Zappavigna Michele

Ambient Affiliation in Comments on YouTube Videos:Communing Around Values About ASMR

Received: 2020-03-30

MicheleZappavignaisAssociateProfessorintheSchoolofArtsandMediaattheUniversityofNewSouthWales.Hermajorresearchinterestisthediscourseofsocialmediaandambientaffiliation.RecentbooksincludeSearchableTalk:HashtagsandSocialMediaMetadiscourse(Bloomsbury,2018),DiscourseofTwitterandSocialMedia(Bloomsbury,2012).Recentco-authoredbooksincludeDiscourseandDiversionaryJustice(Palgrave,2018),ResearchingtheLanguageofSocialMedia(Routledge,2014),AffiliationandSystemicFunctionalLinguistics:NegotiatingCommunity(Equinox,2021),andModellingParalanguageUsingSystemicFunctionalSemiotics(Bloomsbury,2021) 。

Abstract

This paper explores ambient affiliation within the ASMR community on YouTube,investigating how values are communed around in YouTube comments.This community consists of viewers who watch videos designed to elicit an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR),that is,a pleasurable sensory reaction to visual or aural stimuli.The paper focuses on the linguistic resources involved in orienting the ambient audience to the values shared,as couplings of ATTITUDE and IDEATION,in the comments feed.Because most comments do not receive any reply,rather than dialogic affiliation,a framework for analysing communing affiliation,based on Zappavigna and Martin's (2018) approach to Twitter data,is applied.Three systems of meaning are considered:convoking (mustering community around a coupling),finessing (dialogically positioning a coupling),and promoting (emphasising a coupling).The paper develops these systems in terms of delicacy.The attitudinal component of the couplings is analysed using the Appraisal framework (Martin and White 2005).The dataset explored is the comments feed of the most viewed video on the Gentle Whispering ASMR YouTube channel,the most popular ASMR channel at the time of writing.

Zappavigna Michele. . 外国语[J], 2021, 44(1): 21-40 doi:

. Ambient Affiliation in Comments on YouTube Videos:Communing Around Values About ASMR. Journal of Foreign Languages[J], 2021, 44(1): 21-40 doi:

1 Introduction

This paper explores how values are shared and bonds are established in YouTube comments. YouTube is a platform for publishing user generated videos, as well as generating social discussion through feeds of textual comments that provide a space for people with YouTube accounts to express themselves. This comment feeds appear in reverse chronological order underneath each video, unless the owner of the channel has disabled the feed or YouTube has deactivated it. Depending on the popularity of the video a comments feed can include thousands of posts. This paper is concerned with the kinds of choices through which YouTube comments make themselves more "bondable" in terms of the potential alignments that might be enacted with the ambient community of viewers, responders, or readers (Zappavigna and Martin 2018: 5). In other words, the focus is on how values are articulated and positioned in order to appeal to particular communities. The community considered in this case study are viewers of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos. These are videos designed to elicit pleasurable sensory responses in viewers, and often used as part of relaxation or stress-reduction practices by people who suffer from conditions such as chronic insomnia. ASMR videos leverage different forms of "ambient embodied copresence", that is, strategies aimed at forging digital intimacy with the viewer by the feeling that the viewer is interacting with the YouTuber (Zappavigna 2020).

While all the comments that occur in a particular YouTube video's feed might be loosely considered as a reply to the video, asserting that there is an active exchange between the video and the comments in its feed is problematic. In the case of popular videos, it is unlikely that the YouTuber will read the comment or produce a reply. As with posts to other social media platforms such as Twitter (Liu, Kliman-Silver and Mislove 2014), many YouTube comments go unanswered. Indeed, in the present study, 95% garnered no reply, despite the scale of the comment feed (more than 16 000 comments) and the scale of the video viewership (more than 21 million views). YouTube comments are often realised as "isolated free-floating turns, with any reader being a ratified hearer, yet not the addressee (who may not be specified at all)" (Dynel 2014: 48). Thus, this paper considers how values are 'communed around', rather than interactively 'negotiated'. It seeks to understand the ways in which YouTube comments are highly invested in construing solidarity, even where interaction is unlikely. The aim is to describe the choices in 'Communing Affiliation'(Zappavigna and Martin 2018)that are taken up in attempts to engage the ambient digital audience of potential readers or respondents who may view the post in a comments feed.

Dynel (2014: 37) proposes three communicative layers in terms of the interaction possible on YouTube: "the level of the speaker and hearers in video interaction, the level of the sender and the recipient of a YouTube video, and the level of YouTube speakers and hearers who post and read comments, respectively". This paper is concerned with the final level, investigating the construal of YouTube comments and the kinds of social affiliation they enact. YouTube comments are short texts that include the user's profile picture and username as well as a timestamp indicating when the comment was posted, and a display of the number of likes the post has received. Replies to comments are indented beneath the initiating comment to give the sense of a conversation thread (Figure 1). There is, however, potential for comments to be placed in other positions in the feed, for instance if a user chooses to post a new standalone comment rather than a reply, despite intending to address a previous post(Bou-Franch, Lorenzo-Dus and Blitvich 2012). As was noted earlier, less than 5% (723 of 16, 011 comments) of the YouTube comment corpus considered in this study received a reply.

Figure 1

Figure 1   An example of a YouTube comment with a reply.

