In this thesis, I use a multi-perspectival analytical approach to investigate the paralanguage of naturally occurring work-based Instant Message conversations. My research into the field of computer-mediated discourse analysis (CMDA) has shown that written non-verbal cues have been considered as important means of contextualising text-based computer-mediated communication (CMC), yet their scholarly treatment has been scant. Previous findings about the importance paralanguage in CMD have been further strengthened by the findings of the field of business communication: in the virtual work environment the lack of audio-visual information has been found to contribute to miscommunication and consequently hinder cooperation. The linguistic devices and discursive strategies that are used in order to compensate for the limitations imposed by the text-based communicative channel have therefore been identified as in need of further exploration.
In this thesis, I have outlined a CMC cue system based on the previous findings of CMDA to investigate the range of cues used as non-verbal signals in workplace text- based CMC. I have also used a multi-perspectival approach based on the theoretical frameworks of interactional sociolinguistics, communities of practice, relational work and politeness and conversation analysis (CA) in order to investigate the range of interactional roles of paralanguage during computer-mediated business conversations. The interpretive CA-informed analysis I have conducted has provided evidence of the important role of non-verbal signals during the contextualisation of complex transactional and relational communicative goals in the workplace.
The analysis in this thesis has provided two significant results: firstly, by incorporating the findings of research into paralanguage of spoken as well as other written genres it resulted in a comprehensive description of the orthographic and typographic non-verbal cues used in text-based CMC and, secondly, by drawing on the multi-perspectival framework, it allowed for a description of the complex interactional functions of these cues during the contextualisation of content and relational intent and the creation of interactional coherence in IM.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.