Friday, July 18, 2014

Origins: Blogs (Part 3—Conversational Writing and Conclusion)

This is the last of a three-part series on the history and nature of blogs. In the first post, I wrote about blogs' early history and popularity growth. The second post included research from linguists (language scholars) about blogs' genres and grammar. This last section, excerpted and slightly modified from a research paper, covers the conversational elements of blogs before, and then concludes the series.

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Blogs are more personal and casual than most printed work. They are also more interactive, which is why many bloggers and academics refer to "conversation" in the blogosphere. Eric E. Peterson, a professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, finds this description troubling. He explores the topic in his 2011 article for Language@Internet, "How Conversational are Weblogs?" He acknowledges that bloggers often use a conversational tone, but cautions that the interactions on and between blogs do not truly constitute conversations. [Because, obviously, there is only one definition of "conversation," and we all know that the meanings of words are set in stone and never evolve at all… oh, wait.]

Unlike face-to-face conversations, blogs are non-linear and discontinuous in contact (Peterson). Responses to posts and comments are not immediate, and certainly not simultaneous. Bloggers write their posts uninterrupted by their audience's feedback, and if clarification is needed, it must happen across posts. Similarly, the context around posts is not immediate, but instead something that "both writers and readers must work to produce," usually by writing and reading serval posts over time.[I'd like to add that, in the aniblogosphere, our context grows with anime, other blogs and news sites, Twitter, and whatever else we share in our online experiences.]

While blog content is not a conversation, it is still conversational. Bloggers are writing to a large audience, but by using a conversational tone, they reach individuals in a more personal way. This attracts and keeps readers. It's not a new strategy, as Peterson points out. For decades, radio personalities have amassed listeners by speaking in a "for-anyone-as-someone" way, as if they were sitting down with each listener individually. Bloggers adopt an informal, frank style that readers perceive as "authentic, direct, and truthful" (Peterson). Of course, frankness, whether spoken or written, does not automatically confer honesty. But the popular perception remains. As a result, blogs attract millions of readers, many of whom feel a personal connection to their favorite, conversational bloggers.

The blogosphere has come a long way since the first online diaries of the 1990s. They vary widely in genre, purpose, and author. Blogs, though clearly a written form, have aspects of speech in their language. They are informal, even conversational, in style. They are not subject to the standardization process experienced by most published material, and their syntax and grammar reflects that.

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So, there you have it. As bloggers and blog-readers, we're part of a form of communication so interesting, it's a topic of much conversation study and discussion among linguists. It took a while before they could all agree that the "blog" is a medium, not a genre. But even the slowest of them eventually arrived at that conclusion. And some of them think our often unconventional grammar is fascinating. Basically, they recognize that all of us in the blogosphere are part of something linguistically awesome. Or something like that. 

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Peterson, Eric E. "How Conversational are Weblogs?." Language@Internet 8 (2011): n. pag. Web. <>

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