The unfolding of interactions in YouTube comment feeds, rather than a dialogue, has been termed a polylogue, that is, a multi-party interaction incorporating both active and passive participation through posting and replying (or simply reading the comments in the case of non-registered users who cannot post) (Bou-Franch, Lorenzo-Dus and Blitvich 2012; Bou-Franch and Garcés-Conejos Blitvich 2014; Lorenzo-Dus, Garcés-Conejos Blitvich and Bou-Franch 2011). Some research has suggested that "Conversational exchanges on many Web 2.0 platforms tend to be prompt focused — that is, comments respond to an initial prompt, such as a news story, a photo, or a video, more often than to other users' responses. " (Herring 2013: 13), however this has yet to be verified in large scale research. Studies have found that comments manifest both constructive and disruptive practices (Boyd 2014). Interestingly, some research has suggested that comments expressing positive sentiment tend to elicit fewer replies compared to negative comments (Thelwall, Sud and Vis 2012). In terms of the ideational focus, the topics of comments tend to range from "the videos, or their authors, as well as independent issues brought into focus by other comments" and may develop through multiple replies into "topical strands" (Dynel 2014).

A synoptic perspective on the mass unfolding of polylogic YouTube comments brings to bear the notion of 'community' as a way of conceiving of the recurrent sharing of values, opinions and concerns in YouTube discourse. There has been some work using concepts such as membership categorisation to explore the formation of alignments in YouTube communities (Pihlaja 2014). However, most studies presuppose that dialogic interaction is a requirement for community membership. This paper's focus on communing affiliation, rather than dialogic affiliation, will suggest the flaw in this view.

2 The structure of this paper

The comments section of YouTube videos provides a medium for viewers to share their feelings and opinions about the YouTube video and to engage in other kinds of meaning-making. This paper focuses on how these comments attempt to forge attitudinal alignments even where they do not receive any direct reply from another user. I begin in Section 3 by introducing the particular community used as a case study, the ASMR or Whisper Community, and the kind of sensory experiences which community members enact and evaluate. The next section introduces the two dimensions of the theoretical framework which inform the analysis: the appraisal framework (Martin and White 2005), a model of evaluative language developed within Systemic Functional Linguistics, and the Affiliation framework, used to consider how social alignments arise out of attitudinal stances targeted at things and experiences.

The affiliation framework was originally designed to explain dialogic interaction, rather than the kind of polylogue and 'ambient' bonding relevant to the dataset considered in this paper. Thus section 4.3 introduces ambient affiliation that takes us beyond negotiation into communing, and section 4.4 introduces 'communing affiliation' (Zappavigna and Martin 2018). We consider how IDEATION-ATTITUDE couplings are modulated in order to heteroglossicaly position values in relation to the ambient audience in particular ways, such as raising or lowering their stakes. The process is 'ambient' due to the expanding interpersonal affordances of digital platforms in terms of the different mechanisms they offer for creating connections between users beyond simple direct interaction (Zappavigna 2011). In other words, users are able to forge alignments through practices that create connections to other texts and personae without necessarily incorporating direct dialogue. For example, on Twitter and other platforms, a social media user might append a hashtag (e. g. #ASMR) to a post, contributing an instance that is discursively and contextually linked to other posts containing the same tag (Zappavigna 2018), for instance:

I just watched so much #ASMR that I have tingles in the soles of my feet.

As we will see in this paper, 95% of the posts in the comments section of the ASMR video explored do not receive a reply from either the YouTuber or other commenters. However, users make many references to their belief that they are part of a vibrant and active community with shared values and interests.

Section 5 details the parameters of the dataset and sampling before explaining the refinement of the Communing Affiliation system undertaken in the present research in terms of expanding its delicacy in order to apply it to the ASMR YouTube Comment corpus. The paper concludes by showing what the features in this revised communing affiliation system can reveal about the complexities of social bonding in the comments sections of YouTube videos.

3 The ASMR community on YouTube

YouTube comments feeds are infamous as sites of swearing (Dynel 2012), flaming (Moor, Heuvelman and Verleur 2010), conflict (Bou-Franch and Garcés-Conejos Blitvich 2014), antagonism (McCosker 2014), 'drama' (antagonistic debate) (Pihlaja 2014), and racialized hostility(Murthy and Sharma 2019). This paper, however, deals with a community that is characterised by the sharing of positive feelings. This community shares opinion and sentiment about the sensory experience of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), a pleasurable reaction to certain visual or aural stimuli:

...autonomous means that the individual possesses the ability to facilitate or produce the sensation at will. Sensory refers to the transmission of information through the nervous system and brain in response to an external trigger, and the individual's simultaneous perception of this feedback with the senses. Meridian means the highest point or apex, and is also an antiquated term for euphoria. (del Campo and Kehle 2016: 99)

ASMR takes the form of tingling, relaxing and, sometimes euphoric, sensations that are often experienced in the scalp, back, or neck. The community, as we will explore in more detail in section 6.1.2, is referred to as the 'ASMR community' or the 'whisper community' by avouched members, as seen in the following comments from the comments feed that will be explored in this paper:

One of my favorite things about the ASMR community is how loving and compassionate everyone is. Nowhere else on the internet will you find 99% of the comments to be so loving and supportive. That is very special to me❤

Online video sharing platforms have provided a way for people who experience these ASMR sensations to watch, produce, and disseminate ASMR-invoking material. This material often takes the form of videos of people whispering, that leverage the "affective power of the whispered voice's impression to create an intimate sonic space shared by the listener and the whisperer. " (Andersen 2014: 683). ASMR videos can also involve people making sounds with objects, often while engaged in meticulous or repetitive tasks that involve concentrated attention such counting or page turning. They can also be role-play videos where the YouTuber or 'ASMRtist' (ASMR artist) addresses the viewer in a faux-interaction with "expressions of care, interest and affirmation" directed at the viewer (Gallagher 2016: 1) as a form of digital intimacy (Bjeli 2016). Other videos may capture someone providing attention to another participant in the video, for example a video of a haircut, massage, or facial performed on a human or doll.

