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Saturday, September 27 • 15:16 - 15:35
"Complaining to build rapport in a Twitter community"

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Background: In this project, I use a linguistic toolkit to investigate how partly fictional identities are created through Twitter posts. The material for the study is drawn from a Twitter community of ballet enthusiasts: pre-professional ballet students, hobby dancers and ballet connoisseurs.

Objective: The project looks at the speech act patterns of Twitter communication within a community. One of the sub-objectives is to assess the importance and function of indirect complaints (‘yammering’) on Twitter, which, according to a widespread perception, make up the bulk of ordinary tweets, and to investigate their linguistic structure.

Methods: The methodology is twofold: on the one hand, I did a qualitative study of the examples following the tenets of computer-mediated discourse analysis and conducted semi-structures interviews. On the other hand, corpus linguistic analysis of the annotated corpus was carried out. The full corpus consists of 1000 tweets gathered from the 11 accounts during 2012-2013, on the whole including approx. 20 000 words. The corpus was balanced for gender (5 female, 6 male users), region (6 users from the UK and 6 from the USA), individual users (8 users contributed 100 tweets each, and the remaining 100 were split between two male users from the UK who posted very seldom) and interactivity (500 tweets were interactive. e.g. they contained some form of @address, and 500 were ‘monologual’). Following a pilot study, corpus was manually tagged for pragmatic categories. Besides, the multi-turn tweets received a special marker. This talk will focus on the indirect complaint category, which included the sublevel of annotation for topic, syntactic structure, upgraders and downgraders.

Results: Self-disclosure emerges as the main motivation behind the users’ discursive activity. Positive self-disclosure, largely on the topics that endow the author with the emblematic features of a ballet ‘hero’ – aches and injuries, dedicated exercise, performing onstage, appreciation of ballet as an art form – makes up the ‘ego’ interpretive repertoire that users frequently draw upon. Consequently, indirect complaints are very popular as speech acts that facilitate self-disclosure. In terms of topics, complaints about injuries and lack of dancing skill are most prominent. Syntactically, declaratives are most frequent, which is in line with the complaints’ self-disclosive function. Declarative sentences often include ellipsis or follow the minimal pattern ‘evaluation+NP’. Lexically, negative evaluative devices in form of emotion words and swear words are common. Framing is realised by hashtags which occur outside of the syntactic structure of the utterance and thus mitigate the face-threatening nature of a complaint.

Conclusions: On the whole, the study shows that Twitter users are well capable of exploiting the tension between the online and offline to their advantage. The virtual identity constructed through a variety of semiotic devices and discursive stances becomes more prominent and credible than the offline one, even in cases when the two are apposed. This is achieved through overt or covert self-disclosure that exhibits stable linguistic patterns.


Daria Dayter

research assistant, University of Bayreuth
I am a third-year doctoral student at the Uni Bayreuth, Germany. My dissertation explores the pragmalinguistic features of in-group communication on Twitter on the example of a community of ballet students. I'm especially interested in face-threatening acts of complaint and self... Read More →

Saturday September 27, 2014 15:16 - 15:35
TRS 1-147 Ted Rogers School of Management

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