Computer Mediated Communication

e-English - Language on the Internet

Seminar Paper, 2011

31 Pages, Grade: 13 Punkte


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. From Old English to e-English: a survey

3. Linguistic issues
3.1 The oral – written distinction
3.2 Basic ideas regarding language on the Internet

4. Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)
4.1 Definition

5. E-mail

6. Introduction into chat room language
6.1 Why to study IRC?
6.2 Chat room English: a study
6.3 General observations concerning the language in IRC
6.4.1 Indian Chat
6.4.2 UK – Chat
6.4.3 American chat
6.5 Linguistic features: an overview

7 Conclusions

1. Introduction

English, being a global language with more than 400 million L1 speakers and many hundreds of millions second language speakers, has its origin in the Anglo-Saxon period (McIntyre 2009: 31). Throughout time the English language has undergone an extensive change. In the beginning there were four major dialects of Old English. Nowadays, English, as a lingua franca, is spoken in all parts of the world and has become the official language in countries like Uganda, Liberia or Ghana (McIntyre 2009: 31).

As my term paper is concerned with the topic of e-English, it is vital to mention that the development of the internet and the World Wide Web, two distinctive terms that must be looked at separately, had a huge impact on the development of English (Baron 2003: 2). As a result of the British colonisation, English spread overseas and had been spoken in all parts of the British Empire. The Expansion of the English language still continues nowadays, though not through colonisation, but a mixture of various factors such as politics, economics and most important with regard to my term paper technology (McIntyre 2009: 27).

Therefore, the first aspect to point out in this essay focuses on the technical requirements that facilitate language exchange throughout the entire world.

This will lead to the analysis of significant differences between spoken and written language in general and the effects of new technologies like the World Wide Web on the English language in particular. Subsequent to this, the major part of the term paper introduces the umbrella term Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and investigates the question whether CMC could be seen as a new type of language or not.

Since the term CMC encompasses a broad spectrum of writing options ranging from personally written off-line texts on the one end of the scale to one-to-one dialogue through e-mails or short messages on the other end (Baron 2003: 52), various types of CMC including e-mail and chat room language will be discussed and presented within this paragraph.

The term paper ends with a conclusion, bringing together the results of the multiple factors involved in CMC read before the question of its influence on traditional written English and communication in daily life.

2. From Old English to e-English: a survey

The only way of approaching the umbrella term CMC, is to acquaint oneself with the history of the English language and the technological processes leading to the establishment of the World Wide Web as a widespread medium of communication.

As already stated in the introductory part of this paper, language constantly changes and it can not be looked at as separated from all those changes taking place in the world, including technical innovations such as the World Wide Web.

According to Meyer, linguists of all centuries have been concerned with the question “Why do languages change?” but have not come to a definitive conclusion so far.

In this context it appears vital to point at a more general reason for the restless language change, which is to be found in the process of communication itself. Communication, being marked by conflicting and varying intentions of the communicating agents, depends on different factors that have to be taken into consideration. First of all, communication is based on the principle of optimal comprehensibility, which means that people communicating with each other want to be understood. Secondly, people in general try to avoid obsolete expressions, which relates to the principle of economy (Meyer 2002: 101). In the course of this paper these basic principles will prove right, when it comes to the analysis of different types of CMC.

As a result of the British colonisation in the Early Modern period, the English tongue has spread to parts of the world far away from the British Isle. Puritan settlers found their home in the New World and had established thirteen British colonies by the year 1732. After the War of Independence, the British Empire had to give up their colonies, but the English language persisted as the official language. The colonisation continued with the occupation of places as Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia and South-, East- and West Africa. In 1788 the British Empire established a colony in Sydney and settled down in New Zealand in 1840 (McIntyre 2009: 26-27). By implication of this aggressive foreign policy, English has become a global language, spoken in all parts of the world, gaining the leading position in CMC. Referring to Crystal, the term “global language” as it is used in this context has nothing to do with the number of speakers, but with the question who those speakers are. Following his suggestion, one has to analyse the role of English in different countries (McIntyre 2009: 31-32).

Apart from the fact, that English is the language of many international organizations like the NATO or the European Union; English is the leading language of electronic communication in a globalized world. Nowadays, people from all over the world are connected with one another via World Wide Web. Social networks such as “facebook” or “bing” offer the opportunity to stay in contact with people in foreign countries, to upload pictures, write messages or make use of the chat function. In accordance with the two basic principles of comprehensibility and economy introduced above, certain types of CMC like chat room English ask for the writer’s ability to convey information very quickly.