The stimulus that induces the pleasurable ASMR response is referred to as a 'trigger' (Barratt, Spence and Davis 2017). Triggers are usually auditory, resulting from acts such as crinkling, tapping, rustling, or scratching different kinds of materials and surfaces, or whispering with a calming voice quality. Visual triggers, such as slow-moving repetitive hand motions, or brushing or tracing motions, are also possible. Some triggers are more interpersonal, occurring in reaction to the YouTube providing 'personal attention' through talk and gestures directed toward the viewer. This can include gestures that appear to touch the viewer by their positioning in the foreground of the visual frame (e. g. Figure 2). These typically occur in 'role-play' videos where the YouTuber addresses the viewer as if they are part of a genuine interaction such as a doctor performing tests or beauty therapist applying makeup, usually "in tones of hushed solicitude" (Gallagher 2018: 265).

Figure 2

Figure 2   An example of an ASMR video.

Reaction to triggers are described by people who experience ASMR as pleasant physical sensations, for example one commenter describes them as follows:

I've experienced ASMR from listening to certain songs that have a combination of sounds and experience tingles in my arms or back. In this video, the blowing of the candle gave me a tingling sensation all throughout my back and it felt so nice. It's just a relaxing type of sensation.

As the analysis in this paper will suggest, many users watch these videos to experience feelings of relaxation. Some work has suggested that watching ASMR may be associated with easing symptoms experienced as a result of chronic illness, mental illness, insomnia, and stress (Barratt and Davis 2015).

4 Theoretical framework: Exploring affiliation

The framework for investigating affiliation in this research is grounded in social semiotic work on how social bonds are realised in language. This section explains affiliation theory developed in work on face-to-face interaction, where bonds are negotiated in exchanges (section 4.2). This led to work on ambient affiliation, where bonds may be communed around even where there is no direct interaction, as is possible in digital and social media environments (section 4.3). For an overview of SFL work on affiliation beyond the scope of this paper the reader is directed to Logi and Zappavigna (in press; Zappavigna 2019). Before introducing affiliation it is necessary to briefly explain the model of evaluative language upon which is it based, the Appraisal Framework (Martin and White 2005), as it is key to understanding how values enter into discourse. We then consider IDEATION-ATTITUDE couplings as the key analytical unit for investigating how social bonds are negotiated.

4.1 The Appraisal framework

Appraisal is a framework for analysing evaluative language that has been applied to a vast range of domains of communication including work on social media "since sharing and contesting opinion and sentiment is central to social media discourse"(Zappavigna 2017: 435). Figure 3 provides examples of each region of appraisal as a system network, following Martin and White (2005). The network specifies ATTITUDE, the way in which we construe evaluative orientation in discourse, as a choice between AFFECT (expressing emotion, e. g. love, disgust, fear etc.), JUDGEMENT (assessing behaviour, e. g. evil, ethical, trustworthy etc.) and APPRECIATION (estimating value, e. g. beautiful, treasured, noteworthy etc.). Attitudinal stances are inflected by the way a text excludes or includes other voices via the ENGAGEMENT system through the choice between monoglossia and heteroglossia. In addition, evaluation may be up or down-scaled via GRADUATION systems. All of these systems can be pursued to greater levels of delicacy, depending of the level of detail required. The examples shown in the boxes of Figure 3 are realisations of appraisal sampled from the ASMR YouTube comments corpus to be considered in this paper.

Figure 3

Figure 3   The systems of appraisal illustrated with YouTube comments.

4.2 Affiliation: negotiating IDEATION-ATTITUDE couplings

While appraisal is a useful interpersonal lens on how evaluative language functions, we "don't after all simply affiliate with feelings; we affiliate with feelings about people, places and things, and the activities they participate in, however abstract or concrete" (Martin 2008a: 58). Thus, in order to understand how values are shared and negotiated, we need to explore how interpersonal and ideational meanings are associated in discourse. A key idea of affiliation is that social alignments can be discursively negotiated through 'couplings' of IDEATION and ATTITUDE. The notion of coupling between discourse semantic meanings was first used by Martin (2000: 164) to explain humour "as involving discordant couplings — either between appraisal selections and what is being appraised, or among the appraisal variables themselves" (p. 164). More generally a coupling may constitute the combination of meanings across a range of semiotic dimensions "as pairs, triplets, quadruplets or any number of coordinated choices" (Martin 2008b: 39). In this way coupling concerns a 'relation of 'with': variable x comes with variable y'(Zhao 2011: 144). Viewed synoptically, couplings may form clusters or syndromes of meaning where values constellate into complex sets (Zappavigna, Dwyer and Martin 2008). Viewed dynamically, couplings may enter into unfolding logogenetic relations (Zhao 2011) and may repeatedly coalesce over time in a given culture to form recognisable icons (Tann 2013). Viewed in terms of tendency, coupling accounts for the coordination of meanings as correlations between choices. To date, IDEATION-ATTITUDE coupling has been the focus of studies of coupling across areas such as casual conversation (Knight 2008; Knight 2010a; Knight 2010b; Knight 2013), academic discourse (Hood 2010; Hao and Humphrey 2009), business writing (Szenes 2016) and Youth Justice Conferencing (Martin et al. 2013; Zappavigna, Dwyer and Martin 2008).

