Date: Thu, 7 Mar 1996 09:07:59 +0100


Subject: email usage

Yesterday, not having read this thread a tall, but feeling guilty at not

having come forward earlier because I will be at MLA, after all, I sent

Aallan a proposal for a presentation at the ADS MLA session. It happens to

coincide with the topic of the present debate, so I wondered if others of

you might like to have a forum at the MLA session on this very topic. I

reproduce for you below the proposal I sent. I composed it at the keyboard

hastily about five minutes after I read Allan's call for proposals, so

don't look for a whole lot of coherence.

I realize many ADS members will not be attending MLA any more. My other

professional obligations often require my presence at that conference, and

I continue to be a member. But surely there are enough of us with joint

membership to field at least one solid session, and since this is a topic

of concern to MLA members as well, perhaps we can actually do some good.

BTW, if someone could repost the initial query about the usage survey, I'd

like to catch up on the thread. Unfortunately, while my computer skills are

pretty good, I never really learned how to retrieve archival list material.

Is it on our web site? Can someone repost the web address? Thanks

Dennis (still observe the convention of the signature, but often not

starting with the greeting, and spelling email l.c. and solid, but not sure

if I use it as a count noun)



"The Language Police on the World Wide Web: Linguistic Correctness and the

Urbanizing of the Electronic Frontier."

Abstract: I will look at changing language attitudes and practices in the

realm of electronic communication, discussing some emerging standards and

relating them to the developing technology of the World Wide Web.

Early electronic communication had a frontier flavor to it: everything was

new; there were no received standards; a sense of heady lawlessness

prevailed on the electronic frontier. Email, electronic discussion lists,

and newsgroups were the province of technonerds. Clean text was not a high

priority with these early electronic communicators, most of whom used

clunky mainframes designed to crunch numbers, not handle text processing.

Revising prose was next to impossible with the line editors commonly in use

on these systems. The development of full screen mainframe text editors

didn't help that much. Besides, electronic communication had a

spontaneity--and thus a variability--more commonly associated with speech

than writing. However, changes in technology have led to changes in

communication practice. Email text processors like Eudora now emulate the

PC word processors ordinary folks have become used to. They allow us to

cut and paste, to search and replace, to highlight and delete, to use a

mouse, to attach text, graphics, and sound files. They even accommodate

spell checkers. All this has made email accessible to ordinary people,

and one result of the "democratization" of the internet, the urbanizing of

the electronic frontier, has been an increased concern with conventionality

and linguistic correctness in e-communications. It is common now to find

questions about how to begin an email communication. Errors in spelling or

usage, once considered a badge of honor, now produce flames. Language

gatekeepers even argue over the correct spelling of email (E-mail, e-mail),

and whether or not it can function as a verb or a count noun. An entire

newsgroup (alt.usage.english) devotes its bandwidth to issues of language

correctness. And the MLA begins the endless task of figuring out how to

footnote an electronic citation. As the electronic frontier recedes, the

old-timers often find themselves out of step with the conventionality the

newcomers seem so intent on uncovering. New technologies continue to offer

ways of communicating that outstrip the existing conventions, but the

pressure to develop conventions to meet the new technologies remains



Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Department of English office: 217-333-2392

University of Illinois fax: 217-333-4321

608 South Wright Street home: 217-384-1683

Urbana, Illinois 61801