Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The language of e-mail 103

formula. I have only one instance in my files of a closing formula
which was not followed by a name – the sender perhaps thinking
that it was not needed, given its presence in the header (alterna-
tively, it might have been the result of forgetfulness, or have been
mysteriously lost in transmission).^12 The usual range of formu-
lae, known from traditional letter-writing, is employed, with the
same range of functions (affection, gratitude, expectation, com-
municative intent, and so on):Lots of love,Thanks for everything,
See you soon,Let me know if this isn’t clear, etc. The informality of
the medium is reflected in the relative absence of theYourssincerely
type (turning up in only 5% of my messages, though it seems to
be increasing). There seems to be no difference between old and
young in their predilection for formulae, though preferences vary
dramatically, as we would expect. (I cannot see myself ever using
theta ta babeused by one of my children to her friend.)
IDs can be manually or automatically inserted. The manual ones
are of three kinds: first name, initial letter(s), and first name fol-
lowed by surname (or vice versa in languages where the ordering
name’ may be present, depending on the formality of the message;
and there may also be a status or origin identifier on a separate line
(e.g.Course Organizer, Personnel Department). In informal inter-
action, it is common to see the use of initialisms – either the initial
letter of just the first name, or of both the first name and surname –
even between people who do not know each other well. One reason
for this is the bridging option it provides between the message body
and a customized signature. In a situation such as the following,
(1) may be considered too impersonal, and (2) redundant, whereas
(3) combines an element of personal acknowledgement with the
full information.

(^12) I have no instances of the avoidance of a farewell, in my interpersonal e-mail; on the other
hand, e-mails from junk-mail organizations rarely end with a farewell. Gains (1998) had
5 instances out of 54 in his interpersonal sample and 5 out of 62 in his institutional
sample. Here too there seem to be cultural differences. In Hong Kong, Li Lan (2000)
found 13 out of 77 interpersonal e-mails without a closing and 19 out of 76 institutional
ones (25%).

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