"For most of us, if we do not talk of ourselves, or at any rate of the individual circles of which we are the centres, we can talk of nothing. I cannot hold with those who wish to put down the insignificant chatter of the world." -- Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage

1This issue of M/C explores the notion of 'chat', examining its contexts, forms, functions and operations. 'Chat' appears to be a descriptive subset of 'talk', often characterised somewhat unfairly as idle or frivolous 'small talk', 'gossip' -- the kind of tête-à-tête that is mediated through cups of tea (alluded to in Jen Henzell's cover image). However, 'chat' is not only an extremely prevalent activity, but, as Trollope implies, a primary social activity. Serious academic regard for 'chat' can be traced to Malinowski's (150) coining of the term "phatic communion" to refer to talk that expresses the "ties of union", a notion later taken up by Laver ("Communicative Functions"; "Linguistic Routines"). Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson made a similar distinction between the content level of communication (contains assumptions that are communicable) and the relationship level (which reveals the speaker's attitude to the assumptions communicated and the speaker's relationship with and opinion of the hearer). 'Chat', they argue, is more about building and solidifying relationships between interactants than imparting information. Even gossip, probably the most content driven form of 'chat', lets hearers know that they are regarded well enough by the speakers to be drawn into confidence.

2We have divided the M/C 'chat' issue into two sections along the lines of context. The first section deals with what might be termed 'traditional' or 'more general' forms of chat, where the interactants are either physically (face-to-face) or acoustically (telephone) copresent. Given both the period and the medium in which M/C 'chat' is being published, it should not be surprising that the second section deals with computer-mediated communication (CMC). With the advent of CMC, 'chat' -- and research on it -- has been transformed, taking with it much of the old formula and leaving behind some of its trappings.

3M/C 'chat' is introduced by Charles Antaki's Feature Article "Two Rhetorical Uses of the Description 'Chat'". In this insightful and highly accessible piece, Antaki explores the paradoxical manner in which the description of a discursive event as 'chat' may be used to socially persuasive ends. Antaki takes as his starting point the fact that some uses of the word 'chat' demonstrate an old-fashioned view of spoken discourse as an inefficient information-transmission system ('mere talk' and 'gossip'). This, he argues, belies -- and belittles -- its use in actual talk. Analyses of four transcripts containing the descriptor 'chat' illustrate how speakers deploy it as a tactic to promote a description of an informal and blameless event, when in fact the episode in question might be categorised as something rather different. As befits an article by a member of Loughborough University's influential Discourse and Rhetoric Group, folded into the analysis is a persuasive demonstration of the methodological and theoretical strength of Conversation Analysis (CA) for describing language-in-use. However, as Antaki concludes, this is not just a game for analysts - we are all fundamentally sensitive to the power of the 'chat' descriptor.

4M/C 'chat' is introduced by Charles Antaki's Feature Article "Two Rhetorical Uses of the Description 'Chat'". In this insightful and highly accessible piece, Antaki explores the paradoxical manner in which the description of a discursive event as 'chat' may be used to socially persuasive ends. Antaki takes as his starting point the fact that some uses of the word 'chat' demonstrate an old-fashioned view of spoken discourse as an inefficient information-transmission system ('mere talk' and 'gossip'). This, he argues, belies -- and belittles -- its use in actual talk. Analyses of four transcripts containing the descriptor 'chat' illustrate how speakers deploy it as a tactic to promote a description of an informal and blameless event, when in fact the episode in question might be categorised as something rather different. As befits an article by a member of Loughborough University's influential Discourse and Rhetoric Group, folded into the analysis is a persuasive demonstration of the methodological and theoretical strength of Conversation Analysis (CA) for describing language-in-use. However, as Antaki concludes, this is not just a game for analysts - we are all fundamentally sensitive to the power of the 'chat' descriptor.

5In a turn away from the micro-level world of Conversation Analysis (CA), Mark Frankland's "Chatting in the Neighbourhood: Does It Have a Place in the World of Globalised Media?" is a broad diachronic and synchronic overview of the place local media such as 'chat' and community newspapers fit into an evolving and increasingly global media-scape. The first half of Frankland's article is an historical demonstration of the almost inevitable links between the rise of the urban form and moves away from local media to media globalisation. Given this history, in the second half of the article Frankland asks what effect the absence of local forms of media might have. He argues that local media forms are important sense-making mechanisms, operating at the level of personal effectivity, for assimilating the constantly changing media-scape. Local news media, and the even more micro level of 'chat' may act as "transition discourses", meaningful local contexts in which we may discuss the global.

