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Online Roleplaying and SFL

30 June 2009

It’s graduation time at Cardiff University. One of our graduating students, Scott Henderson, completed an excellent final year dissertation which explores the language of an online roleplaying community. Here’s his abstract.

Language in an Online Roleplaying Community: A Systemic Functional Linguistics Account

This dissertation explores the language of a mass multi-player online roleplaying community; the participants of which are involved in internet relay chats held by World of Warcraft game developers, Blizzard. The chats took place on ‘World of Warcraft Stratics’, a fansite for World of Warcraft.

Specifically, this dissertation aims to address the lack of research into the linguistic conventions of the online roleplaying community (and synchronous communication on the internet as a whole) by applying a systemic functional linguistics framework to communication occurring in the IRC ‘chat events’ held on ‘World of Warcraft Stratics’.

Two research questions were developed: the first concerning the use of Mood and modality as a representation of power relations between members of the IRC; the second, how personal opinion is reflected by participant and process choices in the ‘speech’ (text inputs into the IRC) of chatters. To perform the analysis, a data sample from 6 IRCs had a systemic functional grammar three-strand analysis performed on them, and frequencies of functional features required to gain understanding of power roles and personal opinion were taken. These frequencies were then used alongside key examples to explore the relationship between language, power and personal opinion in this ‘virtual community’ from a systemic functional linguistics perspective.