Expressive linking, again

Link anxiety

Just one last iteration, with a twist. The misreadings of some of these posts has been as informative as the original dispute. I think I figured something out (famous last words). Where this all started was a disagreement with Alex regarding link-heavy blogs as an act of self expression. My problem with his proposal (which I don’t think I misread) was in one sentence: “I think that link-heavy blogs are as much about who the blogger is as a content-heavy blog.”

My initial answer was: in an anthropological sense, yes, in a rhetorical sense, no. I offered the thesis that the implied “method” behind the linkage can lend a hazy impression of “self” but that links, in and of themselves, fail the criteria of interiority which “expression” implies. I was wrong. I wasn’t wrong about linking’s metaphoric nature, and still believe they have characteristics of tenor and vehicle. In order to communicate, metaphors and links require both. I thought at the time that without surrounding text (tenor— as in quotes, reaction, etc.) links weren’t communicative acts. I forgot about implicature. As pragmatic units (in the linguistic sense of accomplishing work), links can be expressive under certain conditions, and are always communicative. I disagree with Adrian Miles contention that:

The link does not require, need, or even recognize a codified set of rules for what may or may not be linked, either in terms of origins or destinations. To this extent the link always presents itself as a virtual outside to the codified norms of language, that is to grammar, syntactic organization, and rhetoric.

The link, outside of context, is not pragmatic. However, links are never presented without context. Often, this context is implied rather than overt. Links can have a natural meaning, i.e., inside a menu or directory of links, where they are strictly referential. Or, links can have a non-natural meaning for intentional communication. This is labeled as meaning-nn by Grice, and paraphrased by Levinson in these terms:

S meant-nn z by uttering U if and only if:

(i) S intended U to cause some effect z in recipient H

(ii) S intended (i) to be achieved simply by H recognizing the intention (i)

Though this stuff is from discourse analysis, it should be reasonably clear unless you’re totally allergic to algebra or logic (Speaker, Hearer, Utterance). People seldom babble unintentionally, and never unintentionally link. Analyzing what is going on in conversations or links requires some sort of context, and context is always the problematic part. Within an implied context, link utterances are linguistically structured: [I believe this is] scary. [I feel this is] funny.

These textual utterances qualify as expressives. Do these utterances reveal much about my “self”? No more than any other utterance, really. Links have no special status beyond being complex placeholders for meaning (like metaphors, symbols, words) and are just building blocks through which we express intention within a context. Even in experimental hypertext documents there is an implied intention to the linkages which is linguistic. The absence of context on some link-driven blogs drives me to say that I find them less interesting. I think it’s a case of preferring type (i) meaning-nn utterances to type (ii), where I am supposed to be amused by discerning an implied intention solely by a “linking=cool” context. That is a distinction that I did not make before. I think these types of utterances are hardly novel or revolutionary when compared to other behaviors in the global discursive community.

In the end it’s really a matter of degree. My preference (obviously) is toward greater density. The density of utterances is generally less on a link-driven blog, not more (links are selectively metaphoric, not additive to the author’s text). I still do not think they are as revealing of personality. However, I can now more comfortably concede that they can be expressive.

See, I’m not afraid to point out when I’m wrong!

1 thought on “Expressive linking, again”

  1. Ah. So, Jeff, is this how an ENFP apologizes? That algebra stuff sounded more like an INFP to me. Heck, untiI the last line I thought this was an exposition, not an apology.
    This wasn’t so much of an apology as a retraction of part of my previous train of thought. Pragmatics (which fascinates me) is not at all inward directed! It’s about figuring out how meaning is created when people talk to each other. It’s where the real world meets theory, and theory figures out how inadequate it really is. It’s in a hazy grey area between sociolinguistics (Alex’s turf) and structural linguistics (more of a science than an art).

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