6Most of the articles in this collection are about forms of chat to which both parties consent. "Invitation or Sexual Harassment? An Analysis of an Intercultural Communication Breakdown" by Zhu Yunxia and Peter Thompson considers quite the opposite -- unwelcome 'chatting up' or verbal sexual harassment. Zhu and Thompson examine a series of three telephone invitations to a party from a male Chinese tutor to a female Australian student, which resulted in an accusation of sexual harassment. Through an analysis combining Searle's speech acts, Austin's felicity conditions and Aristotle's rhetorical strategies, Zhu and Thompson suggest that different cultures use different tactics in the speech act of an invitation and they believe that the potential for miscommunication is increased when intercultural differences are present in the interaction.

7"The Naturally-Occurring Chat Machine" is Darren Reed and Malcolm Ashmore's interesting methodological reflection on the nature of the data collection and transcription processes of Conversation Analysis (CA), in order to "provoke a reconsideration of the marginal status of textually conducted interaction as a proper topic for CA". The worked-up complexities of CA transcripts, they argue, produce a myth of an unmediated origin, when in fact 'machinic-productive processes' are used to produce data considered 'studiable' in the CA of face-to-face conversations. Analogous processes produce data for the CA of Internet newsgroup messages. Ironically, in terms of CA's claim of using 'naturally occurring' data, Reed and Ashmore make the controversial counter-claim that newsgroup data might be considered superior to transcribed data, as the textual character of Internet newsgroups is the result of participants' work. In effect, therefore, Internet newsgroup data is considerably less mediated than recorded and transcribed conversations.

8Reed and Ashmore provide a neat link between bring the first section of M/C 'chat', dealing with what might be termed 'traditional chat media', and the second section concentrating on computer-mediated communication (CMC). The boom in CMC also marks the renaissance of Conversation Analytic research. Interestingly, both Reed and Ashmore, who end this section, and Paul ten Have, who we asked to introduce the CMC section, note that the proliferation of new interaction media not only provides new contexts in which to investigate human interaction, but also very conveniently produce easy-to-use data as a natural process of participation.

9Paul ten Have begins the CMC section with an introduction to some of the fundamental features and concerns of CMC research in his ethnographic investigation of how to find someone to talk to in a chat room. From the standpoint of Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA), "Computer-Mediated Chat: Ways of Finding Chat Partners" takes us through a description of the more or less generic categorisation features of most chat rooms, and then into the three primary concerns that CMC users often make apparent very early in an interaction: age, sex and location, indicated by the acronymic "a/s/l please". Interestingly, his conclusion is that while it is clear that pre-existing communication procedures must be adapted to the new environment -- manifested perhaps most obviously by a more explicit questioning when searching for chat partners -- current media do not provide much scope for radical change in the fundamentals of 'chat'.

10Paul ten Have begins the CMC section with an introduction to some of the fundamental features and concerns of CMC research in his ethnographic investigation of how to find someone to talk to in a chat room. From the standpoint of Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA), "Computer-Mediated Chat: Ways of Finding Chat Partners" takes us through a description of the more or less generic categorisation features of most chat rooms, and then into the three primary concerns that CMC users often make apparent very early in an interaction: age, sex and location, indicated by the acronymic "a/s/l please". Interestingly, his conclusion is that while it is clear that pre-existing communication procedures must be adapted to the new environment -- manifested perhaps most obviously by a more explicit questioning when searching for chat partners -- current media do not provide much scope for radical change in the fundamentals of 'chat'.

11Miranda Mowbray continues this theme of the false perception of restrictiveness. She notes that most interactive CMC systems place certain restrictions on the way in which a person may present themselves on arrival in the room. In her article, "Neither Male nor Female: Other -- Gendered Chat in Little Italy", Mowbray notes that the Little Italy's system (created by Pavel Curtis originally for Lambda MOO) gives participants the opportunity to broaden their gender presentation options from 'female' or 'male' to a range of 'other genders'. Mowbray observes that a fifth of the inhabitants of Little Italy opt to choose a gender other than that of the traditional 'female' or 'male', and, significantly, that half of users presenting as 'other genders' are still participating after a year -- more than the traditionally gendered Little Italians. Through 28 responses from these Little Italians, Mowbray investigates why these other-gendered participants are more likely to remain in the one space than those who chose 'female' or 'male'. She concludes that it is "the personal creative investment by the other-gendered citizens in Little Italy that makes them especially likely to remain active citizens." Mowbray considers Little Italy's system to be an excellent demonstration of a "stickiness" feature -- a feature of a CMC system that attracts long term use. Her results should be of interest to software companies wanting to design popular -- and profitable -- chat rooms.

