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What is the effect of the Internet on our language? Does it play a crucial role or not? And if it does, how is our language going to end up? Undoubtedly, during the past years the huge technological achievements, the communicative power and the social potential of the internet have changed our life - not only our life, but also the way we use language, and according to Crystal D, (2010, pg. 1) ''language in general and individual languages in particular are going to end up as internet casualties.''
Is the language of the new media we use nowadays closer to speech or to writing? This project aims to analyse and discuss some language and linguistic features of texts which are under the heading new media types of communication.
The new communication media I have decided to analyse are E-mails. I have chosen Email as my sample texts mainly because it has a relatively long history among new communications media, but also because it was the only type of media which I am familiar with and I could find lots of samples.
According to Todd Campbell (date not specified), ''the first email in history was sent in a form of an arbitrary string of letters between two computers that were in the same room. It was sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971 who was working as an engineer at those who built ARPANET.''
The old times when people used a pen and paper to write letters in order to communicate with each other are over. Since the last 20-30 years, almost everyone relies on the e-mail for high-speed communication. You can use your email for a lot of purposes, such as to get in touch with long-seen relatives, to communicate with your friends/teachers, talk to people you do not even know or even do business from all around the world, regardless of distance.
Usually the structure of an email is divided into two parts, the headers and the body. The header consists of the receiver, the sender, the date and the subject. The body usually includes the text of the message. A typical email which is structurally right, starts by a greeting, then follows a blank line and then follows the main context of the text, and ends by a farewell.
The texts I have collected for this essay are emails. The participants are my mother, my cousins, my flatmate, my lectures, my classmates and my uncle. I know all of them but my relationship with some of them is closer than it is with others. For example, I am closer to my family than my lectures at university.
The period they cover
The emails I have collected are from the start of 2010 until the end of 2010. The period they cover is from January to December.
How many words are in each source?
The words in each source vary. For example some emails are four words long, whereas some others are 100, 300 or 400 words long.
The purpose of the exchange
Each email in my data sample has a different purpose of exchange. The purpose of most of them is to stay in touch with my family as I study abroad. We use email because it is free and because it is an easy way to communicate. The purpose of the emails that I have received from my lecturers was to communicate information regarding different school matters. There are also emails that I have exchanged with my class mates regarding a group work we have been allocated, and some emails I have exchanged with my flatmate just to keep in touch.
2. In the second part of my essay I will analyse and discuss different language aspects of my sample texts, in relation to the situational characteristics of Emails. The analysis of my emails will be both quantitive and qualitive. It will include elements of both types of analysis.
Opening and closing strategies
Let's start by analysing the opening and closing strategies of my emails. Under this category I will discuss whether my emails are preceded by a greeting and then followed by a farewell. Almost one third of my emails did not contain an introductory greeting. Those emails were for people that we know each other very well. Most of the greeting less emails were usually promptly sent messages where the responder to my email saw the message as the second part of two pair interaction where he had to respond. This is called as an adjacency pair. An adjacency pair is an example of conversation turn-taking.
Some examples of adjacency pairs included in my sample emails are found in Appendix 1. Turn-taking is fundamental in conversation, and it is also found in emails. This is an indication that email is closer to speech. It is a feature that can characterize an email as a more speech like.
However, what I have noticed is that in emails where the responder saw the message as the second part of our interaction, a greeting was not necessary.
Take for example the following email:
o A sending message: Mr [name] , you haven't told me yet. Is 10:30 a.m ok to come and see you?
o The response: Yes. [man, 40-50years old, 20.10.2010]
Here the responder could not include an introductory greeting, as it is inappropriate to say:
In turn-taking conversation if I asked this question to someone, obviously i could not get an answer like: [name] ok, [name] that's fine or dear [name] fine.
Another example is the following email which was an answer to my email:
- Me: Hey [name], No worries. hope you get well soon..! ok i will send you what i have written by tonight and we can compare our work..!
