to describe the levels of intimacy that can be achieved through this new form of engagement.

Sandra Harrison put it:

“The participants may never see each other, but their ‘face’ is real enough” (Harrion, S. 2000. p.70)

This idea of personalizing ‘TXT’ has become something integrated into the art and design culture recently, as people are realizing that there is a new type of intimacy emerging where the participants are allowed to think before answering, as with emails or instant messaging. This can put an emphasis on humor, creating an expectation in the reader, that the sender will have considered their response. Customary replies (such as ‘LOL’) are then expected and start to take on their own meanings in each context. Tracy Moberly used this idea of compiling a life into texts; pieced together for exhibition as a crocheted series of TXT messages (fig 8).

The personal nature of some of the messages is what shows up, the way that this new way of displaying language is creating a new attitude to what we say to one and other. The crossover connections between language and art are certainly not rare, Moberly may have approached the matter in a very autobiographical sense, and displayed her personal life with an apparently, very open dialect, but exhibitions often center on work like this. Language becoming a more of a curatorial tool than the subject matter it has been restricted to in the past, leading gallery visitors around works with misappropriated quotes, used to clarify the links between works, or to explain views on the artist.

Tate Liverpool’s “Alice in Wonderland (Tate Liverpool, 2011-12) exhibition is a fantastic example of how language can become a fantastic medium, as well as subject, for a creative outcome. Self assembly books, reassembled film dialogue, rejigged unreadable texts, and completely redesigned language are made to make sense with this exhibition, using Lewis Carroll’s (Charles Dodgson[1]) “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) books as a cornerstone to tie in the themes of the work. The key to the exhibition is summed up by one of the exhibition descriptors: 

“‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ includes unusually few descriptions of its characters. Alice’s thoughts, emotions and personality are described to us in detail but her appearance is never commented upon. This is because Dodgson created the text alongside the images, the one never existing without the other, making descriptions redundant. After all, as Alice ponders, ‘what use is a book without pictures…’?” (Tate Liverpool, Alice in Wonderland, 2011)

This idea, questioned by a lot of the work in the exhibition, is one largely driven by semiotic ideas. Where does the link between textual and image based representation fall? Is it within the original – the signified – or the documented counterpart – the signifier? Or is it, further still, somewhere in between, within the version of itself that gets interpreted by its audience – the subjective interpretation.

Joseph Kosuth’s “Clock” (fig 9) is a perfect example of this collision of outcomes. The Clock, accompanied by it’s own image and the dictionary definitions for ‘time’, ‘object’ and ‘clock’. The piece itself being the closest thing to a perfect representation of a clock; time itself, represented by the clock, in live form; the clock represented by the imagine of a clock; the definitions tie together each aspect, and explain their relevance by way of using ‘object’ as their connective outcome. The text however, bears far greater significance in this instance, as without it, there would be an entirely objective view of the clock, possibly bordering on a representation of the manufacturer’s creation; the text clarifies the work here, and in doing so, becomes the signifier that this is, in fact, an art work, above all else.

Displayed along side this is piece that contradicts these set parameters of a definition (fig 10). “The Never-Ending Book Part One: The Old Poems (For My Mother)” by Allen Rupperberg, gives the reader the opportunity to assemble his/her own meaning and/or outcomes. A book comprising of journals, novels, poems etc. is supposedly contained within a series of boxes, the reader is given the freedom to write their own book comprising of a huge mish-mash of odds and ends from endless amounts of authors. Bricolage is clearly a strong theme in this work, giving the audience the chance to create their own ends within the constraints of a given means – working with what they’ve got.

Along the same lines is the piece by Douglas Gordon (fig 11) “Through The Looking Glass”, which uses one shot extract from Martin Scorsese’s thriller, “The Taxi Driver” (1976), played back to itself in a way which creates an ongoing conversation between Subject A and Subject A (Robert Di Niro). The audience is placed in the mirror from the scene, adding a live aspect to the piece, and placing themselves in the mind of the character. The footage is, again, used in a way which bounces off itself, using the materials provided to produce the desired outcome, rather than starting from scratch. The exhibition brings this use of bricolage within contemporary art to the forefront of it’s displays, non more-so than Joseph Grigely’s “167 White Conversations” (fig 12).

The piece is understandably a regular at Tate Liverpool. It provides links between so many genres, the important one in this case being the relationships between language and it’s users surroundings. Grigley is famously deaf, and his work often shows that, this piece, whose main focus is language, clearly resonates with the artist’s own life experience. Getting people to write down their words when he is unable to read their lips makes for a hugely varied display of real life conversation, capture from real time, and presented as scraps of text. This is a collection of parts of Grigley’s own life, not a fabricated, or influenced, just genuine extracts. Levi-Strauss explains this idea neatly in the opening quote of this chapter: 

“The significant images of myth, the materials of the bricoleur, are elements which can be defined by two criteria: they have had a use.”

Levi-Strauss, C. (1966. p.35)

One of the boards in the Alice in Wonderland exhibition said that at the time, many artists were trading in their brushes for their pen (Tate Liverpool, 2011-12). This is not something that stopped after the period, with plenty of artists, as demonstrated in the exhibition using the written word as their predominant medium. Language is something that has always evolved beyond whatever limits are set down, and will remain a subject for creatives to explore for as long as language can continue to develop.

[1] Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of Charles L. Dodgson, a Mathematics Lecturer at Christ Church Oxford, until his death.