Knight's(2013) model of affiliation develops the idea that social alignments are realised in discourse as patterns of 'couplings' of IDEATION and ATTITUDE that can be communed around, laughed off, or condemned in direct interactions (Knight 2013; Martin 2008a). While this approach was designed to account for the negotiation of meaning in face-to-face exchanges and was used to explore conversational humour, it is relevant to any context where direct interaction occurs. For instance, a YouTube comment such as

$\underline{{\rm{She}}}$ is just amazing!

involves a coupling of 'She' (the ASMR artist) and positive APPRECIATION which we might notate as:

[ideation: $\underline{{\rm{She}}}$ / attitude: positive APPRECIATION]

Similarly, the first move in the exchange shown below, is targeted at the video:

User 1: Omg $\underline{{\rm{this}}}$ is so so so goood!

User 2: IKR $\underline{\rm{I}}$'ve got tingles

User 3:yesss!

It tables the coupling:

[ideation: $\underline{{\rm{this}}}$ / attitude: positive APPRECIATION]

In response, two other users align with this coupling by expressing agreement. User 2 also offers another coupling targeted at the self and expressing positive feeling, invoked through the ideational reference to a tingling sensation (that is a token of affect shared repeatedly within the ASMR community):

[ideation: I / attitude: invoked positiveAFFECT]

However, direct exchanges between users cannot be assumed as the only basis of bonding in contexts such as social media environments given that any particular post will not necessarily receive a reply. Oulasvirta et al. (2010: 244) refer to this asymmetry as a kind of "dilution of conversational obligations". In addition, the technical affordances of many digital platforms create means for users to foster mass alignments through resources such search and aggregation, for instance via the use of metadata such as hashtags (Zappavigna 2018). Mass expression of shared values also occurs in collective digital practices such as sharing iterations of internet memes, some of which virally proliferate in social networks beyond the parameters of traceable exchange structures (Zappavigna 2020a). Thus in the next section we will explore communing beyond negotiation.

4.3 Ambient affiliation: factoring in more than negotiation

Many social media posts do not receive any reply at all, and yet still might be interpreted as being involved in a process of what I refer to as 'ambient affiliation', where bonds are communed around en mass in digital environments without necessarily requiring direct interaction(Zappavigna 2012; Zappavigna 2011; Zappavigna 2018). YouTube comments sharing users' feelings of the ASMR sensations they experience (e. g. relaxation)often receive no reply from any other user in the comments feed. Indeed, as we will see in the present study, 95% of the YouTube comments received no reply. Consider, for example, the following comments which repeatedly source positive AFFECT in the subjective experience of the commenter with the coupling [ideation: I/me attitude: positive AFFECT]:

$\underline{\rm{i}}$ feel so relaxed omfg

I do feel relaxed

This was so good Maria, thank you. It made $\underline{{\rm{me}}}$ feel so relaxed

Found this through Fusion on Snapchat. $\underline{\rm{I}}$ feel so relaxed now

So many tingles! Another great video Maria. Thank you so much! $\underline{\rm{I}}$ already feel so relaxed. Zzzz. . .

You are really really good at making $\underline{{\rm{me}}}$ feel instantly relaxed. Love the video.

While each of above comments did not generate a reply, it can be argued that these users are nevertheless engaging in 'communion of feeling' (Firth 1964: 112)via shared positive AFFECT in the unfolding comment feed. The positive AFFECT in these examples also invokes positive APPRECIATION of the video in terms of its ability to provoke ASMR sensations, and many comments also inscribe this additional assessment (e. g. great video). In order to explain such communion in the absence of direct exchange, it is necessary to augment our model of dialogic affiliation by adding systems of 'communing' affiliation, as detailed in the next section.

4.4 Communing affiliation: convoking, finessing, and promoting a coupling

In order to explore the communion of feeling flagged in the previous section, this paper draws on three systems of communing affiliation developed in Zappavigna and Martin (2018) and also attempts to make these systems more delicate. The system of communing affiliation was originally developed to understand how hashtags are used in Twitter discourse to create ambient attitudinal alignments even in the absence of direct interaction. It aimed to account for affiliation that occurs "in the absence of repartee and paralanguage" where digital personae "maximise the potential interpersonal impact of their ideation-attitude couplings" within the unfolding social media stream (Zappavigna and Martin 2018: 7). Communing affiliation is particularly appropriate for interpreting the YouTube ASMR Comment dataset given that 95% of the comments received no reply. This dataset cannot be adequately explored through a model of dialogic affiliation which has as its basis the idea that couplings are negotiated in direct exchanges as this would miss the process through which a large part of the ambient community of shared feeling is being formed.

The three systems of communing affiliation, CONVOKING, FINESSING and PROMOTING shown in Figure 4, are concerned with what Han (2015: 30) has termed "alignment to the coupling", that is, how a text works to cultivate a particular interpersonal orientation to an IDEATION-ATTITUDE coupling:

Figure 4

Figure 4   The system of communing affiliation (with the coupling [ideation: video / ATTITUDE: POSITIVE APPRECIATION] used as an example).

