1 The language of
2 An is formed by a fixed discourse structure. The structure is dictated by the software which has become increasingly standardized. Just like in a newspaper article or an academic paper, it is possible to find a fixed sequence of discourse elements. It is more difficult to find out an answer at the questions about the purpose of s and about the most appropriate kind of language which should be used to achieve that purpose.
3 An consists of some functional elements, all of which are similar in purpose to those found in traditional letters and memos. Usually the compose screen has got a bipartite structure, with an upper area (header or heading) and a lower area for the main text (body or message). If we want to attach a file, a third area is available, in which an icon representing the attachment is located.
4 headers The format of the header usually contains four main elements: 1) The e-address to which the message is being sent. 2) The e-address from which the message has been sent. 3) A brief description of the topic of the message (subject). 4) The date and time at which the message is sent.
5 Several optional elements are available within the header area: 1) A space for addresses which are to receive a copy of the message (Cc carbon copy). The message s prime recipient is informed that these copies have been sent. 2) A space for addresses which also receive a copy of the message, but without the prime recipient s knowledge (Bcc blind carbon copy).
6 3) A space in which a symbol (paper clip) appears if an attachment has been added. 4) A space in which a symbol (exclamation mark) appears if a priority is to be given to the message when it is received. There is very limited possibility of usage variation, the information being dictated by the software. Addresses structures are fixed.
7 About copies of messages, some scholars criticize them. If there are many copy recipients, the question of the order in which their addresses are listed may be of relevance. A principle of alphabetical order is advocated. Many scholars studied the language of the subject line. It is the first thing that the recipient looks at, along with the sender s name and so it is a very important element in the decision-making over the priority assigned to the message.
8 Junk mails are usually known to be junk thanks to the subject line (Free Your Life Forever, Win $1,000,000 dollars). Because there is a limit on the number of characters to be displayed in the recipient s Inbox summary, the subject line should be clear, brief, relevant and concrete.
9 It is possible to use the subject line as an introductory element in the message itself (subject line: do you want to.? Body: Yes, you do!). The body of the can be also considered in terms of obligatory and optional elements. The obligatory item is obviously the message. The variation concerns the extent to which it is preceded by a greeting (salutation, opening) and followed by a farewell (signature, closing).
10 Many s have no greeting at all, some of them have an automatically derived Dear X, Hi, X in the opening. Automatic acknowledgements, indicating that a message has been received by a system, or that the recipient is away from the office, do not usually greet.
11 Within institutions, where s are used for the sending out of information and instructions to the staff, it is not necessary a personalized greeting. It is just the same for a general enquiry posted to a group of recipients where the aim is to ask for information for the benefit of all. Between people who know each other, it is very common to send greetingless messages as prompt answer (Arriving message: David, will 7.30 be OK for the talk? Colin Response message: Fine).
12 But actually Crystal himself confesses that in his e- mails an introductory greeting was present most of the times, from most formal to informal. The most frequent greeting formula (Dear David, David, Hi David) seems to confirm that the medium is commonly considered as a means of informal interaction between friends or colleagues. Other factors as mood, time-pressure and so on should be considered in analysing the variations in usage.
13 About the location of the name, the greeting is usually at the head of the message body, spaced away from the main text. With informal messages the location varies. It is usually not spaced and separated and it is the first or second word of the message. Farewells present few possibilities for variation. Two elements are available: a pre-closing formula (Best wishes) and the identification of the sender.
14 Messages usually end with both elements present, due to the influence of traditional letter writing. The usual range of formulae from traditional letter-writing are employed, but the Yours sincerely formula is not used. IDs can be automatically inserted, titles and qualifications may be present.
15 Automatic signatures may be inserted by the mailer software. Some of them consist simply of a person s full name, address and contact details, others add a character note, such as a slogan, a quotation, a logo. The farewell element has two different functions that make it different from traditional letters: 1) It acts as boundary marker (no further scrolling down is needed as no further personalized text is following). 2) It has an extended identity function (it is useful if the e-address is a nickname or does not specify the full name).
16 Notwithstanding the fact that the s guides offer a quite standardized picture, actually it is possible to find a remarkable amount of variation. Cultural differences must be considered. Some cultures are more formal than others and they use what we consider formal language all the time (Japanese). Furthermore there could be differences due to age, personality, profession, background.
