The Dialogic Nature Of Online Discourse: A Corpus Analysis Of Online Discussions

Chua, Shi Min (2021). The Dialogic Nature Of Online Discourse: A Corpus Analysis Of Online Discussions. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis reports on an analysis of an 11-million-word corpus of online discussions in a public educational site to understand the dialogic nature of online discourse. Two observations raise concerns that information exchange, socialization and online deliberation might be compromised in online spaces. Firstly, while anyone is free to express themselves online, they may not receive replies from others nor engage in sustained conversations with others. Secondly, afforded by the hyperlinking function, anyone can also easily share sources of information online by posting URLs, contributing to the circulation of (mis)information. This thesis thus explores how internet users can engage in meaningful dialogue with each other in online spaces through particular discourse and URL-posting practices.

A corpus linguistic approach comprising keyword analysis and micro-analysis is adopted to investigate how conversations are initiated and unfold within threads. Three keyword analyses are reported: (1) initiating posts, i.e., posts that receive replies; (2) independent posts, i.e., posts that do not receive any replies; and (3) the replies themselves. Based on these keyword analyses and informed by the theoretical concepts of dialogic space and intersubjectivity, linguistic features and discourse practices characterizing the two types of posts and replies are identified and explored. Similarly, URL-posting practices are also investigated to explore their role in online discourse.

Findings show that users draw on different discourse practices to invite replies and sustain conversations with others, although there are times users respond to the content on the site instead of addressing others. Importantly, discourse practices that do not entertain others’ voices are found to deter others from responding or hinder their conversations, especially in the case of disagreement. In fact, disagreement provides an opportunity for users to explore different voices and achieve mutual understanding when discourse practices facilitative of intersubjectivity are utilized. Finally, although most users are positive towards URL-posting, the posting of URLs is seen to either facilitate or hamper their conversations, depending on users’ posting and discourse practices.

Overall, this thesis highlights the role of various discourse practices in creating a dialogic space. A dialogic space allows multiple voices to be entertained in processes of intersubjectivity, such that users can engage with each other’s subjectivities, whether they agree or disagree. Together, these findings highlight users’ agency as enacted through language in online spaces and show that the discursive construction of online dialogic space should be one aspect of digital literacies of which internet users be made aware.

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