3. Linguistic issues

Within the framework of the seminar “World Englishes”, we have come across multiple varieties of English. In order to contribute consolidated findings to this topic, the major interest within the analysis of certain types of CMC lies in the detection of frequently observable linguistic features.

3.1 The oral – written distinction

Conversation analysis and textlinguistics are two diverging approaches to connected discourse. Textlinguistics concentrates on written discourse, whereas conversation analysis focuses on interactive oral discourse (Meyer 2002: 154-155). Based on this basic assumption, Meyer argues, that these two types of discourse do not differ first and foremost in the medium they are conveyed, but rather in “the context of situation” (Meyer 2002: 155). In order to reinforce this point of view, Meyer cites Rosen who claims that:

“The writer is a lonely figure cut off from the stimulus and corrective of listeners. He must be a predictor of reactions and act on his predictions. He writes with one hand tied behind his being robbed of gesture. He is robbed too of his tone of voice and the aid of clues the environment provides. He is condemned to monologue; there is no one to help out, to fill the silence, put words in his mouth or make encouraging noises” (Rosen 1971 in: Meyer 2002: 155).

This statement corresponds to Baron`s findings whereby modern linguistics has preferred the study of spoken language to the study of written language. In this context he refers to Bloomfield who argues that writing is “merely a way of recording language by means of visible marks” (Bloomfield 1933 in: Baron 2003: 5).

Contrary to written discourse, face-to-face interaction demands immediate reaction to another person’s contributions. As a consequence, a large discrepancy between written and oral discourse is observable (Meyer 2002: 155). In order to highlight these differences, Meyer contrasts various, idealized features of spoken with written discourse. With regard to spoken discourse he points to the “simpler morphosyntactic structure” (Meyer 2002: 155), including the avoidance of relative clauses and the frequent usage of deictic pronouns like this, that, here, now. Furthermore, Meyer states that spoken discourse has a “smaller, more general, and more informal vocabulary” (Meyer 2002: 155). On the other side of the coin, to name but just a few features, planned written discourse stands out due to its complex morphosyntactic structures, nominalisations, a larger and more formal vocabulary and the use of the passive (Meyer 2002: 156). The two idealized types of communication only mark the two extremes on a scale of several discourse types. Accompanied by the continuous development of communication technology over the last century, various new types of communication, such as, e-mail message or internet chat, fill the gap between oral and written discourse.

As a result to this, the relationship between speech and writing undergoes changes over time. Referring to the English language, for example, writing has moved from a highly formal speech, to a “significantly independent linguistic modality, to now commonly re-presenting informal speech” (Baron 2003: 5). However, it is regularly claimed that written language on the internet appears to be more “casual” than traditional written language, Baron argues that this trend is “at least half a century old” and should not be equalized with the invention of the internet (Baron 2003: 5). Nonetheless, it is worthwhile investigating the effects of technology on language.

3.2 Basic ideas regarding language on the Internet

When looking at written discourse on the Internet, one has to bear in mind that this way of communication is not exclusively affected by modality and technology but to a great extend influenced by linguistic and cultural differences (Baron 2003: 7). In this context, cultural awareness appears to be a key competence that prevents misunderstandings.

The Internet, being developed as “an English based network” (Baron 2003: 8), is characterized by multilingualism. Tackling the question of language diversity, two major tendencies emerge simultaneously. On the one hand, there is an increasing number of non-English content to be found on the Internet. On the other hand, English establishes as the Lingua Franca of the Internet (Baron 2003: 8). The second observation automatically leads to the question, which dialect should be applied in CMC? Baron stresses the thought that certain people might react in pedantic ways, insisting on familiar linguistic characteristics (Baron 2003: 9). The dynamic changes in the English language transmitted via Internet challenge the question, whether a clear-cut distinction between informal face-to-face conversation and more formal written discourse is possible nowadays or not. Regarding this problem, Baron states that there is “an uncertainty over what linguistic register is appropriate” (Baron 2003: 9) in different situations. In order to cope with this issue, she advices to reflect on the three parameters form, audience and content before one is to communicate on the Internet. Content is concerned with the question whether the type of communication is suitable in a particular situation. Audience deals with the question what kind of person the addressee is. The term form relates to the question of style to be applied (Baron 2003: 10).

4. Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)

The first step in approaching Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) has already been taken in the description of the basic conditions that paved the way for the English language to become a global language. With regard to the effects of technology on the English language, McIntyre states:

“The internet, developed in the 1960s as a reource for the US military, was popularised via the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, and has been an immensely important vehicle for the development of English into a global language” (McIntyre 2009: 31).

