Dialogue and Interactivity on Social Media

Danica Jovanovic & Theo van Leeuwen, University of Southern Denmark

This paper examines digitally mediated dialogue on social media. A social semiotic, multimodal approach to dialogue recognizes that dialogue involves not only a functional exchange structure, but also emotive or evaluative correspondence (Vološinov, 1973[1929]). This paper therefore explores social media

  • As a functional structure, drawing on theories of exchange structure and genre
  • As realizing evaluative correspondence, drawing on theories of style as expressive of identity

Based on a corpus of social media dialogues on a number of different platforms, the paper will first of all present some analysis of the exchange structure and genre in social media dialogues, drawing primarily on Martin (1992) and Van Leeuwen (2005). Although language is the dominant mode in social media, a variety of semiotic modes can be used. Just as Van Leeuwen (2005) has shown with regard to monologic genres and face to face dialogues, online dialogues can also be multimodal. An initiating move may, for instance, be visual, taking the form of a post with a caption, while the response may be verbal, in the form of comments by one or more users, perhaps followed by a comment from the person who made the post. But it is also possible for an initiating move to be verbal and the response visual, or for both to be realized through the same semiotic mode, and we have even found examples in which the initiating move is a short music clip. All these options can exist in different genres, for instance good morning or good night messages, or the sharing of events or opinions. Another factor in the analysis of social media genres is the distinction between relatively active and relatively passive users, creating a cline from dialogue to monologue, with, in between, for instance ‘off the shelf’ responses such as likes and emoticons (cf Facebook Newsroom, 2016), and, to complicate matters further, messages between two individual users may become available to other users as they move between platforms.

Stylistic analysis will discuss the aesthetic dimensions of the language and images used, as well as the layout, typography and colour options which the platforms make available, drawing on Barton and Lee (2013), Halliday (1994, Page et al (2014), Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), Van Leeuwen (2005, 2006, 2011) and Djonov and Van Leeuwen (2013)
Although the focus will be on ‘user to user’ social media dialogues, some attention will also be paid to genres of ‘system to user’ dialogues as afforded by the interfaces of the platforms.
Finally, it is acknowledged that social media platforms and applications are subject to frequent changes that affect the possible modes of dialogic exchange as well as the stylistic affordances platforms make available.

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