12Since interactive synchronous and quasi-synchronous CMC systems became popular with the release of IRC, ICQ, Webchat and various ISP chat rooms, a flood of research about the transformation of language in computer-mediated situations has resulted. However most of this work has concentrated on chat between strangers. Campbell and Wickman observe this bias in their article, "Familiars in a Strange Land: A Case Study of Friends Chatting Online", choosing instead to concentrate on computer-mediated chat between acquaintances. In this autoethnographic account, the authors note that although they have adopted some of the more common conversational CMC strategies, they have also created their own, relevant to their particular circumstances. Historically, CMC research has argued that the 'cues-filtered-out' nature of CMC systems leads to depersonalisation and the lack of necessity to adhere to social conventions of politeness. However, Campbell and Wickman note that in their own chat as online and offline familiars, they observe a strong need to adhere to politeness conventions, due to the face-to-face consequences of their online actions. This interesting finding suggests that politeness theory may be of great value in future CMC research, particularly that comparing and contrasting chat between familiars and strangers, and/or face-to-face and online interaction.

13As Ylva Hård af Segerstad points out, most CMC research is conducted on English language forums. M/C 'chat' is pleased to help redress this balance with the publication of investigations on the impact of computer-mediation on languages other than English, in this case Swedish. Given the English focus of the Internet, however, CMC research on languages other than English must, of course, take account of the variations between the language-specific and 'international' (read English-language) forums. This being the case, Hård af Segerstad discusses the result of questionnaire data and logged conversations to determine if written online Swedish is being adapted in ways particular to it, or if Swedish written language is being developed in analogy with adaptations observable in international chat rooms. While the surprisingly uniform results of the two data sources indicate that Swedish written language is being adapted for online chat (rather than using one language offline and another online), the actual adaptation strategies are much the same as those observed in other adaptations of writing in general.

14In their paper "Chatting to Learn and Learning to Chat in Collaborative Virtual Environments", Teresa Cerratto and Yvonne Wærn discuss the importance of conversation to educational contexts and the communication problems inherent in using an electronic medium as an educational tool. These authors are more concerned with the information transmission aspect of chat rather than its dominant relationship characteristics. They examine two groups of teachers in Sweden who are learning to use the new collaborative virtual environment, TAPPED IN™. Cerratto and Wærn note some of the strategies that the teachers adopt in attempting to gain the floor in this CVE where there are a number of people vying for attention. At the same time, tactics used by teachers for communicative collaboration are also discussed by these authors. Finally, on the basis of an analysis of their data, Cerratto and Wærn provide arguments for the importance of leadership in these particular learning environments, arguing a leader helps maintain the informational coherence of the discussions.

15In terms of redressing imbalances in CMC research, not only has language been particularly biased to English, but in some media -- Internet Relay Chat (IRC) in particular -- most research has been qualitative in nature. We may know how users manage their interactions online, but how many are doing so? The bases of many generalisations about adaptation strategies are somewhat shaky on the quantitative front. Much can be gained by combining the quantitative with the qualitative, and with this in mind, Hinner has taken it upon himself to not only create a system capable of capturing usage statistics for all the major IRC networks, but also to provide two years of these statistics and make this system available on his Website. His article details the processes involved in creating the Socip statistical program and sample graphs of the kinds of information that his system can provide.

16The CMC section of M/C 'Chat' brought to our attention many more articles than we could publish in the already quite expanded issue, and we were sorry to have had to pass over promising work in this popular field. The contributions included, however, represent a turning point in CMC research, in which our wonder -- and glee -- of describing findings of social interaction in what were assumed to be anti-social media, has turned to the detailed consideration of just how socialisation is accomplished in what promise to be increasingly common media. What has not changed, as Paul ten Have notes, and, indeed, as Charles Antaki began the issue, is that all human life can be found in language-in-use -- wherever it takes place.

17Hinner's article brings the CMC section of M/C 'chat' to a close, but is not quite the last blast. Very early in the article submission process, Ulf Wilhelmsson contacted us about including his "Dialogue on Film and Philosophy". Wilhelmsson wanted to translate -- from the original Swedish -- his Socratic dialogue about film in which Quentin Tarantino moderates a discussion involving numerous influential philosophers, film-makers, film-scholars and the odd Beatle (John Lennon). While we were somewhat taken aback, the rough translation of the first few lines was interesting, and, as it turns out, quite entertaining. Unfortunately, due to its length, the dialogue can not be supplied in regular M/C 'bits', and so we have made it available as a downloadable Rich Text Format file. See the Editor's Preface to Wilhelmsson's article for more information on its content and to download the file itself.

18This very global issue of M/C brings together people in Germany to New Zealand, Sweden to the UK, all chatting about chat. We hope you enjoy this collection of articles.

Felicity Meakins & E. Sean Rintel --
'Chat' Issue Editors