Taking these finding into consideration, the following paragraph seeks to define and analyse the term CMC.

4.1 Definition

According to Baron, Computer mediation can be defined as “any natural language messaging that is transmitted and/or received via a computer connection” (Baron 2003: 10). However, this definition does not exclude other forms of written/spoken messages such as short text messages (SMS) or communication through a webcam.

As already pointed out in the introduction, CMC as an umbrella term, covers a wide range of different sub categories, including chat room-, short message- and email communication. Therefore, the following part of the paragraph will be dealing with two types of CMC in a more elaborated way. As a conclusion the findings have to be read against the background of the chapter on linguistic issues.

5. E-mail

In contrast to chat group conversation, e-mail communication typically takes place between parties sending messages to each others mailbox. This makes e-mail less spontaneous than synchronous chat group communication (Crystal 2001: 10).

E-mail, being one type of CMC enjoys great popularity nowadays. In direct connection with the results presented in the chapter on linguistics issues, Isabel Berman investigates the topic of appropriate linguistic register in e-mail discourse. Within the framework of her project, law students were given a hypothetical legal case and asked to write a formal letter to one of the parties involved in the case and another memo e-mail to a senior partner in a law firm. Neither an instruction was given, nor was there any restriction regarding the form of the e-mails. At the end of the project, the students were interviewed and had to reflect on the form of their e-mails (Berman 2006: 1).

Finally, it has to asked, if we can draw general conclusions regarding the language of e-mail?

Under reference to Crystal’s book Language and the Internet (2001), Berman states that Crystal praises e-mail writing as a powerful tool in CMC, stressing its huge impact on linguistics. In order to distinguish between e-mail and other types of CMC, Crystal introduces several features, frequently associated with e-mail writing:

“a cross between a conversation and a letter, e-mail is as fast as a telegram and as cheap as a whisper […] a telegraph, a memo, and a palaver rolled into one […] faster than a speeding letter, cheaper than a phone call […] a strange blend of writing and talking” (Crystal 2001: 125)

In dependence on the quote, Crystal comments that all analogies bear truth in it. They describe single features of e-mail conversation, which are deeply interwoven with each other. According to Crystal, e-mail writing is “formally and functionally, unique” (Crystal 2001: 125), and correspondingly more overarching than the characteristics introduced above (Crystal 2001: 125).

In this context, Crystal draws attention to the fact, that e-mail writing is strongly related to the prescriptive tradition, which becomes obvious when looking at one of the many e-mail style books. For the major part, these books are concerned with the question of how to write e-mails in an effective way (Crystal 2001: 107). One example can be found in the appendix of this work under the headline “Five rules of using e-mail”. According to this list one should first reconsider whether e-mail is an appropriate vehicle to transmitter a certain message. Followed by the request to pay attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation, the authors admonish the writer to not use offensive language in any way. Even though, one section of a book by Flynn and Flynn is called “Bending a few rules to strike an appropriate tone” (Crystal 2001: 108) Crystal states that:

“Although this is a reaction against traditional prescriptive pedagogy, the effect is nonetheless to reinforce a highly selective view of what language is all about, by focusing on a tiny set of rules to the exclusion of the more general properties of language which characterize the maintext of e-mail messages. These properties result from the two chief factors which define the e-mail situation: the limitation imposed by the screen and the associated software; and the dynamic nature of the dialogue between sender and receiver” (Crystal 2001: 108-109).

Crystal predicts a tendency towards a broader stylistic range to be applied in e-mails. In reverse this means that the prescriptive tradition will fail in the attempt to establish a ruled governed set of e-mail language properties gaining general recognition (Crystal 2001: 107). Hence, e-mail writing, being a “routine part of social life” (Crystal 2001: 108) nowadays, is comparatively more influenced by the linguistic manners of its users, than by any style guide (Crystal 2001: 107). Taking these finding into consideration, it is vital examining Isabel Berman’s paper in a more elaborated way. Focusing on the relationship between e-mail writing and traditional writing, Berman relates to Crystal and Warschauer, who both think of e-mail as an opportunity for language education rather than a threat (Berman 2006: 3). The following quote by Crystal gives an impression of the importance of e-mail writing in everyday life:

“The result will be a medium which will portray a wide range of stylistic expressiveness, from formal to informal, just as other mediums have come to do, and where the pressure on users will be to display stylistic consistency, in the same way that this is required in other forms of writing. E-mail will then take its place in the school curriculum, not as a medium to be feared for its linguistic irresponsibility […] but as one which offers a further domain within which the children can develop their ability to consolidate their stylistic intuitions and make responsible linguistic choices” (Crystal 2001: 128).

