Speech Events and E-Mail Mailing Lists

A query from a colleague led me to look back at a Master’s dissertation I wrote in 1996, back in the very early days of the Internet: Writing Conversation: An Analysis of Speech Events in E-mail Mailing Lists In this paper, I looked at the types of speech events used in this specific type of communication. From my abstract:

In this paper, I will discuss how mailing lists function, the different types of mailing lists that exist, and how the type of mailing list can influence the type of discourse that is used on the list. Then I will discuss the different types of speech events that are used on mailing lists. Finally, I will show how those speech events are realized by examining an extended thread from one mailing list.

I had a re-read of the paper this evening, something I hadn’t done in more than ten years (the last time I looked at it was when a linguistics journal asked me to provide a shorter version for publication, back in 2000). And, you know what, it’s actually kind of interesting. I wrote this paper back in a time when computer-mediated communication was new, and the general public hadn’t yet embraced the internet. In addition, I did all my research using the internet: I didn’t set foot in a single library, and found papers on the web, or contacted authors who sent me off-prints of articles they had written.

This probably won’t interest many of my readers, but some of you, who have been using the internet for a long time, may want to take a glance at it and see how much has changed, and how much hasn’t. My paper was the first on a niche subject – speech events in e-mail – and it has been quoted by many other papers. While it earned my a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics, I didn’t pursue the field after that. It’s a shame, because it was quite interesting, and with the tools we now have for analyzing textual corpora, the possibilities are endless.

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