Using the framework of Language Management Theory (LMT), this article seeks to analyze the ways in which non-native speakers negotiate their position in English-language online discussion forums. Based on the material collected from four discussion forums, competing opinions have been identified regarding the acceptability of “bad English” and the need for language management, i.e. acting upon a perceived lack of compliance to linguistic norms. Some users propose that compliance to communication norms should be enforced in a top-down manner or based on an explicit set of rules, whereas others hold that the community of users can deal with potential communication problems individually in an emergent manner. While the applicability of native speaker norms to the discussion forums is being questioned, non-native speakers, especially in practically oriented forums, tend to perform pre-interaction language management, using disclaimers in their posts, such as “Excuse my poor English”, to avoid potential misunderstandings and to prevent native speaker norms from being applied to them. The article argues for the use of LMT in computer mediated communication research, as it offers a dynamic view of the process in which rules, conventions and norms of online communication are being continuously discussed, negotiated and applied.
©2015 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Munich/Boston