- Answer: Okay that sounds great. Thanks for being so understanding![girl friend,20yrs old, 20.10.2010]
Therefore, most of the emails which did not contain a greeting were emails which required an answer. Thus a greeting was inappropriate in turn-taking emails. However, this indicates that turn-taking is a characteristic of email which marks interactiveness. The only way of stopping this characteristic is by delay in responding. The delay can be due to technical problems or when the email does not require an answer back, or when someone for his own personal reason does not want to answer. I have noticed that an email is more likely to contain a greeting when there is a delay in responding. Thus, they start by a greeting and then by apologizing for the time delay, whereas their previous emails did not contain a greeting.
My email: Hey [name]
How are you..?? Did you receive my email?? tomorrow we have to submit our work.. did you read mine?[name] date: 18.10.2010
The response: Hi [name], sorry about the late reply. I have been having problems with myinternet connection but thankfully I'm able to get emails again! I will combine the two and email you with it before putting it on Blackboard so you can say if you like it or not okay? [name xxxxx] [girl friend, 20yrs old,21.10.2010]
Analysing the frequency of greetings:
By far, the most frequent greeting form used by the senders of my emails are: Dear [name][surname], then dear [name], then [name], hello [name][surname], hi [name] and hello my darling.
Dear [name], [name], hi[name], hello [name] and hello my darling, were from people that I know very well, whereas Dear [name][surname] and hello [name][surname] were from people I do not know at all. However, the frequent greetings such as dear [name], hi, hello [name], confirm the general view by many people about this communicative medium as a mean of informal interaction between familiar people. On the other hand, David Crystal (2010, pg. 107) states that ''other factors rather than social relationships play important roles in why people may use informal greetings in their emails. '' He specifies them as the following, ''Time pressure, mood and on the go.''
Another thing which I have noticed in my short corpus of emails is that there are some emails in which the greeting is not spaced before the body of the email (as in traditional letters), but it is in the same line as the main text, usually placed within some words. However, there are some cases that it is the first email they have sent me (not a reply) and it is not spaced from the main body. (You can see more examples in Appendix 1, note 3)
1. Ok [my name] have a nice trip.
Tell your parents to take it easy on Mike ...Not to attack him on his behaviour [..........]
In my opinion such a placement (in the main body) is more informal than any other greetings in initial placements, because it is not very usual to appear in the main part. It has to be in the start of the email, where it is mean to be. (This is similar to traditional informal letter writing, but it similar now in formal written emails too.)
Let's continue to farewells. In my data sample I could find several of farewells. Most of my emails end with a pre-closing formula and name of the sender (see appendix 1, note 4). You can see some examples in the appendix1, but I will report some of them here. The most frequent farewells from people that are close to me were:
- Say hi to everyone and will talk again.[my uncle 50yrs old]
- Give my regards to everybody. [my uncle, 50 yrs old]
- Bye (plus) xxxxxx (kisses) [flat mate, 21yrs old]
- [name] (plus) xxxxx (kisses) [classmate, 2yrs old]
- Speak to you again, [name] xxxxx (kisses) [flat mate, 21 yrs old]
The emails I have received from my university lecturers usually close by:
[name] [Lecturer, man 40 yrs old]
- Best wishes [lecturer, woman, 45 yrs old]
- Or with just their name.
Some other emails may include their contact details in their closing strategy.(see appendix1, note 4)
Most of my social emails end with both elements present. Compared to traditional-letter writing, you can see the influence from the separate line which is usually spaced away from the main part. However, there are lots of emails from people I know that did not use a closing formula, but only gave me their name, and some of them did not give me a name, but they gave me only a closing farewell. However, all the farewells have different functions in each email. For example, my mother closes her email with a closing formula which indicated affection (I love you). My uncle used a formula which indicated a communicative indention (say hi to everyone and will talk again or take care and we talk again).
According to my data sample, I have noticed that all the persons (young and old) I have exchanged emails with, use a farewell, but they have got different preferences on the farewells. A man or a boy uses a different closing formula compared to a woman or a girl. I have mentioned some examples above from my mother. My mother and my (girl) friends always put kisses (xxxx) when closing their emails, whereas my cousin and my uncle do not use this element as a closing strategy (see appendix 1).
