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Analysis of creativity in a computer-mediated-conversation

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E301THE ART OF ENGLISH: TUTOR MARKED ASSIGNMENT 02

Swann (2006, p12), writing in The art of English: everyday creativity states that the term creativity can be used to “refer to the way that people use literary-like features in everyday discourse”. In Reading 1A,  “Extracts from ‘Common language: corpus, creativity and cognition’” (2006), Carter states that “the inherent creativity of significant proportions of language use” cannot be ignored. Whilst carrying out research for the CANCODE project, he says that researchers found that examples of creativity in the language were very obvious. I am going to consider the three approaches to creativity in language proposed by Carter, and then examine how far these are obvious in part of a chat log that I have obtained.

I propose to use a text that was made available to me by a friend who is an English graduate and therefore has an interest in what I am studying. It is the transcript of part of an online conversation that she had with a man who she was dating at the time. Both participants are middle-aged and work in jobs where they routinely use academic English. In the chat, they are arranging their date for the following week. The names of the participants have been altered to maintain anonymity.

Carter proposes three models of creativity: an inherency model, a sociocultural model and a cognitive model. (Carter, 1999, cited by Swann, 2006, p10.) In an inherency model of creativity, the concern is how the text is constructed, with the emphasis on the language used. A sociocultural approach takes into consideration the background of the speaker and the writer, and the social, cultural and even historic contexts of the text. It is concerned with the effect that the effect that the language produces on the receiver. A cognitive approach to language examines links between language and mental processes, and the effect that the text has on the reader or listener.

In the course reading “ Extracts from ‘Common language: corpus, creativity and cognition’” (1999), Carter identifies certain literary devices which he asserts could indicate creativity in language. Some of the features that he mentions are:

*        Punning and playing with words: participants take well-known expressions and alter them slightly for creative effect. The transcript shows evidence of this when the chatters play with the word “kind”.

Romeo says: Should I charge for putting on the webcam?

Juliet says: I'll pay you on Wednesday.

Romeo says: Bring lots of money then.

Juliet says: In kind!

Romeo says: What kind?

Juliet says: I've just gone off into a fit of giggles.

Romeo is using his web cam, which Juliet does not have, and teasingly says he should charge for her for using it. Juliet is using a slight sexual innuendo when she says that she will pay him in kind, but he teases her again by pretending not to understand and asking what kind she means. Juliet finds this very amusing, so the incident has served create a bond between the couple.

*        Morphological creativity: taking words and making new words from them. There is evidence of this in the chat in the following snippet of dialogue:

Juliet says: Have you got an anorak?

Romeo says: We'll buy one each at Merry Hill.  We can look for the most nerdish.

Romeo has adapted the word “nerd”, which means someone who is socially inept, and adapted it as an adjective to apply to the sort of clothing that a nerd would wear.

*        Echoing and converging: speakers using each other’s words and phrases, as in the example below, where Romeo, in particular repeats the word “laughing” to emphasise the fact that he is happy to be amused by Juliet, and does not treat her as the butt of his jokes.

Juliet says: You're laughing at me again!

Romeo says: I'm laughing with you.  I'm laughing because you've written something funny.

Juliet says: I'm glad I'm a source of amusement to you!

Romeo says: You have a lovely sense of humour.

*        Pattern reinforcing and pattern reforming (in other works referred to as pattern reforming and pattern forming), (Carter, 2004): In the transcript, there is an example of pattern reforming:

Juliet says: Unfortunaltely, can't spell tonight though

Romeo says: I've not noticed any speling mistakes yet.

Juliet says: Reelly?

Romeo says: Reely

In this example, Juliet is complaining that she is trying to type quickly, and in doing so, she is making spelling mistakes. Romeo injects some humour into the chat by deliberately making a spelling mistake in his question, and it is taken up again by both of them with further deliberate spelling errors. This humorous interchange shows creativity, and has again served to create a bond between the couple.

In course reading 5B, Greenfield and Subrahmanyam (2003) examine the ways in which language is used in computer-mediated conversations in teenage chat rooms. They identify instances of repetition in the conversation that they examined, which is adapted from conversation and serves in this medium to maintain the coherence of the conversation and to allow participants to identify relevant utterances. This is seen in the “laughing” extract from the conversation above, where “laughing” is repeated three times, twice by Romeo in the same sentence. This reinforces what is being said and adds emphasis to the fact that Romeo does not wish to cause offence by laughing, but is enjoying the moment and is amused by what Juliet is saying. He is indicating that he is enjoying the conversation and is very happy. He ends by paying a compliment to confirm his enjoyment.

