Growth in research on the language of online reviews!

Two years ago  I wrote a post about how excited I was to see 2 presentations about online reviews – other than my own – at IPRA (the International Pragmatics Association), the largest international conference about Pragmatics, which is held biennially.  Interest in this topic continues grow as was seen at this year’s IPRA in Belfast, where there were 7 presentations on the topic.  (Incidentally, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland = total playground for sociolinguists!)

My colleague, Tuija Virtanen, and I organized a panel for this year’s IPRA called “Analyzing Prosumer Discourses: Consumer Reviews, Customer Feedback, and other modes of eWOM.”  The panel was international in scope, with speakers from Finland, New Zealand, Italy, Belgium, and the US.  Tuija’s presentation dealt with various ways of conceptualizing the rather abstract notions of responsibility and accountability as they are made relevant in consumer reviews: in her case, in book reviews on Amazon.  Michael Barlow’s corpus study examined differences between hotel reviews written by male and female TripAdvisor reviewers; interestingly, he found virtually no gender-based differences in variables such as word frequencies, review length, lexical variation, as well as the other variables he looked at.  Irene Cenni’s presentation built on her prior work, comparing TripAdvisor reviews written in Dutch, Italian, and English; this time with a particular focus on service encounters.  She had a number of very interesting findings, which she plans to publish soon – stay tuned!  The two remaining presentations (my own, and Maria Rosaria Compagnone’s) looked at businesses’ responses to restaurant reviews.  I focused on features of “linguistic impoliteness” found in restaurants’ responses to 1- and 2-star reviews, posted on both TripAdvisor and Yelp.  I showed examples of restaurant owners firing back defensive-sounding messages, which included features like sarcasm (“So much for knowing your Florida seafood.”), dismissing the reviewer’s comments (“As for the rest of it…whatever”) and excluding the reviewer from future contact (“Hopefully this reviewer will stay true to their word and make this their last visit.”).  I thought these responses were unprofessional…until I saw Maria Rosaria’s data! Maria Rosaria’s Italian restaurant owners posted much more aggressive and hostile responses on TripAdvisor – including one death threat!

Besides our panel, there were 2 additional presentations dealing with online reviews.  One of these was about extreme positivity in Airbnb reviews: the presenter focused on UK data, but the trends were nearly identical to what Judith Bridges and I wrote about in our Airbnb paper, published earlier this year.  The other was a more exploratory study examining differences in Chinese and Anglophone reviews and responses.

The next IPRA will be held in Hong Kong in summer 2019.  Will the number of online review-related studies continue to grow?  I’m looking forward to finding out! 🙂

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