Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The language of e-mail 101

greeting.^9 They express a wide range of effects, from most formal to
most informal, and indicate several kinds of social relationship and
intimacy. They could be classified in many ways, but an important
variable is the use of an initial endearment (+Dearmessages were
twice as common as –Dearmessages).

  • Dear
    General word:^10 Hi,Hello again,Hi there!,Bonjour
    General word plus ID:Hi from Pete,Goodday from Oz
    Intimate name alone:David,david,Dave,DC,Dad
    Combination of general word and intimate name:HiDavid,Hey
    Hi dad
    Formal name:Professor Crystal,Professor
    [but never (yet): General word and formal name:∗Hi,Professor
    Crystal,∗Hello Professor]

With intimate name:Dear David,Dear Dave
With whole name:Dear David Crystal,Annwyl David Crystal
[Welsh: ‘Dear’]
With title and surname:Dear Professor Crystal,Dear Dr Crystal,
Dear Mr Crystal,Estimado profesor Crystal

By far the most frequent individual greeting formula wasDear
David, followed byDavid, thenHi David, confirming the general
view about the medium as a means of informal interaction between
people who know each other. On the other hand, such a range of

(^9) This is similar to Gains (1998), where 34 out of 54 (63%) interpersonal e-mails had a
greeting. On the other hand, contextual differences are important: in an institutional
setting, where messages were being sent out to all members of staff, 57 out of 62 (92%)
had no greeting. Li Lan (2000) points out that the distinction between native and non-
native speakers can also be important: in his sample from Hong Kong, using non-native
speakers, far more interpersonal e-mails had a greeting than in Gains’ native-speaker
sample (73 out of 77, or 95%); and in Li Lan’s institutional setting only 41 out of 76
(54%) had no greeting. The samples in these studies are small, but even small samples
10 are enough to demonstrate the existence of great variation.
This category was much more varied in the e-mails addressed to my children:Hey,
Heyyy,Hiya,Hello folks(an unusual plural, given the singular recipient),Hi darlin,etc.
Exclamation marks also proliferated, and several greetings were in capital letters.

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