Greenfield and Subrahmanyam assert that it is the younger members of the population who are at the forefront of the creation new language. In the example that I have used, the participants use some colloquial language, like “I’m totally up for clubbing” and “nerdish”, but in general, their conversation is quite formal, and does not show evidence of new language which I have seen my teenage children use. This is not surprising, really, given the age and academic background of the chatters. Perhaps they at an age where they find it difficult to loose their standards of written English, and they have adapted what they have used for years in other contexts, as pointed out by Baron (2002) in her article “Extracts from ‘Who sets email style? Prescriptivism, coping strategies and democratizing communication access’”.

A sociocultural approach to creativity in language examines, amongst other things, performance and the identity of the speakers and the roles that they construct for themselves.

Carter states that in his research, one of the ways that creativity was identified was to search for incidences of laughter. The chat log shows many examples of humour, as in the example quoted above, and definitely serves to reinforce the relationship between the couple; it draws them together in a shared experience.

Goffman (1959, cited in Maybin and Swann p. 103) believed that language is a resource that can be used to construct an identity. Mishoe (1998, cited in Maybin and Swann p. 111) takes up the same theme and asserts that creativity can lie in the way in which a performance is mounted in order to create an identity. Greenfield and Subrahmanyam maintain that “chatters” present themselves through the linguistic choices that they make, and North (2004, p226) says that Internet users have limited paralinguistic affordances open to them, and so use the resource of language in a more creative way.    

Juliet says: I think you should get a new tie.

Romeo says: Why?  I've only had this a few years.  It's got decades of life in it yet.

Romeo says: Brighter?  It'll show the dirt more and so I won't be able to wear it for as long.

Juliet says: Bright doesn't necessarily mean it shows the dirt

In this extract, Juliet is creating a role for herself in the relationship as the woman who is going to look after this man. She takes it upon herself to tell him that he needs to get a new tie, and argues her point when he does not wish to take her up on the offer. On the other hand, he is creating a role for himself as the man who does not care about such trifles as clothes; he says that he has a tie and although he has had it some time, it can last him for some while yet. Although I think he is playing with her, I think he is also showing that he is genuinely not that interested in clothes.

Greenfield and Subrahmanyam identified visual clues within the text that help the participants to create an identity. These include nickname format and the use of distinctive script. In the extract, neither of the participants use a nickname, and Juliet uses her real name, while Romeo uses only his email address. However, Juliet does use a distinctive script and writes in blue (not obvious from the appendix); Romeo does not use any such devices. It would appear that in this instance, Juliet shows more creativity in constructing her identity than Romeo, and this could be said to accord with the female characteristic of interest in relationships and people.

A cognitive approach to language study deals with the effect that language has on the reader or listener. Cook (2006) says that language is needed for a variety of purposes, including passing on vital information, but also on a more flippant level for “pleasure and relaxation, to create group identity, to express affection and aggression”. He further says that language is used to bind people together and create a group sense of identity, and often involves fictional worlds. The chat log extract certainly shows this. I am told that the purpose of the conversation was originally to arrange a date, but the whole conversation lasted about an hour, so there was a purpose to the chat other than the obvious one.

In extract 3, the couple are talking in a playful way about where they should go, and Romeo suggests a train-spotters’ club, which Juliet takes up and says that they would need to get a couple of matching anoraks in order to look the part. In this extract, they are co-operating in a playful way to construct a fictional identity for themselves. The whole extract shows cooperation between the couple in a playful way to create an identity for themselves as a couple and to bind then together. This also accords with Holmes’ and Marra’s research into workplace humour where it can be used as a tool for constructing relationships (Holmes and Marra, 2002 cited in Maybin and Swann, 2006).

This extract shows that the participants have used language creatively by their manipulation of the language itself by punning and playing with words; by an example of morphological creativity; by echoing and re-patterning each other’s phrases. This accords with Carter’s inherency example of creativity. They have also used language in a socio-cultural aspect to create identities for themselves, and in a cognitive way because they are just enjoying the playful aspect of language.  

