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Logograms on the Rise:

Ubiquitous Computer-Mediated Communication


Bradley E. Wiggins
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Communications Media
Indiana University of Pennsylva
b.e.wiggins@iup.edu

ABSTRACT
Online communication is pervasive and succeptible to changes due to
communications technologies of use. This article discusses the reality of
logograms and ideograms on the rise on online communications. Specifically, the
place of English in online media is assessed in terms of its relevance as a dominant
language. Graphic examples of logography and ideography as present in
ubiquitous computer-mediated communications. A culminating discussion
evaluates the points raised in terms of impact and technological determinism.
Keywords: ubiquitous computer-mediated communication (UCMC), logograms,
ideograms, network effect, technological determinism, structuration.

INTRODUCTION

Popular theoretical physicist and futurist, Dr.


Michio Kaku asserted that the Internet is the
telecommunications systems of a Type I Civilization,
as defined by the Kardashev scale (The Upside
down world of Dr. Michio Kaku, 2007). A Type I
Civilization is characterized, as a society that has
harnessed its planetary energy resources to the fullest,
attained global governance, and developed a global
communications network (Kaku, 2008). Dr. Kakus
suggestion that the Internet is a communications trait
of a Type I Civilization indicates that the nature of
communication has advanced in ways to include new
modes of expression given the persistence of change
within the realm of online mediated communications.
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PROBLEM STATEMENT

The lingua franca of the Internet is not English;


rather, it is a combination of traditional language,
logogram, and ideogram. Communication on the
Internet has undergone a change that involves the
emergence of ideograms and logograms alongside
traditional text-based communications. While an
ideogram is a picture or symbol that represents an
idea, a logogram is a written or pictorial
representation of a word. This is essentially due to
the pervasiveness of ubiquitous computer-mediated
communication (UCMC).
Following a discussion of language on the
Internet is a treatment of network effects with regard
to the value ascribed to English. Subsequently, the
theories of structuration and adaptive structuration
help to shed light on the reasoning to imply that
technology not only impacts individuals, but also the
ways they communicate. Finally, a series of graphic

examples support the assertion that ideograms and


logograms are present in application in online
communicative structures of use.
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ISNT ENGLISH THE DOMINANT


LANGUAGE ON THE INTERNET?
According to digg.com more than 80 % of home
pages are in English with German coming in second
place at 4.5% and Japanese in third place with
approximately 3.1% (Pierce, 2006). However,
ExciteAtHome conducted an enormous study in
1999 in which it examined 600 million web pages
and made the conclusion that 72% of them were in
English (Zuckerman, 2009). Logically, that figure is
likely to be lower now given that the Internet has
grown in countries where English is not the principal
language. Further, according to statistics provided by
the International Telecommunication Union (ITU),
as of 2007, 62% of inhabitants of developed
countries and 17% of inhabitants of developing
countries are classified as Internet users (ITU, 2007).
Interestingly, cellular telephone use is 97% and 45%
for residents of developed and developing countries,
respectively (ITU, 2007). Nevertheless, the result of
a Google search for the percentage of the Internet in
English will likely reveal a figure around 80%. It is
difficult to ascertain which language, if any, has
dominance on the Internet. However, there is cause
to suspect that English will remain in the lead for
reasons other than a sheer count of websites.
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NETWORK EFFECTS AND ENGLISH


There is a network effect associated with
language use on the Internet (Knoke & Yang, 2008).
One indicator of whether English will remain the
traditional text-based language of the Internet is the
activity of non-English speakers (Gandal, 2007).
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Specifically, if non-English speakers continue to use


