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Computer Mediated Communication
SCHOOL OF LANGUAGES AND LINGUISTICS, FACULTY OF ARTS

Language and online identity
What is identity? What does postmodernism have to do with
identity? How is identity performed online? How might language
play a role in the construction of an online identity? Any criticisms?

• Identity is a complex, and growing, area of • A view of identity as either ‘anchored’ or
interest for those involved in language ‘transient’ may help us understand how we
study perform in varying environments
• For our purposes, we define Identity as • The notion of ‘little-d’ (language in use)
‘persistances of the Self ’ -- and that, itself, and ‘big -D’ (societal and semiotic
is in a continuous state of becoming resources) discourses may help us
Subject Coordinator: Dr Paul Gruba understand identity construction
• Two reasons are given for the rise in
8344-8973 / paulag@unimelb.edu.au interest in online identity: society is • Fanfiction, a site in which authors extend
Room 511, Arts Centre creating ‘new people’ as CMC technology original plot lines of published work, can
becomes more ubiquitous, or that the serve as a ‘case study’ of online writing
Tutor: Kerrie Delves technology is simply giving us more and identity interactions
opportunities to display and perform
k.delves@pgrad.unimelb.edu.au • Dialogic resources, self identification,
different identities
Room 510, Arts Centre cultural identification and reader reviews
• Popular media promulgate a ‘discourse of may influence the building of an online
S C H O O L O F
L A N G U A G E S
identity threat’ that focuses on the fears identity
A N D created by online use, and highlights the
L I N G U I S T I C S
importance we attach to identity • Identity performance shifts in differing
communities, and has historical roots, and
• Because CMC is a ‘lean’ medium, it may requires much more research in the context
cause us to work harder to understand of CMC, technologies and changes in
who we are communicating with, thus society at large
forcing us to think about our own identity
“If you grew up in the 1950s, you were inclined to regard your identity
as something you were born with. If you grew up in the 1970s, you were
more likely to regard your identity as something you created.”

David Brooks, The New York Times, 05 August 2008
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/05/opinion/05brooks.html?em

What is identity, and why an increased interest?
• How does the Self figure in a concept of Identity? Are they the same?
• Merchant is interested in the increased interest in online identity and posits two reasons:
Internet is creating ‘new people’ or the technology is allowing us to do more. What do
you think is the more dominant reason ?
• To what extent do you think your identity (and that of others) shifts in online
environments?

The discourse of identity threat:
• What are some of the ways that popular media portray Identity in online
environments?
• How do the differing discourses position your own use of the Internet?
• With reference to work from last week, how powerful are discourses in shaping our
societal institutions? Is CMC a particularly apt way to view language and discourse?

Identity markers and L2 learners:
• What is the role of audience as we ‘perform’ our identities?
• How does Nanako (in Black, 2006) perform her identity as a writer of fanfiction? Can
you give some examples of how she positions herself in the online environment?
• Do you think foreign language learners need to be made more aware of identity issues?
In what ways is second language acquisition tied to identity?

Some ways forward:
• What do you think of the research agenda set out by Merchant? Can you think
of any ways you would pursue the need to catalogue both online and offline
identity constructions?
• Black (2006) does not articulate a clear research agenda. Can you think of any
ways we could also investigate second language learners and online identities?
• Do you yourself blog? Why or why not? If so, how do you ‘author your social
identity’?

Key readings this week:

BLACK, R. (2006). Language, Culture, and Identity in Online
Fanfiction. E-Learning, 3(2), 170-184.

MERCHANT, G. (2006) Identity, Social Networks and
OnlineCommunication. E-Learning, 3(2), 235-244.

(and see you online, too ... .)