High use of 1st and 2nd pronouns
The lexicon of emails is predominantly like speech. Emails are characterised by the high use of pronouns, especially the 'I' and the 'YOU' pronoun. You can find some emails with high usage in I and YOU pronouns in my appendix 1, in section 5. I have counted the frequency of the first personal pronoun in four of my emails and I have found that in the first email there is 70,1 freq per thousand words, then 93,0 freq per thousand words, 87,7 freq per thousand words and then 134,0 freq per thousand words. I have also count the frequency of the second person pronoun 'you' and it has 84,2 ftw. You will find the analysis of the features in the Appendix 1.
Discourse markers (like, right, we, ok)
Another feature which is found in emails is discourse markers. Discourse markers are labelled as an interactive characteristic which has a high rate of usage in emails. Almost half of my emails included one of these discourse markers.
Some examples with discourse markers in my emails are the following:
- [.......]how cold is it outside!!! its like freezing! i hope we get snow, then we should all go outside and build a flat 122[........] [Flat mate, 21 yrs old]
- [........[she was like 'i have a few injuries but i am gonna make sure yo all get your workout' i was like nooooo. honestly its like just when you[........] [flatmate, 21 yrs old]
Type-token ratio and unique words in my emails:
I have also wanted to count the variety of the words in five random emails in order to see their type-token ratio and how many unique words each email included(the emails are in section 6 in the Appendix 1). The type-token of the first sample was 78, 15% , the type-token ratio for the second sample was 40, 81%, for the third one was 80, 7%, for the fourth one 77, 8% and for the fifth one was76, 9%. In writing, the TTR is typically high because a writing passage involves more words and it does not involve word repetition, whereas in speech the TTR is not very high because we do not use a rich vocabulary and we repeat many words. The first email I have analysed used to have a wide range of vocabulary and It did not involve too many repetition of the words. The TTR of the second email was relatively less in contrast to the first email. This is because the second email did not include many unique word types. Typically spoken language has not got higher TTR, whereas written language has. Therefore, we would place email TTR somewhere more closely to the TTR of writing because it has a high TTR.
Average message length:
The length of the text of an email is relatively short. A sample of 10 emails which were sent to me averaged 6.1 lines per message. Normally all emails have relatively short length because the writer does not say too much in an email.
Average sentences in an email:
After the average length in lines, I decided to pick out 8 emails of my short corpus and find the average sentences in each email. The average sentences in my 8 emails were 7.5 sentences per email.
Average sentence length:
Additionally, I have also picked two emails from the previous ones in the above section and I have calculated their average sentence length. In the first one the average words in the sentence were 7, 75 and in the second one 16, 67. Their average words in each sentence is quite high, similar those sentences in the written registers.
However, Emoticons are very frequently used in emails and this is a feature which distinguishes speech from writing. Email enables users to use these features in the visual, written medium. People use emoticons in order to be more interactive and more emotional like in real communication. They use emoticons because all of the essential nonverbal communication that takes place when you talk to someone is missing in email, and they want to make their feelings clear to others by putting them in their emails. You can see some parts of my emails which include different varieties of emoticons in Appendix 1, part 7.
Furthermore, I have received a lot of emails which included a few phrasal acronyms and abbreviations, such as 'Hbu' (known as how about you), 'lol' (laugh out loud),' dt' (down town), 'btw' (by the way) and 'anw' (anyways), 'u' (you), '4' (for), 'sum' (some), 'Waddupp?' (what's up). These abbreviations and acronyms are common enough in my exchanges with my cousin which he is a teenager.
Another characteristic of emails is 'ellipsis'. 'Ellipsis' can be defined by the tree dots or several strings of dots which are placed at the end of a statement.
- Ohh that's cool! I'm just goin to get sum food...I'm starving! Lol it's usual, everyone good :) what's r u doin today? [cousin, man, 19 yrs old]
- [....]but oh no! shes like and pulse or take it down further.....its a killer!![......] [flatmate, 21yrs old]
- [.......]I will mention to him , Lets see >> Mike is Mike .Every time i call he reply back to me after two to three days????? If everything is ok i will come in Sept for a long relaxation by myself.............. [flatmate, 21yrs old]
Usually the dots after a sentence indicate an unfinished thought and it is common in many forms of writing. Usually an ellipsis stand in place of something left out, something unstated.
