Date: Thu, 7 Mar 1996 09:07:59 +0100 From: debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UIUC.EDU 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) -- Proposal: "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 strong. -- 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