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Email Communication

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Hannah Long-Higgins

on 24 May 2014

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Transcript of Email Communication

Pragmatics, cont.
“E-mail is the use of computer systems to transfer messages between users - now chiefly used to refer to messages sent between private mailboxes (as opposed to those posted in a chatgroup.” (Crystal 2006: 11)

“The net was built on electronic mail... It’s the oil which lubricates the system.” (Naughton, qtd. in Crystal, 2006: 11)

Enormous variety as regards context, purpose, length and style.

"Are there certain linguistic features which transcend its many variations in audience and purpose? Can we generalise about the language of email at all?" (Crystal, 2006: 11)
1. Introduction

"What’s an e-mail?"
"It’s a computer thing, like, er, an electric letter."
"Or a quiet phone call."

E-mail contains elements of:
Memo (fixed header structure)
Informal letter (greetings and farewells, overall structure)
Telephone conversation (dialogue structure that can be built up)

However, e-mail is unique.
2. E-mail compared with other modes of communication
In Anglophone area, linguistic research on CMC started in the 1980s.

Research on CMC was still a novelty in the 1990s, also in the German-speaking community.

In Germany:

Esp. Weingarten, Runkehl, Schlobinski and Siever.

In Anglophone area:
Esp. Naomi Baron, Susan Herring and David Crystal.

3. Previous research on e-mail communication
Email Communication
Structure of Emails
Sabine Helwig, Hannah Long-Higgins and Susanne Wrobel
Linguistic Features of Emails
lexical abbreviations (cu)
syntactic reduction (Exams over?)
acronyms (AYSOS)
consonant spellings
omission of the apostrophes
subject deletions
Structural features
Pragmatics, Cont.
Forms of Email Communication
“Phatic communication”, such as social small talk plays an important role in work contexts.

It helps to encourage a social sense of

There are different external conditions for communication in the workplace, e.g. co-location or physical distance.
The external situation has to be taken
into consideration

How is small-talk, in connection with polite-ness, used to create a work climate that encourages cooperation under various external conditions?
Amelie Hössjer – Small talk and politeness, and e-mail communication in the workplace
Politeness theory
Study: data and method
Results: email use in the physically-based community of practice and digitally-based community of practice
Example of mitigating FBA's
Responses and non-responses in workplace emails
Email vs face-to-face responses
Response Norms in Workplace Emails
--> requests and questions should generally be followed by a response as in oral conversation
Sub-genre of digital folklore

"deceptive messages that are spread by well-meaning users in digital social networks through the forwarding function of email programs..." (Heyd)

Pragmatic Duality
Speech Act Theory

Profit versus Fun
Email Hoaxes
What is an EH?
What constitutes an EH, exactly?
Pragmatics and Speech Acts
EH Outlook

"Social face”
: emotional investment that can be sustained, lost, or strengthened (
"face work"
“Negative face”
: the wish to assert his own territory.
“Positive face”
: the wish to be approved in certain respects.

"Face-threatening acts"

e.g. criticizing, interrupting, asking a favor, requesting information.

“Positive politeness strategy"
: drawing attention to interlocutor by using forms of address, pleas, compliments
"Negative politeness strategy"
: pulling back, thus granting the interlocutor scope and freedom.

"Face-boosting acts" (FBA’s):
acts that satisfy rather than threaten the face wants of the addressee (small talk).
"General FBA's"
:not tied to FTA's, e.g. self-references, referring to little annoyances of the day, telling jokes etc.
"Mitigating FBA's
: small talk closely connected to FTAs, e.g. functioning as excuses that mitigate FTAs.

To what extent is small-talk employed, where does this kind of discourse appear in messages and how small talk is used independent of an in connection with FTAs, as general FBAs and mitigating FBAs?

Case study was based on two corpora:

1. Physically-based community of practice
A Swedish newspaper office. The employees may chose among different modes of communication (phone, face-to-face etc.). The data collected also included interaction by phone and face-to-face.

2. Digitally-based community of practice
A Swedish print journal. Most of the work is carried out per e-mail. The staff is situated in different parts of Sweden. A digital network is maintained.
1. Physically-based community of practice

Messages contain no instances of small talk.

Functional divide among various communication options:

a) Email:
non-problematic issues and/or routine issue.
b) Telephone:
questions requiring quick response and guaranteed feedback.
c) Oral interaction:
social framing, delicate subject or complex issue.

2. Digitally-based community of practice

General and mitigating FBA's can be found
General FBA's :
used when work follows routine. Small talk takes the
character of “framing”, i.e. it introduces or concludes messages and is not directly connected to the actual content of the messages.
Mitigating FBA's:
Appear in the case of complications or uncertainty that may risk threatening the addressee’s social face. Closer connection between small talk and the content; small talk serves as an explanation/ excuse.

Exchange between editor-in-chief and
chairman of the board of the journal:
During the week Aug. 11-17 I’ll be busy. We’re going
to be looking after our oldest grandchildren that week.
The family is moving into their new house in
I can make it during the week starting Aug. 18 though.
How does that week look for you?