The promotion of self-reliance in the handling of stylistic expressiveness is a central issue when it comes to the discussion of pros and cons of a prescriptive approach towards e-mail. On the basis of the fact that there is no central power controlling every piece of work to be found on the net, people are free in the choice of their contributions, which, spoken from a more general perspective, affects the language of the Web as a whole (Berman 2006: 3-4). Another major problem tackled in Berman’s essay is the overlap between informal language and formal structures. This phenomenon leads to the successive integration of informal language into the genre of e-mail (Berman 2006: 6).

According to Berman 9 out of 13 professors from the IDC-Herzliya stated that they accept SMS-shorthand in informal e-mail messages. Nonetheless, all of the professors would not accept this type of informal language in more formal documents like seminar papers (Berman 2006: 8).

As a result of Berman’s project, only one student attempted a formal writing style, whereas all other students have incorporated text messaging shorthand in their e-mails.

Furthermore, it has become evident that the style of the e-mails depends on the addressee. In all cases the memo e-mails to the partners have been far more formal than those written to the parties (Berman 2006: 8). Respectively, Berman discusses an e-mail containing informal style. The following sentence gives an impression of how formal English can be transformed: “xs cmpnstn fnds wl b nvstd 4 srvvng fmly mmbrs” (Berman 2006: 8).

This, being an example of how SMS writing influences e-mail writing, leads to the conclusion that many students seem to have internalized the principle of economy as pointed out by Meyer in the paragraph “From Old-English to e-English: a survey”. However, it is worthwhile noticing, that the principle of comprehensibility does to a great extend depend on the receiver. Read before this background, Berman states that most of the people involved in the project would be able to decode the message (Berman 2006: 6). Analysing the e-mail, Berman calls attention to the systematically omission of vowels and the similarity to Hebrew language. At first sight this phenomenon appears to be related to the fact, that the project took place at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, a place predominantly visited by speakers of Hebrew.

Though, research on the Internet proves the spread of this linguistic feature throughout the World Wide Web as illustrated by the examples found on “”:

XLNT :Excellent

XQZT: Exquisite

( 01.09.2010)

Intelligibility is a major theme, within the discussion of e-mail. In comparison to written language found in letters, e-mail is much more spontaneous and unconsidered. Most of the time misspellings, do not lead to unintelligibility as the following example illustrates: “I`ll procede with the practical arrangements. Have you got the tickets yet?”

Whereas the utterance: “Cab we reach you by 8?” is ambiguous in its meaning and unintelligible (Crystal 2001: 111). According to Crystal, a message’s coherence is more likely to cause unintelligibility than misspelling. One major reason therefore, is the dialogic character of e-mail communication (Crystal 2001: 112).

Another interesting issue worthwhile analyzing in context of e-mail language, deals with the length of e-mails. As shown in appendix 2, the length of e-mails depends on the sender – receiver relationship. Personalized incoming messages had an average of 10.9 lines (without greetings, farewells…), whereas institutional incoming messages had an average of 30.65 lines. Furthermore, does the table indicate that 80% of the personalized incoming messages are 4 lines or less (Crystal 2001: 114-115).

The chapter on e-mail has unearthed various results with a view to language used in e-mail. First of all, it has to be stated that e-mail is a communication tool applied by millions of people each day. The content and writing style of an e-mail depends on several factors such as the receiver, age of the user, time available as well as a person’s language skills.

Secondly, research has shown that there is a tendency towards an overlap between informal language and formal structures in e-mail. Like SMS, e-mail follows the two basic principles of intelligibility and economy introduced in the chapter “From Old-English to e-English: a survey. Even though, a prescriptive approach towards e-mail writing makes demands on a ruled governed application of this type of communication, Crystal and Warschauer both stress the fact that people are free in the choice of their contributions. As a consequence, the language of e-mail continuously develops and has an enormous influence on every day language.


Excerpt out of 31 pages


Computer Mediated Communication
e-English - Language on the Internet
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Neuere Philologien)
World Englishes
13 Punkte
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
548 KB
computer, mediated, communication, language, internet, e-english, sms language
Quote paper
Sebastian Weber (Author), 2011, Computer Mediated Communication, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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