February 8, 2012
Chapter 2: Illustrations

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February 8, 2012
Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Multimodal Literacy


“odds and ends”

(Levi-Strauss, C. 1966. p.35)

With a world of ever changing languages, newly evolving acronyms and more signs than most people can even begin to relate to, there is an ever-growing necessity to read images. This is not a new phenomenon, but the way it is approached has changed through new-media

While many linguists[1] would love a chance to get rid of the emoticon (or smiley) from the screens of their phones and laptops, it has created a generation of children who can read image and text as one. Where the main obstacle was, at first, found through the way we read concrete poetry as two separate objects (the text and the image) that is changing, and image and text are being given a chance to interact with each other in a very new way.

One of the first modern examples of the deliberate integration of signs and symbols into everyday reading was Otto Neurath’s work with Isotypes (1925-34) (fig 5), later developed into the globally recognized public signage project by Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert (fig 6). This use of a signifier to convey what would have needed paragraphs of writing to explain was a huge leap forward in to a largely unexplored world of dual literacy. It did not however start the current revolution into a generation of multimodal readers and writers. Described here is the current state of reading, by Traci Gardner:

“Today’s media-savvy students compose and read texts that include alphabetic and character-based print, still images, video, and sound. They listen to pod-casts, watch animations on the Internet, film their own videos, and compose visual arguments on paper and online. These rich, multilayered texts demand multimodal literacy skills of their readers, who must navigate the different, intersecting media. These media can include visual, auditory, textual, and spatial ways of making meaning.” (Gardener, T. 2007. p.93)

 The necessity that new-media has created is one of dissection. The dissecting of all the information put in front of you to make a whole, especially online. Hyperlinks were very quickly taken up by a global audience as the new library, but are now evolving into a crucial element of online information. Where before, a hyperlink was the equivalent of a footnote, giving the reader the option to look up further information, it is now, often, a link to a separate extract of the same text, transferring knowledge between two categories. If Flikr, YouTube, SoundCloud[2], are a more relevant way of portraying an idea, then why write it down, when a link to an external page can be far more relevant than reading about it.

 These rich, multilayered texts demand multimodal literacy skills of their readers, who must navigate the different, intersecting media. These media can include visual, auditory, textual, and spatial ways of making meaning.” (Gardener, T. 2007. p.93)

 An unprecedented vibrancy has been produced out of this now and is still growing. Traci Gardener’s views on these “multimodal literacy skills” (Gardener, T. 2007. p.93) are one of few academic voices that praise the effect that new-media-language is having on the global culture. Most take a more concerned view that there is an assumed knowledge of how to read these new language tools[3].

While this is valid, it is probably a concern that will fizzle out. These new language tools can be hugely beneficial, and are learned through emersion. Emersion is generally seen to be the absolute best way to learn a language where it is possible. TEFL Express (TEFL, 2012) take the view that to learn a language well, there must be a crucial emphasis put on varying the states of learning. While they focus on teaching correct, conversational English to non-English speakers of a varying age range, they still hold the view that interaction with a language is far better than it being conventionally taught. If it becomes the case, through this mass emergence of new technology and the language that goes with it, that everyone has the ability to use the most basic of web tools; such as a hyperlink or basic colloquial acronyms (LOL – Laugh Out Loud, OMG – Oh My God[4]) then there should be no arguments over these evolving languages. Especially where they improve a general social literacy in a world where literacy levels are declining.

 Norway, the home of Nokia[5], has a thriving cell phone culture, portrayed in Gerard Goggin’s aptly named ‘Cell Phone Culture’ (2006). This book tells the tale of SMS[6] history and of what it has become. Repeated references are made to Trosby’s, ‘SMS: The Strange Duckling of GSM’ (2004), where parallels are drawn to an old Norwegian fairytale character Askeladden “who picks up all kinds of items that he encounters given the presumption that it may come to use some day.”  Askeladden is made out to be something of a bricoleur, making everything count. This attitude towards his adventures reflects that sense of evolution in language. Bits and pieces are picked up, and put back together again. Words and images combine to create a knowledge base, or a story.

Claude Levi-Strauss tries to sum up the concept of bricolage as a combination of “odds and ends” (1966, p.35). The ability to put these odds and ends together again was always something attributed to those working creatively. Now though, that piecing together is becoming a crucial part of reading in any field, as this sense of a multimodal language forms.

Georges Perec writes throughout his verse in ‘Species of Spaces’ (1974) in a way which demands the page to be laid out in a specific manner, whereby the page itself becomes as important, if not more important, than the text itself. The openning extract has been included here as an image (fig 7) to express further this cross-over between word and image. The words themselves, rather than the sentences they make up are often, in Perecs view, the most cruical, meaningful part of texts, in the same way that W. J. T. Mitchell talks about in his review of language; ‘Word and Image’ (1996). His consideration of what words are, written words specifically, concludes that all text is nothing more than

            “black marks on a white background”. (Mitchell, W. J. T. 1996. P.51)

They may seek to express the spoken elements of language, and to ultimately express the visual devices which language seeks to convey, but in the end, a letter is just a black mark, a shape like any other. If, in this multimodal idea of modern literacy through new-media, there is a sense of more accurately linking signifiers to their signified then these marks should be interchangable to cope with changes. Language is always evolving, so it is therefore only right that it’s written counterpart follows suit.


[1] See Lynne Truss’ ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ (2003) for an in depth analysis of modern punctuation.

[2] Flickr: image sharing; YouTube: video sharing; SoundCloud: audio sharing.

[3] “hypertext is no longer as much a puzzle as it was in 1998 (now that it is naturalized enough that your familiarity with it and ability to think your way to connections between and among sometimes disparate texts is simply assumed as you browse online)” (Wysocki, A.F. 2007. p.282-283)

[4] Acronyms commonly used in texting and online discussions were added to the English Dictionary in 2009 (Oxford, 2009)

[5] Nokia (1865): one of the first and largest commercial mobile phone manufacturers.

[6] Short Message Service. 

February 8, 2012
Chapter 1: Illustrations

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