I’d be grateful for a reply.


· Crystal, David (2006): Language and the Internet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 99-133.

· Dürscheid, Christa, Frehner, Carmen (2013); E-Mail Communication. In: Herring, Susan; Stein, Dieter und Virtanen, Tuija (Eds.) (2013); Pragmatics of Computer-Mediated Communication. De Gruyter Mouton. Berlin/Boston. pp. 35-54.

· Heyd, Theresa (2013): E-mail Hoaxes. In: Herring, Susan; Stein, Dieter und Virtanen, Tuija (Eds.) (2013): Pragmatics of Computer-Mediated Communication. De Gruyter Mouton. Berlin/Boston. pp. 387-409.

· Hössjer, Amelie (2013): Small talk, politeness and email communication in the workplace. In: Herring, Susan; Stein, Dieter und Virtanen, Truija (Eds.) (2013): Pragmatics of Computer-Mediated Communication. De Gruyter Mouton. Berlin/Boston. pp.613-638.

· Skovholt, Korianne, Svennevig, Jan (2013): Responses and non-responses in work-place E-Mails. In: Herring, Susan; Stein, Dieter und Virtanen, Tuija (Eds.) (2013): Pragmatics of Computer-Mediated Communication. De Gruyter Mouton. Berlin/Boston. pp. 589-611.

· Yus, Francisco (2011): Cyberpragmatics. Internet-mediated Communication in Context. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Amsterdam/Philadelphia. pp. 219-254 (Chapter 6).

"A Shift of focus from medium-related to use-related patterns of language use."

Email Dialogues:
Messages can be exchanged in written mode synchronously

Greetings or no Greetings?
Absence of the greeting is not new to email

: blend of "emotion" and "icon"
Can indicate humor, downgrade a complaint

First set of pragmatic guidelines:
Norman Shapiro and Robert Anderson

Where can such guidelines be found?
FAQ documents, Netiquette guidelines

Grice's Four Conversational Maxims (1975):
1) Maxim of quantity
2) Maxim of quality
3) Maxim of manner
4) Maxim of relevance

Koch and Oeserreicher's Orality-Literacy Model (1994)

language of immediacy/conceptually oral
language of
1) Personal/Emotional
2) Newsgroup
3) Listserv
4) Professional
5) Professional with
personal implications
First email
was sent in
Became widely used at the end of
20th Century

The Rise of Social Networks
Smart Phones and Tablets
Demise of private email?
Is email a thing of the past?
Will it be further developed?

Does the rise of social media blur the lines of distinction between the 'personal' and the 'professional'?
Interlocutors seem to adapt their politeness behaviour to the external situation.

A situated view of politeness in email communication in relation to various external conditions, e.g. workplace environment and media use, is required.

These findings also suggest the need for more elaborated concepts in politeness theory.
"Nigerian"/"419" Email
Email Hoaxes
Fake Websites
1) Communication Channel
2) Communicant Identity
3) Message Scope and Make-Up

Conceptual backbone: Deception

1. Dual pattern of cooperation
a. Cooperative
b. Non-cooperative

2. Speech Acts
a. Constatives
b. Directives
c. Commissions
d. Acknowledgements
Potential Study: When is an EH felicitous, that is, appropriate?
Email Hoaxes are becoming an
outdated genre

Broader topic of deception in CMC will only continue to become more prevalent

Pragmatic approach to analyzing deceptive patterns will serve as helpful corpus
1. Header: to, from, Subject, CC, BCC, attachments, priority
2. Body
3. File (icon= paper clip)
Trailing dots (...)
Excessive use of exclamation marks
Lack of conventional punctuation
Use of smilies
Tendency to use all lower-cases
New spelling conventions (wat,luv)
Emailism and Netspeak
Email vs face-to-face responses
speed and ease of deliverance
extended interchanges, threads of messages, organized in turns and sequences
do not share a common temporal and physical context
Email: facilitates
multi-party interaction
at a distance
Turn taking

in conversation
: 1) minimize gaps and overlaps 2) non responses and silence= forthcoming disagreement or problem
Turn taking in email
: delayed or absent response --> more ambiguous; asynchronous medium not necessarily dispreferred response
other expectations --> different norms
Questions and requests
response conditionally relevant
Invitations to correct or comment on proposals
conditionally relevant: disagreement or correction; no response= agreement

ex.: "Hi everybody, no the picture is published on the Agenda page. I hope I chose the right picture out of the 3 I received from Line. Should I make any changes? Tore"
sending attachments, information about institutional activities
answer not conditionally relevant
answer only as acknowledging receipt (congratulations, compliments from leaders)
answers far less often than in oral communication
Non requesting email messages
ex. "Hi alll participants in Agenda! Read the info from Bente this month and read it thoroughly because we in Agenda are mentioned!!! Congratulations on the good work and keep it up, we have attention from the top. Rgds Line."
no answer: not treated as problematic or deviant
message to multiple recipients do not trigger a response
--> alternative norms for email interaction: some questions do not necessarily require a response
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