Conversational Analysis of Chatroom ‘talk’

PhD thesis - Terrell Neuage at the University of South Australia this page updated 16 March 2001: Adelaide

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charting the ODAM (pdf) - University of South Australia teaching site 


Conversational Analysis of Chat Room Talk PHD thesis by       Dr. Terrell Neuage  University of South Australia National Library of Australia.

THESIShome ~ Abstract.html/pdf ~ Glossary.html/pdfIntroduction.html/pdf  ~ methodology.html/pdf  ~ literature review.html/pdfCase Study 1.html/pdf~ 2.html/pdf~ 3.html/pdf~  4.html/pdf~ 5.html/pdf~  6.html/pdf~  7.html/pdf~ discussion.html/pdf  ~ conclusion.html~ postscipt.html/pdf~ O*D*A*M.html/pdf~ Bibliography.html/pdf~  911~ thesis-complete.htm/~ Terrell Neuage Home Appendixes  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  DATA ~ Case Study   1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 7 ~ These links are from early notes and not the final edits which are in the published version available at the University of South Australia only. Not all links are active due to changing domains. Home page see  /



Why examine chatroom dialogue?

All areas of communication are worth examining. Without communication with others we are unable to function. Communication requires listening, awareness. One must plan to communicate.  Simply put communication is sharing information, to make known to another person, to transmit, exchange and impart information.  Understanding and giving meaning to what is communicated is necessary in order to progress.  All that is involved is the Message sender and the Message receiver.


I will investigate one seemingly small area of communication but one which is changing the way communication is being done worldwide, that of communicating within chatrooms. There are many theories to understand communication from complex forms such as Communication Metatheory (TCM).




However, a significant value which is what? can be had from analysing current forms of communication. More and more people are communicating through electronic-on-line services. statistics?

It is the history of a particular communication the utterances can be studied for their mappings. New ways of engaging in conversation are emerging with the growing wide spread use of computers as a form of communication. The impact these forms of communication will have on future interactions between people is just beginning to be studied. examples?  E-mail is replacing a lot of traditional letter writing and its primary difference is the rapidity of response expected when an e-mail is sent. Unlike letters, which often are not answered for a varying period of time, it is assumed that e-mail will be responded to within a day or two. For example, if we do not respond to an e-mail within a day or two from a friend, another e-mail will prompt us to respond, inquiring why we had not responded yet. Therefore, e-mails tend to be answered in haste with at least a short response, maybe even just a "got your e-mail, am too busy to answer now, but will in a few days". Though e-mail can be a form of turn-taking, people writing back and forth immediately after receiving correspondence, it does not provide the conversational turn-taking choices which chatroom do. cite some studies on email.

A few studies of computer dialogue are beginning to appear on the Internet. I will note studies in progress and completed theses on this topic. However, due to the nature of the Internet some links may not be working by the end of this thesis. A study of computer conferencing for instructional purposes by Dr. Karen L. Murphy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction at Texas A&M University and Mauri P. Collins, Research Associate for Educational Systems Programming and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff have categorized on line study by students as asynchronously or synchronously. Asynchronous study allows time for reflection between interactions. Synchronously interactions allows real-time interactive chats or open sessions among as many participants as are online simultaneously. Their study: Communication Conventions in Instructional Electronic Chats will be discussed in other sections of this thesis. The study is available on line at and usefully summarises the spontaneity and immediacy of chatroom-styled synchronicity.

Chatrooms are more hastily interactive (turn-taking exchange) than e-mail. Conversations in Chatrooms are rarely planned out making Chatrooms an ideal source of casual conversation analysis. In Chatrooms conversations are informal, often experimental and often are used for entertainment and escape.  Virtual conversations, which Chatrooms can be considered, can have little to no real life significance. For example, in some chatrooms participants experiment with various personas. As they are not seen, heard or known by others in the chatroom,a participant can be anyone or anything.  Turkle >>

Internet conversation, whether in chatrooms, America Online's Instant messenger (IM), ICQ, PalTalk, discussion groups, or even in role playing games such as MUDs and MOOS already involves two new paradigm shifts. To bring into being an "electronic interactive conversational analysis" requires a cross over between print and conversation-based analyses and theorisations. Firstly, there is the shift from print text to computerization. Print relies on hierarchy and linearity. Computer interactivity can have several voices going at once or a "synchronous communication". A prime example is in chatrooms where there can be multiple conversations involving multiple subjects happening at the same time (Aokk, 1995; Siemieniuch & Sinclair, 1994).

Discussion groups also operate around the concept of threads, where a topic takes on a life of its own. Even within the topic chosen there can be offshoots. However, I will not explore those within the context of this study.       

Instant Messenger, ICQ,and PalTalk,  have only two voices at one time, but not necessarily following one another. People still "talk" at the same time. One does not always wait for a response. If two people are typing rapidly back and forth, they can return and respond to something which was said whilst the other was typing. (See examples four and five.) While print media works on a flow of conversation or writing directed to an organised progression, on-line conversations fragment into multi-directionality.

.A second paradigm shift is taking place around the notion of "discourse", parallel to the shift from print to the Internet see Landow 1992, pp. 1-11). Within the Internet interactive environment there are further developments taking place. Recently there has been a shift from e-maiI and discussion groups to chatrooms and "Instant messenger" ("IM") and ICQ.

E-mail and discussion groups are more or less a one-way road. For example, one usually waits for a return e-mail, which often is a complete response with several paragraphs: a considered and edited "textual" piece, close to the regulated print culture. Conversely, chatrooms and ‘IM’ are composed of one or two lines of text from one person then a response of one or two lines from another person. Chatroom, ‘IM’ or ‘ICQ’ are thus more a form of spontaneous casual conversation while discussion groups are e-mailed "texted" responses usually thought out and spell and grammar checked before they are sent to the discussion group. Similarily discussion groups are more controlled and planned: more "textual". In other words, the Internet has already produced its own set of "text-talk" genres and practices. At the same time, its universe of discourse is rapidly diversifying.

Because of this developing diversity and its clear formation around both textual and conversational practices, this study will encompass several linguistic descriptive and analytical methods. The major methods used will be Conversational Analysis (CA), Speech Act Theory (SA) and Discourse Analysis (DA), but will include aspects of Reading Theory, Text and Corpus Analysis, Computer Mediated Communication theories (CMC), Linguistics and Pragmatics. Together these methods will provide sufficient range to enable me to develop a method for chatroom analysis, which will encompass more of its attributes than is possible within any one of the existing frames.

NEXT - Is electronic talk comparable to verbal talk?


Return to Case Study One, Two, Three, Four, Five

Return to Introduction for thesis

Return to Literature Review

Return to Bibliography

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