17 As with other domains, allowing a range of linguistic options increases the communicative power of the medium. Anyway, people are more influenced by the behaviour of their correspondents than by the recommendations of manuals. Style books about s writing are not different from the ones devoted to older methods. Their content is largely traditional, giving advice on eliminating wordiness and guidance on grammar.
18 Most of these books are prescriptive. Prescriptions result from the 2 factors that define the situation: the limitations imposed by screen and the dynamic nature of the dialogue between sender and receiver. A widely held view is that the message should be entirely visible within a single screenview, without scrolling.
19 It is usually possible, insofar as people use e- mails for rapid conversational exchanges. When messages get longer, the manuals recommend that special attention is paid to the information on the opening screen (provide a strong first paragraph or a summary). An analogy with the inverted pyramid style from newspaper writing is often drawn.
20 An reader and writer should assume that the last paragraph of the message might never be seen. Clarity and intelligibility are both recommended. Writers should use a line-of-white between paragraphs or highlight points in a list and should write short sentences to facilitate reading on screen.
21 But actually there is no guarantee that the message as reproduced on the writer s screen will appear in the same configuration when it reaches the reader s. About the message s intelligibility, it might be thought to be no different from that in any other communication. But the speed with which s are usually written makes it more likely that the reflection process will not take place.
22 Most of the manuals pay lip-service to informal writing and end up with recommending the orthodox rules of the standard language. Misspellings are quite common (ex.: hav eyou got the tikcets yet?) but, unlike what would happen in traditional writing, the reader is not going to make a social judgement on the basis of such data.
23 The same anxiety is expressed over punctuation errors, because they can impede communication. Actually it is very unlikely that misspellings errors and punctuation errors could make the message incomprehensible. The message s coherence is more important. Usually when you write an you expect a reply, so the communicative unit is the exchange.
24 The main linguistic evidence for exchanges is the frequency with which response messages begin with an acknowledgement that there has been a previous message (ex.: yes, I think you re right). An explicit acknowledgement of a previous message is common (thanks for your message). Formality varies greatly. In very short answers it is unlikely to find an acknowledgement.
25 Acknowledgements are also omitted when the text of the previous message is reproduced further down the screen. The message is usually short, but there is individual variation. s from institution are usually much longer. The dialogic character of the exchange is made explicit when you use the reply to author option.
26 Message intercalation, the possibility of answering an e- mail just adding reactions within the just received, is a unique feature of language and a property which could only succeed in an electronic medium. It is possible to recognize the original through the insertion of rightpointing angle brackets at the beginning of each sentence. Example: >I hope to be there by six, though everything depends on >the trains. I know remember last time? >will you be coming by train yourself, or are you driving this time? Car >I know Fred is bringing his car.
27 It is also possible to respond not by adding reactions to selected parts of the original text, but by editing the original text so that only those parts which require reaction are left, just like in a quotation. This procedure has been called framing, because of the way in which the quoted text is demarked typographically (angle brackets).
28 Strengths of framing: A series of points can be answered rapidly. Time and memory are saved, because it is not necessary to scroll down the to find the original remarks and dealing with more points at once saves repeated s. Weaknesses of framing: Meaning can change when words are quoted out of context.
29 Traditional letter-writing presents a facet of the writer s personality through such features as the choice of notepaper, style of paragraphing, signature format and so on. But with the , all the extra meaning is lost. Features such as screen structure, message openings and closings, dialogic structures and framing are central to the identification of e- mail as a linguistic variety.
30 Some scholars stressed the informal features of the message, but these are not indicative of the variety as a whole. Many conversations are of the kind of the question/answer exchanges. Questions, rhetorical questions in particular, are more common in s than in traditional writings. Self-answering is also quite common.
31 is distinctive at a graphic level, there is default screenview for many ers. There is a reduced use of capitalization and smileys are available.
32 To sum up in Crystal s view the s have elements of the memo (fixed header structure), of the informal letter, of the telephone conversation and sometimes of the telegram, but actually it is like none of these. It is formally and functionally unique. Functionally they are quick in obtaining a response. Anyway, there is a widespread feeling that s are not appropriate for particular circumstances as reporting a family death or breaking off a relationship.
33 On the other hand, people has a tendency to self-disclose on the computer. is a perfect means of communication, allowing people to communicate very easily. They have come to be used for some of the purposes of traditional letters (sending of CV), but it has not yet supplanted conventional letter for others.