Friday, July 4, 2014

Origins: Blogs (Part 2—Linguists, Genres, and Grammar)

Over a month ago, I posted about blogs' basic history. Most of the post was excerpted from a research paper I turned in last semester, called "The Linguistics of Blogs." You might want to check that out before reading this, but you don't have to. I'd like to share more of the same paper today. Did you know that, in the past, some linguists tried to shove blogs under the diary genre? I think that they all know better now. It's interesting to read their studies and articles—they think so hard about blogs, which I now consider to be a natural part of my life.

The rest is excerpted, with slight edits, from my essay.

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Blogs meld historical means of communication with modern technology. The result is unique, but some have still tried to fit it in more traditional categories. Many, especially in the blogosphere's early days, considered blogs to be a development of the personal diary. Laurie McNeill's 2005 article "Genre Under Construction: The Diary on the Internet" is based on the premise that blogs are "simply another kind or function of the diary genre, one particularly well-suited to contemporary diarists" (McNeill 6). Certainly, there are similarities. Like diaries, blogs have dated entries, which usually appear in chronological order. And many blogs do fit into the diary genre. In 2006, David Crystal wrote that the genre, which shows "a narrative account of events in a blogger's daily life… has been the fastest area of blog growth since 2001" (Language and the Internet 242).

However, blogs cannot be confined to a single genre. Crystal proposes a spectrum of blog purposes, with personal diaries on one end and corporate or institution-based blogs on the other end (Language and the Internet 240). Blogs can be written by one person or many, and some are run by companies. They may have no central theme, or they may focus on certain hobbies or political positions.

[At this point, most of you are probably thinking, "well, duh." But stick with me. A group of academics recently completed a study to prove that there are multiple blog genres… yes, it sounds like proving that  not all fruits are apples, but they took it very seriously. Read on.]

Last December, Dr. Alex Primo, Gabriela Zago, Erika Oikawa, and Gilberto Consoni of The Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul published a blog theme study in Discourse and Communication. In this study, they developed 36 subcategories of themes found in a sample of almost 7,000 posts. A few of the most common themes were technology, politics, mass media, and visual arts (352). The study only used Brazilian posts, but its broader conclusion applies across cultures in the blogosphere: blogs are more varied in theme than ever. "The online practice of self-expression" is no longer a sufficient model for explaining blogs. Further, "The view of blogs as a genre is also misleading, as it confuses medium and genres" (Primo et al. 355).

While blogs cannot be confined to any genre, the diary genre does show its linguistic freedom most clearly. Unlike traditionally printed work, blogs contain "freely written prose," untouched by standardization and editors. In his Internet Linguists: A Student Guide, David Crystal notes that syntax online is generally the same as offline, which some evolution according to the new mediums, or "outputs," as he calls them. He does, however, single out blogging as an output  where "some interesting syntactic developments could be taking place" (67). 

Crystal writes, "It is a syntax that reflects the way writers think and speak." Standard sentence divisions rarely come naturally in thoughts. Thus, "there is the unconstrained use of the dash to mark a change in the direction of thought, ellipses to show incompleteness, and the use of commas to mark pauses in rhythm" (68). At the same time, bloggers may leave out punctuation they consider unnecessary or troublesome, such as apostrophes. The grammar is unconventional, but present (69). A few similar styles appear in literature, such as James Joyce's stream of consciousness writing, but that is the limit. 

Even Joyce's work endured a level of editing and standardization. With blogs, however, there is no filter between author and reader except what they put there themselves. This kind of free, unmediated publication was normal in the Middle Ages, before standardization. In Language and the Internet, Crystal refers to "the spontaneous letter-writting of the late Middle Ages, for example, or some of the manuscript accounts of law-court proceedings…" Then, in the later part of the 1700s, grammar and usage manuals rose to power. These institutionalized "standard language," which became totalitarian "when publishers developed copy-editing procedures to ensure that their newspapers, magazines, and books conformed to an in-house style" (Language and the Internet 245). Of course, bloggers are not free from the influence of standardized English, and even the least conventional posts contain elements learned in school and recreational reading. And there are bloggers who "would be mortified if their text appeared in the blogosphere with a missing apostrophe" (246). Still, no matter what kind of grammar bloggers use, blogs, especially personal ones, stand separate from printed work in an important way: they are "a variety of writing intended for public consumption, which appears exactly as the author wrote it, which is not constrained by other genre conventions, and which privileges linguistic idiosyncrasy" (246). 

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There's another small section of my blog linguistics paper, but this is enough for now. When I first researched this, I couldn't help but think of my own blogging habits, as well as some of the blogs I like to read. A lot of what Crystal said about ellipses and dashes is right on track. He didn't mention strikethrough, a formatting device that I've seen bloggers use for a humorous touch (or other purposes), and which is not replicable in spoken communication. But I can't expect his books to cover every cool way bloggers communicate. 

And so, another Origins post is finally done and posted. I hope you find this information at least half as interesting as I do.

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Crystal, David. Language and the Internet. 2 ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2006. Print.
Crystal, David. Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011. Print.


  1. Nice Blog! Your post is very informative. English is one of the difficult and important languages. Few years ago I found a lot mistakes in my English sentence. At that time I got a best grammar checker tool. I improved my knowledge through this tool. Keep posting.

  2. Really most wonderful and informative article.Expecting more articles of these type to be published forever.

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