A Sociopragmatic Analysis on Chinese Internet Request

Chia-Ling Hsieh

National Taipei University of Technology, Taiwan


Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has gained importance as a vehicle for human interaction since the advance of network technology. (Herring, 1996; Flanagin, 2001; Barnes, 2003). To date the major interest of research on CMC language has been in the characteristics of online exchange as compared with other communication media (e.g., Barry, 1993; Ludlow, 1996; Baron, 1998; Gruber, 2000; Kong, 2001; Park et al., 2005). However, little attention has been paid to the requestive behavior frequently observed in CMC discourse. From a sociopragmatic perspective, this study aims to explore the effect of situational factors on the performance of request via public and asynchronous Internet interface. The data were taken from requests for information made on three text-based Chinese websites: Yahoo Knowledge Discussion Group, Amarylliss Travel & Living Blog, and Soil & Water Conservation Bureau Message Board. Data obtained indicate requests via World Wide Web as typically concise, addressee-oriented, and pragmatically efficient. Statistical comparisons also show that requestive operations vary by interlocutor power and specificity. Requests to addressees of dominant status or definite identity display heavier use of politeness strategies. This can be attested in the selection of address terms (deference ‘you’), opening moves (‘excuse me’), head acts (‘please tell me’), optionally elaborated supportive moves such as gratitude (‘many thanks’), compliments (‘your blog is impressive’), and altruistic expressions (‘it is alright if you can’t’), sequential organizations, minimal utterance length, and paralinguistic features such as emoticons (‘@@’ to denote vexation). However, requests in reverse situations also exhibit significantly higher level of politeness demonstrated by more occurrence of various lexical and syntactic upgraders and downgraders such as attention getters (‘HELP!’), modal devices ( ‘can’, ‘possibly’), duplications (‘Urgent! Urgent!’), and self-degrading markers (‘I am a beginner’), as well as fewer impolite interrogations (‘What on earth can I do?’) and informal texting languages that are universal (‘Orz’) or Chinese-specific (‘3Q’). The unexpected occurring frequencies of politeness strategies can be attributed to requesters’ endeavor to seek help in the dynamic Internet world. The common politeness principles as confirmed in previous literature on face-to-face request (e.g. Blum-Kulka et al., 1989; Trosborg, 1995; Hong, 1998; Fukushima, 2000) appear to be overridden by a number of contextual considerations, particularly the awareness of requestee’s lack of obligation to comply and the psychological effect of participant mutual anonymity that are often understood as privacy and security. Requesters thus give priority to the conversational principle of clarity and infringe that of quantity and quality to solicit potential requestees to opt ‘in’. The results suggest that interactional strategies of online request operate by pragmatic regularities that carry social implications. The findings also indicate effects of the medium itself and participant variables on politeness realization and interpersonal communication. The conclusions also support the view that Internet constitutes a unique interactive medium that should be studied in its own right as a social phenomenon.

Session: Paper session
Digital Language 3
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 02