First Advisor

Beatrice Oshika

Term of Graduation

Spring 1994

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Applied Linguistics




Interpersonal communication, Electronic mail systems



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, ii, 97 pages)


Electronic mail has become a widely used medium of communication in academia, government, and business. It is unique as a communication medium because it makes conversations across time, space, and organizational levels possible. The ability of electronic mail to "forward" a message allows for the creation of chains that preserve the entire conversation for each participant. This appears to be a new linguistic form in which the interactive features of spoken conversation are realized using electronically transmitted text.

The purpose of the present study was to determine the extent of the similarities and differences between spoken conversation and electronic mail exchanges. The research questions addressed were 1) What techniques that occur in spoken conversations also occur in electronic mail exchanges?, and 2) How are the techniques used in spoken conversations modified or different in electronic mail exchanges?

The data used in this study consisted of electronic mail text collected by the author in the course of her daily work in the data processing division of a large financial institution. The authors were computer technicians and middle managers with a wide diversity of educational backgrounds. Sixteen samples of message "chains" that contained at least three individual messages were selected for in-depth analysis. These samples were analyzed for conversational openings and closings, tum-taking mechanisms, adjacency pairs, and repetition.

Of the structural features studied, repetition was used in ways most similar to its uses in spoken conversation. The feature having the most differences from spoken interaction was the tum-taking system. In the electronic mail exchanges there was more variation in the sender's selection of the next sender, including the option for multiple simultaneous replies. Openings and closings took many forms, some of them the same as in spoken conversation. Among the forms that differed were openings that resembled the salutation in a letter and closings that followed each individual message in a "chain." Adjacency pairs such as questions and closings were paired as in spoken conversation, while openings, thanks, and apologies occurred as single utterances.


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