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English language and public humanities: ‘An army of willing volunteers’: analysing the language of online citizen engagement in the humanities

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

This chapter explores the language used in interactions among members of the public engaged in discussing topics within the humanities, in what has been termed ‘citizen science’ (CS), involving the direct engagement of large numbers of ordinary people – citizens, volunteers – in the active co-production of knowledge. Located in different parts of the world, the participants in such interactions use English as a lingua franca and communicate on online forums. The online interactions we studied are part of Zooniverse, a large online platform that hosts citizen science research projects, each of which includes its own discussion forum. We applied corpus linguistics methods in order to investigate the ways in which participants in these interactions discursively negotiate their membership in the online community. In doing so, we deployed a number of theoretical concepts such as community of practice, lexical selection, and semantic sequence in order to identify discourse patterns in relation to the participants’ statuses and personal trajectories within the community. We found that these were marked by specific language features, such as the apparent apologies offered by non-native speakers of English to negotiate membership of the community, the use of NEGATIVE + or in order to de-emphasize one’s credentials, and the use of first-person pronouns to mark community solidarity or different perceptions of the communities themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of English Language and Digital Humanities
EditorsSvenja Adolphs, Dawn Knight
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-03175-8
ISBN (Print)978-1-138-90176-6
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2020

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