Book Review: Alphabet to E-mail

Alphabet to E-mail
by Naomi S. Baron

Do U feel OK to write msgs NE way you pls?  Or do you think that we should spend as much care and attention in the composition and writing of e-mail messages as we would writing notes with pen and paper?  The very intangibility of electronic messages has created a situation in which the normal rules of written communication (historically much more formal than spoken language) have entered a new era.

Whilst some believe that no less effort should be made in e-mail communication, as many people apparently find it acceptable to write electronic notes, even to strangers, that are terse to the point of rudeness in the eyes of others.  “Please” and “Thank you” are often lost to the sake of brevity and efficiency – something which this reporter, personally, finds quite disturbing on receipt of a message; yet judging from most of the messages in my inbox, I think I must be in the minority.  The fact is that there are no rules, as yet and certainly no reference books that can offer guidance on e-mail etiquette.  In the last five or ten years, society has embraced e-mail to an astonishing extent – yet nobody is quite sure exactly what it is, and how it should be used.

So how did we get to this state of affairs?  Naomi Baron has tried to tackle this very question, in this book which traces the development of written English through from the pre-printing press age to e-mail and instant messaging.  Baron’s emphasis, as you might expect from a professor of Linguistics, is on writers’ style and the decreasing levels of formality used on the page (or screen).  It’s an interesting read, and does a good job of trying to develop a coherent theory of how and why we have arrived at the ways in which we use the language today; but ultimately, she has no definite answers (the book’s last chapter is entitled “Why the Jury’s Still Out on E-mail”.)

Order it now (or if not now, perhaps L8R!) at amazon.com

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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