Swann (2006) states, “There is continuity between everyday creativity and literature with respect to all three of Carter’s models”. I think I was fortunate to have obtained this particular text, as the participants obviously had a great deal of competency in English, and I do wonder if I might have written a different assignment with another transcript. However, I feel that this text has demonstrated, to an extent that I had not previously realised, that in the quite ordinary context of arranging a date through computer-mediated-conversation, there are quite extensive examples of literary creativity.

Word count: 1,891


Bibliography

Baron, N.S. (2002) “Extracts from ‘Who sets email style? Prescriptivism, coping strategies and democratizing communication access’” Swann J. and Maybin J. (eds.) (2006) The art of English: everyday creativity, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan / Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Carter, R. (1999) “Extracts from Common language; corpus, creativity and cognition” Swann J. and Maybin J. (eds.) (2006) The art of English: everyday creativity, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan / Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Carter, R. (2004) Language and Creativity; The Art of Common Talk, Abingdon, Routledge

Cook, G. “Why play with Language”,in Swann J. and Maybin J. (eds.) (2006) The art of English: Everyday Creativity, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan/Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, London, Penguin

Greenfield, P.M. and Subrahmanyam, K. (2003) “Extracts from ‘Online discourse in a teen chatroom: new codes and new modes of coherence in a visual medium’” in Swann J. and Maybin J. (eds.) (2006) The art of English: Everyday Creativity, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan/Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Holmes, J. and Marra, M. (2002a), “Over the edge? Subversive humour colleagues and friends” Swann J. and Maybin J. (eds.) (2006) The art of English: Everyday Creativity, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan/Milton Keynes, The Open University

Swann J. and Maybin J. (eds.) (2006) The art of English: Everyday Creativity, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan/Milton Keynes, The Open University.


Appendix: Extracts from transcript of MSN conversation

1.

Juliet says: Unfortunaltely, can't spell tonight though

Romeo says: I've not noticed any speling mistakes yet.

Juliet says: Reelly?

Romeo says: Reely

2.

Romeo says: Should I charge for putting on the webcam?

Juliet says: Charge me? Why?

Romeo says: For the extra entertainment of course.

Romeo says: Isn't it worth paying for?

Romeo says: You're taking a long time to answer that question.

Juliet says: I'll pay you on Wednesday.

Romeo says: Bring lots of money then.

Juliet says: In kind!

Romeo says: What kind?

Juliet says: I've just gone off into a fit of giggles.

3.

Romeo says: I thought we were going out and staying up late at a club or something?

Juliet says: Oh, and I was thinking you wanted a quite evening in. Well, that's OK, I'm totally up for clubbing!

Romeo says: What sort of club would you like to go to?

Juliet says: Errrr

Juliet says: You decide!

Juliet says: You're laughing at me again!

Romeo says: It might not suit you if I decide.

Romeo says: I'm laughing with you.  I'm laughing because you've written something funny.

Juliet says: I'm glad I'm a source of amusement to you!

Romeo says: You have a lovely sense of humour.

Romeo says: How about going to a train-spotters' club?

Juliet says: Yes!

Juliet says: Have you got an anorak?

Romeo says: I'm glad you giggle too much.

Juliet says: You make me laugh!

Romeo says: We'll buy one each at Merry Hill.  We can look for the most nerdish.

Juliet says: And they must match!

Romeo says: Of course.  If we get drunk and separated, people will be able to match us up again and send us back in the same taxi.

Juliet says: Giggling again!

Romeo says: Good.  In fact, excellent.

4.

Juliet says: I think you should get a new tie.

Romeo says: You forgot.  I'm only tieless because I took my tie off.  I'll show you it.

Juliet says: Yes, def need a new one.

Romeo says: Why?  I've only had this a few years.  It's got decades of life in it yet.

Romeo says: Brighter?  It'll show the dirt more and so I won't be able to wear it for as long.

Juliet says: Bright doesn't necessarily mean it shows the dirt

Romeo says: Not if the dirt's bright as well.  But you can't always choose the colour of dirt that contaminates you.

Juliet says: Especially curry coloured dirt!

Romeo says: Yes, now that gives me an idea.  I could do with a blotchy tie with the blotches of different curry colours.

Juliet says: OK, we can do that!

Juliet says: Curry coloured it is!

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