English language sites, emerging sites may defer to
keep content in English. This result is due to the
ascribed value of English given its propensity of use.
However, beyond a common lingua franca remains
the significance of structure and its impact on
interpersonal and computer-mediated communication.
5 STRUCTURE OF ONLINE
COMMUNICATION
Structure impacts communication. When we talk
to others in a chat room, text a friend, e-mail a
colleague, post a message on someones online
social network, we are (either consciously or
unconsciously) participating in a recursive action
that leads to changes in the way we express ourselves
(DeSanctis & Poole, 1994; Giddens, 1984). The
place of technology in this action is key in that it
directly affects individuals in as much as we
acquiesce, sit back, and let it happen (Galimberti,
2009; Merchant, 2007). The point here is that it is no
longer a question of whether technology necessarily
impacts human beings; rather, technology impacts
language.
Ubiquitous
computer-mediated
communication (UCMC) is thus the result of the
interaction between humans and communications
technologies.
Anthony Giddens (1984) theory of structuration
applies to human agents within social systems and
structures, and DeSanctis and Pooles adaptive
structuration theory (AST) focuses on the role that
technology plays in social systems and how these
social systems associate the role and utility of
technology in groups and organizations (DeSanctis
& Poole, 1994).
Basically, AST posits that
technology and socially-integrated organizational
individuals and groups create social structures, rules,
and resources as the foundation of human activity
(Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000). Thus, these theories
attempt to explain a macro-level change in
communication wherein the technological system of
the Internet has led, by its structure and use, to a shift
in the ways in which individuals express themselves.
UCMC encompasses these changes.
6 IDEOGRAMS AND LOGOGRAMS IN
CONTEXT
While their presence does not suggest replacing
English or other traditional languages, ideograms and
logograms appear frequently as a support to a
primary message or means for communication. As
early as 1991, it was asserted that a new form of
writing was rising. Ferrara, Brunner, and Whittemore
(1991) termed this change Interactive Written
Discourse (IWD). Represented by non-standard
grammatical and stylistic uses of written language,
IWD is a symptom of emergent digital literacies
(Merchant, 2007). The use of non-alphabetic (as well
as non-abjad and non-syllabic systems, of course)

keyboard symbols is also a common characteristic of


IWD. It is well known that this practice is also
present in cell phone use (Gomez & Dudt, 2009). We
tend to use and understand ideograms and logograms
online often without realizing their nature (Robinson,
2007). This realization might be useful when
attempting to describe and explain changes in digital
literacies and interpersonal expressions, and also
when designing effective digital media.
A series of cropped screen shots taken of
ideograms and logograms in context is presented as
Figures 1 through 5. Perhaps several are familiar. In
each case, however, it is likely that their purpose is
fully clear without the need to rely on traditional
linguistic expression.

Figure 1: Toolbar Ideograms.

Figure 2: iPhone Apps: Logograms and Ideograms.

Figure 3: Ideograms and Logograms on an Adobe


PDF.

Figure 4: Ideograms and Logograms for Multiple


Purposes on Pandora.

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Figure 5: Common Ideograms and Logograms Used


in Text Messaging and E-Mail.
In each of the examples above, the ideograms
and logograms are products of the structures they
inhabit. Their advantage is multifaceted. They do not
need to be translated. They require neither
sophisticated design nor adaptation to new media
environments.
In Figure 2, we see text below the logograms.
Given an understanding of the context, these text
terms become redundant alongside their logograms.
Indeed, context may be key in understanding
logograms and ideograms. Context is embedded
within the logogram or ideogram given the lack of a
need to supply explicating text.
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CONCLUSION
The impact of logograms and ideograms on
communication is an area that is likely in need of
further exploration. There is a danger to treat these
linguistic
phenomena
as
unimportant
or
inconsequential. Such an attitude suggests both our
inability to understand why we use them and how
they are used cognitively and in application.
Ultimately, we may need to develop or modify
ideograms and logograms to be impervious to the
changes associated with online media.
While network effects help to explain how and
why English may remain as a dominant language of
the Internet, they do not shed light on the presence of
logograms and ideograms. The theories of
structuration and adaptive structuration both strive
for lofty goals. However, they appear to be useful to
dissecting meaning in the increasingly interwoven
and complex world of online mediated
communication.
Ubiquitous computer-mediated communication
technologies (UCMC) is way to understand in
context and with reference to the modes and devices
used in communicating with one another the changes
in communication as expressed by the emergence
(and likely permanence) of logograms and ideograms
across alphabetic, syllabic, and pictographic
languages in online interactions.
Technology, for the moment, appears to impact
language. Can this relationship be separated from its
impact(s) on the individual? Further, does the
existence of this relationship imply a causality
between structured technological environments and
changes within (and without) the human condition?
What impact does the combination of traditional
language, like English, and ideography on the
Internet have on the human brain and cognition?

Will learning be affected in the long run? Will


pedagogies need to adapt to an ideography of use?
These are a host of questions emerging from this
discussion of logograms and ideograms within the
sphere of online media. A challenge is therefore
made to scholars to find answers.
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