What is of central concern in relation to strategies of affiliation is... 'alignment/disalignment' towards value positions, as this determines whether the writer is introducing the coupling to commune around a bond or to reject it. (Han 2015: 57)

As the brace in the communing affiliation system network indicates, these systems represent simultaneous rather than mutually exclusive choices and can potentially co-occur within a single comment. Briefly, as we will develop this system in section 5.2 to a more delicate level in order to apply to the dataset, these systems are concerned with how couplings are articulated and situated in discourse in terms of the meanings that are put at stake. CONVOKING is the region of meaning concerned with mustering community around a coupling (e. g. via resources aimed at fostering collectivity and togetherness e. g. vocatives), FINESSING is concerned with positioning a coupling in parallel or contrast with other potential couplings (e. g. via oppositioning resources such as contraction) and PROMOTING is concerned with the interpersonal stakes of a coupling in terms of its strength and scope (e. g. raising or lowering via graduation resources). Throughout the paper features of communing affiliation are shown in SMALL CAPS BOLD for analytical emphasis.

5.1 Dataset and sampling

The dataset considered in this paper is a specialised corpus of 16, 011 YouTube comments (234 787 words) constituting the entire comments feed of the most viewed video on the most popular ASMR YouTube channel, Gentle Whispering ASMR. The title of the video was "*_* Oh such a good 3D-sound ASMR video *_*" and it was uploaded on the 7th September 2016.At the time of writing this video had over 21 million views and 103 000 likes. This ASMR video included the following description resplendent with positive feeling:

Hey guys: D Long time no see. hehehe...I missed you so much. . Thank you for all of your wonderful messages and comments. I LOOOVE YOU! ❤ :*D In this video I am going to do a few different effects to hopefully give you tingles *fingers crossed* and to help you feel comforted and relaxed. Thank you :)

The description also itemized with clickable timestamps a 'directory' of the different types of ASMR sounds provided in the video:

Directory:

0:53-wooden brush sounds

3:00-smoke blowing

6:20-temples rub and scalp massage

10:07-shoulder rub

12:28-feather tickle and zzzzzzz...zzzzz O. O -_- sleeeeeeep. :D Enjoy! ❤

Figure 5

Figure 5   An ASMR video, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVpfHgC3ye0 (last accessed 19 June 2019).

The sampling of comments for analysis in Section 6 is necessarily qualitative because it is currently not possible to automatically detect patterns of affiliation in corpora. A form of critical case sampling is applied where the aim is exploratory in order to show how systems of communing affiliation (as defined in Section 4.4) are manifest in the data rather than to assert the representativeness of these systems across larger datasets.

Figure 6

Figure 6   The system of communing affiliation, illustrated with an example coupling, [ideation: video / ATTITUDE: POSITIVE APPRECIATION]

This paper refines the Communing Affiliation network, providing an extra layer of delicacy in order to explore in detail how CONVOKING, FINESSING and PROMOTING are construed in texts through choices that impact the IDEATION-ATTITUDE couplings instantiated. Thus the aim is to both expand the network in terms of delicacy and to show how it might be applied to textual instances. At this stage this is a necessarily qualitative endeavour because it is exploratory, and we do not seek to characterize the tendency of the YouTube posts to make certain selections from the network in the corpus, but rather to illuminate what those potential choices may be.

As briefly touched on in section 4.4, the CONVOKING system involves tendering a coupling to a particular community by 'pitching' or 'calling together' a group to bond around the coupling or by suggesting the parameters of the community to which the bond appeals. We can further delineate resources that MARSHAL a community from those that DESIGNATE a community, although these two options can co-occur in a text. For example, vocatives or other resources of address can be used to MARSHAL a group to align with a coupling:

GUYS, I think this is video so good!

Alternatively, the relevant community may be DESIGNATED through an explicit reference to a group:

This is the best video I watched since I found the ASMR community.

FINESSING is concerned with modulating the coupling in relation to other potential stances that may be present in the social stream through resources that parallel or oppose bonds such as choices in ENGAGEMENT. For example, a particular coupling might be affirmed through EMBELLISHING it via ENTERTAINING possibility:

This must be the mostly watched ASMR Video of all times.

or by setting it in contrast to other potential couplings, CONTRACTING the potential of other voices and thus DISTILLING the coupling:

Not every ASMR video is this good!

Finally, PROMOTING, interpersonally foregrounds or backgrounds a coupling by raising or lowering the strength or scope of the bond and hence raising or lowering its stakes. For example FOSTERINGmight be achieved via upscaling the GRADUATION through intensification or by adding typographic features such as exclamation marks and repeating vowels:

This video was sooooooooo good!!!!!

The scope of a bond can also be adjusted by MODULATING the prototypicality of the coupling against some standard, for example:

This is a true ASMR video — so good!

These systems will be explored in more detail when they are used to analyse samples from the YouTube comment corpus in the next section, section 6.It should also be noted that while choices from the appraisal framework are the most obvious resources involved in the affiliation strategies at work on a given coupling, there are a wide range of resources that can be deployed at any level of stratification, and indeed as burgeoning work on paralanguage is suggesting across different semiotic modes (Ngoet al. in press; Martin and Zappavigna 2019).

