The status of asynchronous and synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) relative to spoken and written language has been a moot point ever from the earliest attempts at a linguistic characterisation of it. Views range from basically spoken to basically written to considering it a new language medium alongside the two older media.
Following up on this general debate, the present study by Michaela Zitzen is concerned with the question whether people engaged in CMC use topic handling strategies typical of oral discourse or typical of written discourse or whether people use genuinely new means to introduce, maintain, shift or close topics. This question has been approached, on the one hand, by taking account of the CMC-specific medial and communicative conditions, on the other hand by taking account of empirically-grounded evidence drawn from a corpus-based analysis of metadiscursive Topic Shift Markers. In natural conversation, recurring metadiscursive expressions, such as “Hate to introduce another topic”, are likely to be interpreted as a sign of impoliteness or as face threats. However, in CMC such metadiscursive elements make up for the absence of mutually available linguistic and non-linguistic information which in natural conversation constitute reciprocity with regard to topic handling.