Student or Learner
The conventional sense of originality is challenged by the adult learners in the Taiwanese ESL/EFL forums. As soon as a new topic is posted, it invites a number of potential participation (see Figure 1.2). An online thread, then, is growing with passage and with meanings. Duel language practices on the Taiwanese ESL/EFL forums are common given the forum participants exercise varying degree of bilingual ability. Both Chinese and English are widely used in the forums, and language use remains consistent. It is not uncommon to read a Chinese thread interwoven with a combination of Chinese and English threads from different users. Since there is no imposed timeline on the participation, a topic thread always remains active and engages readers to produce playful texts. In this sense, a thread is not a complete work but an open and plural text by the definition of Barthes’ (1977) writerly texts.
The Taiwanese online ESL/EFL forums are structured by categories, ranging from English grammar questions, vocabulary and idioms, translation, job interview, ESL/EFL certified tests to travelling and abroad studying. Each category is further dissected into subcategories and is meant to direct members to join the forum groups of their interest.. Such structure suggests that the learners’ participation is interest oriented and, presumably, with a purpose to achieve. Given the categories to be discussed are many, forum participants can simultaneously join multiple groups of discussion and there is no specific order for which topic to be discussed. The context of group discussion is very different from that of the classroom context as the former is not subjected to temporal and spatial elements. For this reason, multiple subjectivities can be easily attained.
Each addition/reply to an online thread is likely to change a discussion and to mediate the meanings for the forum members. The single creating author disappears as soon as other members post their texts to join. The meaning for the online texts does not lie in its originality but in its destination. As Barthes (1977) suggests that, ‘a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is tane place where this multiplicity is focused ... The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination’ (148) .
In the vein of this argument, the members at a discussion maintain a dual subjectivity. They are both readers and writers. Their readership is verified by their input. By providing their insights, they also perform their subjectivity as an author for posting the reply to a topic of interest. Another way to look at the crisscrossing of the authors and the readers is that each online thread per se is a collage from different members, different contexts and perspectives. Grenz (1996: 20-21) states that the central characteristics of postmodern culture expression juxtaposes conflicting style from different sources and collage is one of the widely used approaches for bring together seemingly incompatible sources.
The interchanging identity between readers and writers blurs the traditional boundary of the inscribed readers and the author. Multiple authors are created as soon as a number of people post their replies. Because of no inscribed readers/subjectivities, this leaves a room of discussion for different writers to voice their diverse viewpoints. For this reason, online forum is an open text and forum participants assume free and fluid subjectivities. The disappearance of boundary suggests that identity is no longer unitary and coherent. As Reynolds and Wetherell (2003: 496-497) suggest, ‘People’s discourse tends to be highly variable and inconsistent … This variability allows for ideological dilemmas to arise as people argue and puzzle over the competing threads and work the inconsistencies between them’ .
In the light of identity being multiple and conflictual (Stuart 1992), the originality of a text cannot be reduced to authorship. In addition, a text in the online forum is interwoven with many other texts, from different forum participants and resources, and no one of which is original according to Roland Barthes (1972).