Another feature of emails is the use of repeated characters and capital letters, often referred to as 'paralinguistic features'. I have found several of paralinguistic features in my emails. Some of them are the following:
- Flowers..dinner..etc....????? He knows about this things????? [uncle, 50yrs old]
- [...]i am gonna make sure yo all get your workout' i was like nooooo. honestly its like just when you [...] [flatmate, 21yr old]
- heeeey [name]! [cousin, 19 yrs old]
- [...]out i am like shhhh!!![....] [flatmate, 21 yrs old]
- !!!! yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!! [flatmate, 21 yrs old]
According to Leech and Svartvik (2006, pg.221), ''these are the nearest equivalent written language has to spoken-language features like voice quality, pitch range and loudness- paralinguistic dimensions that the human voice can draw on as extra expressive channel of communication.'' Thus, in my emails, people use these paralinguistic features in order to give emphasis on what they want to say, or express their excitement about something as if they were saying it in real speaking situations.
3. My short email corpus has revealed interesting patterns of variation in use of linguistic and language features across my texts.
After a comparison of 10 emails from younger and older people in order to identify how many words they use in their email, I have concluded that an adult's email has an average of 108.8 words per email, whereas in younger people their average was 61 words per email. This shows that young people do not write as much as the adults write. This is maybe due to the fact that younger people want to be less descriptive and they want to use fewer words when writing an email. The average sentence length of 3 emails extracted from both adults and younger people was, 15, 71 words per sentence for younger people and 6, 86 words per sentence for adults. This has shown that adults' sentences in the amount of words were shorter, whereas younger people use almost twice the amount of the words in each sentences compared to adults. However, females used more sentences in their emails and more words in their sentences, whereas males were using short sentences with a limited amount of words.
Moreover, it is notable that an adult's email covers a wide range of different topics and not just one in contrast to younger people. Adults map from the one topic to the other whereas young people cover a narrower number of topics. Additionally, my corpus of emails has shown that Females used to talk about different topics in an email, in contrast to males.
Both adults and young people use a greeting and closing formulas in their emails. However, females use different kinds of closings indicated affection, such as kisses (xxxxx) or lots of love, whereas males close differently their emails. Usually they just write their name as a closing formula, or they close their email by indicating a communicative intension (speak to you again, we wall talk again soon).
In addition, young people are more frequent users of abbreviations, acronyms and slang language. They put lots of emoticons in their emails and they use a nonstandard form of language. This kind of language does not characterize adults as they use a more formal language when writing their emails with fewer abbreviations and even fewer acronyms. They follow a more formal type of writing instead of using a more speech-like form of writing.
4. All the characteristics I have found and discussed in my emails are very well explained in the literature so far. They have not done any omissions; neither left any of the characteristics out. Some of the characteristics that I have found in my emails are stated in Leech and Svartvik (2006, pg.220) as the following: interactiveness, emotive expression and on-line processing. They state that ''these three characteristics were three of the features that distinguished typical speech from typical writing'' (pg.220). In the main, all of the features I have included in my study are found in the literature too, and they are adequately explained.
It is not very clear of whether an email is more speech like or more written like as it shares features with typical writing and typical speech. There are properties which drives us to the assumption that email is closer to speech (interactiveness, use of emoticons, turn-taking) and some other properties which drive us to the assumption that it is closer to writing (headings and farewells, length of sentences etc). However, an email does not differ to far from the traditional forms of spoken and written language as it shares the same features with both.
Crystal, D. (2006). Language and the internet (second edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Svartvik, J and Leech G. (2006) English- One tongue, many voices. Basingstok: Palgrave Macmillan
Campbell, Todd. (Date not specified). The first email message. Who sent it and what it said. Available on: http://www.cs.umd.edu/class/spring2002/cmsc434-0101/MUIseum/applications/firstemail.html Last accessed [10th Jan 2011]