6 Exploring communing affiliation in the YouTube comment corpus

As noted earlier the YouTube comment corpus of 16, 011 comments contained less than 5% (723 comments) with a reply. Thus, this paper is concerned with the affiliative strategies that are employed by commenters in the hope of attracting semiotic attention from either the YouTuber or other commenters. In other words, how do the comments modulate the values that they share in order to make them more 'bondable' in the social stream. We will explore each of the resources for orienting the ambient audience to a coupling in turn in the sections below on CONVOKING, FINESSING, and PROMOTING couplings. The following notation convention is applied:

[ideation: A / attitude: B] x COMMUNING SYSTEM↘ realisation: C

The x is intended to reflect the idea that the communing strategies notated as C inflect the coupling of A and B in the sense of modifying the orientation of the ambient audience to the coupling through particular choices from the three systems of communing affiliation. The particular discursive realisations of these communing choices are annotated with ↘ but are illustrative and not intended to be exhaustive:

6.1 CONVOKING a coupling

As suggested, CONVOKING can occur through both MARSHALLING personae around a particular coupling and through DESIGNATING the personae who might align with the coupling. The former involves addressing or calling out with a community or personae, while the latter involves demarcating through identification resources such as naming. These are annotated as:

[ideation: A / attitude: B] x CONVOKE: MARSHAL↘ vocation:C

[ideation: A / attitude: B] x CONVOKE: DESIGNATE↘ naming: C

The realisations that will be considered in the sections which follow are vocatives and reference resources such as naming. These are not asserted to be exhaustive as other interpersonal resources may be used, for example, other types of involvement resources that have yet to be comprehensively mapped.

6.1.1 MARSHALLING

Some of the comments in the corpus were directed at particular personae or groups. The most common vocative, aside from direct address to the Youtuber'Maria', was guys(freq. =28), a form of address often seen in YouTube vlogs (Zappavigna 2019b). Examples include the following:

Omg guys lets get her to 1 million she is close

Hi guys! Please check out my channel. I post ASMR videos, and subscribe if you want, thank you!

Guys how do I feel the tingeling? I am drunk and my headphones are turned way up.

YOU GUYS, what does asmr stand for? to me, its always meant, SOOTHING VOICES. but seriously whAts the acronym?

Aye common guys. It was 2012.This was the shit back in its day. :D

This type of vocative has a collectivizing function aimed at mustering personae around the coupling with which it co-occurs. For example, consider the following comment, in which the vocative MARSHALS ambient viewers around positive assessment of the video's impact on the commenter's sensorial state:

$\underline{{\rm{Guys}}}$ thisgot my hypnotized. O_O

[ideation: this (video) / attitude: invoked positive t-APPRECIATION] x CONVOKE: MARSHAL↘vocation: $\underline{{\rm{Guys}}}$

The emoticon in the comment, as a token of hypnotic fixation, reinforces the attitudinal meaning realized in the evaluative language in the co-text. A similar pattern is seen in this comment that seeks to align an ambient audience around the invoked positive judgement of the YouTuber's capacity to induce relaxation:

$\underline{{\rm{Guys}}}$. . She can make the entire army pass out O_o

[ideation: she (YouTuber) / attitude: invoked positiveJUDGEMENT] x CONVOKE: MARSHAL↘ vocation: $\underline{{\rm{Guys}}}$

Another example of MARSHALING through the CONVOKING function of a vocative is the following which appears to have more a rallying function, inviting the audience to raise the viewer count of the video:

Keep watchingthis video $\underline{Guys}$. Lets show our support for Maria by making this her first 1 million view video!

[ideation: this video / attitude: invoked positive appreciation] x CONVOKE: MARSHAL↘ vocative: $\underline{{\rm{Guys}}}$

Annotating the coupling is not always a straightforward matter, given how much implied and elided meanings occur due in part to the brevity of the medium. For instance in the following rather than an explicitly realized coupling, 2019 acts as a token encapsulating positively assessment the video (the date suggesting endurance). The vocative my dudes MARSHALLS viewers around this elided coupling, before unpacking the elided ideational meaning in the rest of the comment:

2019my dudes, 2019.6 years later and the video has 21M views. This video was the first real ASMR video I ever watched

[ideation: video (elided) / attitude: invoked positiveAPPRECIATION] x CONVOKE: MARSHAL↘ vocative: my dudes

Vocatives could also be used to distinguish a certain group as an outgroup, for instance:

All u other asmr trigger people on utubeu don't even come close to this lady

[ideation: u (other asmr trigger people on utube) / attitude: invoked negativeJUDGEMENT] x CONVOKE: MARSHAL↘ vocative: All u other asmr trigger people on utube

In addition to aligning the ambient viewer around the value that other YouTubers are inferior to Maria, the choice also aligns viewers around a corresponding value positively assessing the YouTuber. We will explore the role of dialogistic resources in this type of pattern in section 6.2.2.

6.1.2 DESIGNATING

The YouTube comments often directly DESIGNATED the ASMR community as the community associated with a particular coupling. There are 69 instances of 'community' in the corpus. Reference to 'the ASMR community' occurs 25 times, with other options including 'the community' (9 instances) and 'whisper community' (5 instances), for example:

The uploading of this video was a very pivotal moment in the history of the ASMR community

Welcome to the whisper community. :-)

That's one small step for man. One giant leap for the ASMR community!

The ways in which you experiment with sound, atmosphere, and vocal phrasing are SO thoroughly original and well-done. You truly are a visionary within the ASMR community. Much appreciation.

