“这个真的不好说.” (It is Hard to Say): Positioning, Graphicons, and Culture: A Multimodal Discourse Analysis of a WeChat Discussion

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This article examined the intersection and interaction among positioning, communication modes, and culture by taking positioning theory as a theoretical framework. Data were collected from a WeChat discussion group where three Chinese international students engaged in a community of English as a second language (L2) literacies. A multimodal discourse analysis reveals that three WeChat group members creatively, freely, and deliberately used verbal language and graphicons along with their cultural beliefs and situational contexts to construct, negotiate, and sometimes reject positions. Findings also show that three types of self-other positioning were frequently constructed and negotiated through their discussions, such as the “Self-Agreed-to-Other,” “Self-Opposed-to-Other,” and “Self-Complained-to-Other” positioning. The “Self-Agreed-with-Other” positioning was explicitly conveyed, but the “Self-Opposed-to-Other” positioning was implicitly expressed, which can be attributed to one of the Chinese cultural values: face (mianzi). In addition, graphicons, such as emojis and stickers, were used to challenge first-order positioning and negotiate second-order positioning. Also, the semiotic sign @ used to specify WeChat message recipients performed illocutionary acts as including someone or excluding them from the discussion based on a specific interactional discourse. Graphicons, collectively and sometimes independently, were utilized to contribute to positions that not only provided or limited opportunities for L2 literacies practice but also invited or sometimes rejected community memberships. Future research on the incongruent verbal and nonverbal expression for different types of positioning is needed, especially when verbal language and graphicons are used collaboratively to design meaning.

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