In these examples these references can be interpreted as DESIGNATING the community to which the coupling applies. For example, the following post tables two couplings positively evaluating the success of the YouTube channel before thanking the YouTuber while DESIGNATING the community through naming them via a direct $\underline{{\rm{reference}}}$:

Congratulations on being the first whisperer ever to break the 1 million mark. Well deserved, and thanksfor your service to the whisper community. X

[ideation: your service / attitude: invoked positiveJUDGEMENT] x DESIGNATE↘reference: naming: the whisper community

Some of the YouTube comments refer to the ASMR community as if it is a place, often in posts where the reference is embedded in different kinds of circumstantiation. For example, the following post employs a circumstance of abstract location (in the ASMR community) which Dreyfus and Jones (2011) have classified as a sociocultural place (subtype communal):

most calmingvoice in the ASMR community. I love different ASMR artists for different reasons. Maria is calming and i love her smooth hand motions. Very soothing

[ideation: voice / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x CONVOKE: DESIGNATE↘ reference: ASMR community

Similar examples include the posts below containing communal location circumstances:

Very good and relaxing video. You are one of the best out in the community to trigger my ASMR

[ideation: You (YouTuber) / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x DESIGNATE↘ reference: the community

Holy Moley! Over 1 and a half million views Maria! That must definitely be the record in our little (or not so little?) community! Big love, you're still the best by far. ; -)

[ideation: that (number of views) / attitude: invoked positiveAPPRECIATION] x DESIGNATE↘ reference: our little (or not so little?) community

In all of these examples the naming functions to specify the group to which the coupling applies, in other words, it functions to DESIGNATE which personae share the value instantiated in the coupling.

6.2 FINESSING a coupling

FINESSING a coupling involves dialogically positioning through expansive and contractive resources that acknowledge "other communities of values"(Han 2015: 78). This means that the coupling is embellished or distilled in terms of other potential stances or perspective that may be adopted by other textual voices, that is, other ambient personae.

[ideation: A / attitude: B] x finess: embellish ↘ ENGAGEMENT: EXPAND: C

[ideation: A / attitude: B] x finess: distill ↘ ENGAGEMENT: CONTRACT: C

6.2.1 EMBELLISHING

EMBELLISHING a coupling involves heteroglossic expansion, for instance entertaining other possible perspectives on the coupling. For example, the coupling in the following post is embellished through modality that positions it as one possible option amongst others (i. e. the case where it is not the most viewed asmr video):

This is $\underline{{\rm{probably}}}$ the most viewedasmr video on YouTube

[ideation: asmr video / attitude: invoked positiveAPPRECIATION] x EMBELLISH↘ ENGAGEMENT: EXPAND: ENTERTAIN

A similar pattern is seen in the following comments:

This is $\underline{{\rm{probably}}}$ the bestASMR trigger I've ever experienced. That 3-D mic is melting my whole central nervous system. .

[ideation: ASMR triggerI've ever experienced / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x embellish ↘ENGAGEMENT: EXPAND: ENTERTAIN

I love this video so much. I've watched it so many times. I think it's the personal, nurturing attention. It $\underline{{\rm{seems}}}$ somewhat unscripted and natural. The tone of your voice is just perfect. Thank you for this video (again!). It has helped me so much

[ideation: It (the video) / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x EMBELLISH↘ENGAGEMENT: EXPAND: ENTERTAIN

These examples entertain the existence of other readings of the coupling, or other couplings entirely, for the same ideation.

6.2.2 DISTILLING

The alternative choice to EMBELLISHING is DISTILLING, in which there is less potential for dialogistic alternatives in terms of orientation the coupling by the potential ambient audience. The dialogic space is contracted with respect to the coupling, for example by pronouncing a subjective position:

i thinkthe white noise in this videoadds to its relaxing effect

[ideation: the white noise in this video / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x DISTILL↘ ENGAGEMENT: CONTRACT: PROCLAIM: PRONOUNCE

This video is amazing. $\underline{{\rm{Definitely}}}$ my favoritevideo of any asmr member

[ideation: video of any asmr member / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x DISTILL↘ ENGAGEMENT: CONTRACT: PROCLAIM: PRONOUNCE

In these examples there is little room to question the coupling as it is an assertion of the commenter's subjective assessment. With similar reduction of dialogistic alternatives, proclaiming a coupling can also occur via concession:

This one is amazing, although I literally only watch videos from TheWaterWhispers, but I have to admit, Igota lot oftingles while watching this: 3

[ideation: I (YouTuber) watching this / attitude: positiveAFFECT] x DISTILL↘ ENGAGEMENT: CONTRACT: PROCLAIM: CONCUR: CONCEDE

Disclaiming is also possible:

This videonever gets old$\left(^{-}\nabla^{-}\right)$

[ideation: this video / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] xDISTILL↘ ENGAGEMENT: CONTRACT: DISCLAIM: DENY

These different choices in engagement inflect how we are to read the coupling, or, in other words, how the coupling is positioned as more or less open for negotiation or re-interpretation by the ambient audience and the other values that they may hold.

6.3 PROMOTING a coupling

Since the comments sections of many YouTube videos can contain hundreds or thousands of comments, posts will often draw on PROMOTING resources to increase the chance they will be noticed. These are resources that interpersonally emphasise the coupling and will be notated as:

[ideation: A / attitude: B] xPROMOTE: FOSTER↘ GRADUATION: FORCE: C

[ideation: A / attitude: B] x MODULATE: FOSTER↘ GRADUATION: FOCUS: C

6.3.1 FOSTERING

Returning to some of the examples introduced earlier, we can note instances where FOSTERING resources are used to PROMOTE the coupling tabled in the comment. For example there were instances where the coupling is fostered through the use of upscaled graduation resources:

$\underline{{\rm{Most}}}$ calmingvoice in the ASMR community. I love different ASMR artists for different reasons. Maria is calming and i love her smooth hand motions. Very soothing

[ideation: voice / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x PROMOTE: FOSTER↘ GRADUATION: FORCE: UPSCALE $\underline{{\rm{most}}}$

This is probably the bestASMR triggerI've ever experienced. That 3-D mic is melting my whole central nervous system. .

[ideation: ASMR trigger I've ever experienced / attitude: positiveAPPRECIATION] x PROMOTE: FOSTER↘ GRADUATION: FORCE: UPSCALE the best

In these cases the graduation serves not only to discursively upscale the attitude but to FOSTER the coupling, perhaps increasing the chance that it will be noticed by another commenter or the YouTuber themselves.

6.3.2 MODULATING

MODULATING promotes the coupling through resources modifying how exemplary it is, for instance through choices in graduation that adjust prototypicality, for instance:

Is thissome sort ofmagic I am paralyzed all of a sudden -_-

[ideation: this / attitude: invoked positiveAPPRECIATION] x PROMOTE: MODULATE↘ GRADUATION: FOCUS: some sort of

In this post the video performance is suggested to come close to magic, augmenting the positive appreciation. Similarly in the post below the YouTube is approximated to someone who is able to understand the commenter's relaxation triggers:

I have always felt very attracted to whispering and those sort of sounds. This is the first time someoneunderstands $\underline{{\rm{exactly}}}$ the sounds that relax me. Beautiful, many thanks. I'll be going to bed with this every night. LOVE YA SO MUCH!

[ideation: someone (YouTuber) / attitude: invoked positiveJUDGEMENT] x PROMOTE: MODULATE↘ GRADUATION: FOCUS: $\underline{{\rm{exactly}}}$

Resources that PROMOTE the coupling may be particularly important in ambient contexts such as the comments feed where semiotic attention is at a premium and where every comment risks being ignored in the unfolding stream of discourse.

7 Conclusion

This paper has explored how communing affiliation is enacted in the comments feed of an ASMR video. Sharing values regarding the sensory experiences evoked by watching ASMR videos is an important function of the discourse seen in the comments feed. While we have stepped through each of the three communing affiliation systems (CONVOKE, FINESSE and PROMOTE) separately, they are in fact simultaneous systems (as noted by the brace in the system network). This means that they can occur together in relation to a single coupling. For example the following post tenders a coupling that positively appreciates the capacity of the YouTuber to produce ASMR sensations in her video that makes them intensely relaxed to the point of losing consciousness:

$\underline{{\rm{Guys}}}$...Shecan make the entire army pass out O_o

[ideation: she / attitude: invoked positiveJUDGEMENT] x CONVOKE: MARSHAL: $\underline{{\rm{Guys}}}$ x FINESSE: EMBELLISH: can x PROMOTE: FOSTER: $\underline{{\rm{entire}}}$

Each of the communing affiliation strategies are used simulatenously in this post. It CONVOKES a community by MARSHALLING them via a vocative (Guys). At the same time the positive evaluation is FINESSED by EMBELLISHING the heteroglossic potential of the coupling (can) in terms of foregrounding the YouTuber's capacity to induce ASMR sensations in the audience. In addition, the coupling is PROMOTED via FOSTERING its scope (entire) in terms of emphasizing the extent of the YouTuber's positive impact on the audience. Each of these strategies that operates upon the coupling acts in the service of enacting a bond of shared positive feeling that resonates across the comments feed as other users as their own iterations.

The communing affiliation analysis allows us to see how the post above is deploying considerable semiotic energy to orient the ambient audience to the coupling. In other words, the comment makes use of considerable interpersonal and attitudinal resources to share the value that the YouTuber is good at inducing ASMR in viewers. In more simple terms, the post attempts to commune with the ambient audience through interpersonal meaning aimed at increasing potential involvement or engagement with the post. Even in the absence of an active interaction, Firth's (1964: 112) insight that the "promotion, establishment, and maintenance of communion of feeling is perhaps four-fifths of all talk" stands.

While this paper has focused on communing affiliation strategies, a complementary perspective that is always also important is individuation, that is, how identities are formed in discourse as textual personae articulate their feelings and experiences. Future work drawing on the concept of coupling might explore how identities are enacted through particular 'coupling dispositions' (Zappavigna 2014a), that is, the tendency to construe particular patternings of coupling, for example in relation to a particular ideational target (Zappavigna 2014b) or a particular situational context. There is much work that could be undertaken with regard to recurrent patterns in the choice of affiliation strategy that personae might adopt across any number of dependent variables. In addition, the affiliation network is itself ripe for development in order to further account for how social bonds are articulated, situated, and mediated. Some of this work is currently in progress in a forthcoming book (Doran, Martin and Zappavigna forthcoming), however such a project is always a community endeavour requiring the efforts of collectives of social semiotic scholars interested in understanding the complex play of bonds in social life!

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