Re: Corpora: sloppiness in e-mails

From: Jasper Holmes (
Date: Tue Apr 10 2001 - 11:34:04 MET DST

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    With due respect to Geoffrey, I think that excessively long emails are
    far more of an imposition than unedited ones. For myself, I do often
    read over what I've written to check it expresses what I intend it to,
    but that is for my benefit, not the reader's/s'.

    Incidentally, you implicitly acknowledge that an email message is not
    the same kind of text as a letter in your mailing: no salutation,
    address at the bottom, ...


    Geoffrey Sampson wrote:
    > I was interested in one particular point in Ramesh Krishnamurthy's posting,
    > which asked:
    > How carefully do we all edit our emails? Some obviously more than others.
    > If we spend too long editing, we lose the spontaneity; if we don't edit
    > at all, we make typos, overlook errors, etc.
    > I have become used over the last ten years or so to the fact that e-mails
    > are regularly sent out with a level of sloppiness in editing that would be
    > intolerable in ordinary writing, but Ramesh's comment is the first time I
    > remember seeing a suggestion that this may be excusable. He is saying that
    > the spontaneity of e-mails is a virtue in its own right which weighs in
    > the balance against the virtue of careful editing.
    > With due respect to Ramesh, I can't see this myself. To me, sloppily-
    > expressed e-mails are just selfishness. In the days when written
    > communication went via paper, there was a clear social convention that the
    > burden was on the writer to make the reader's task as easy as possible by
    > putting in the effort necessary to produce the "cleanest" fair copy he
    > could. Since the writer was the one taking the initiative and the reader
    > was the passive "target" (in the case of private communication), and in
    > the case of public communication there was typically one writer but many
    > readers per text, this seems a good convention. Sloppy e-mails, whether
    > private or circular, seem to be simply a case of abandoning this
    > convention in favour of the writer allowing himself to throw more of the
    > overall burden of communication into the reader's lap. I don't understand
    > what virtue there is in "spontaneity" that might offset this. Spontaneous
    > communication sounds like a polite way of referring to over-hasty,
    > ill-thought-out communication; we are all bombarded with far more
    > communications than we can deal with anyway, so I for one would much prefer
    > the incoming stuff to be carefully filtered by its senders before
    > transmission.
    > E-mail is not, to my mind, the only way in which the computer revolution has
    > involved greater selfishness on the part of "senders" in the sender/receiver
    > relationships characteristic of communication. It is quite common these
    > days to be sent material over the electronic net which cannot be read or
    > used without installing some special software or engaging in a little
    > research exercise to find out how to deal with it. Personally I bung any
    > such material straight into the electronic dustbin, but the frequency of
    > the phenomenon shows that many people must be browbeaten by social pressure
    > into putting the effort in. Before the computer revolution, anything
    > analogous would have been seen as laughable, and the laughter would have been
    > at the expense of the presumptuous persons who attempted to throw such
    > burdens onto their communication partners. That was the right attitude,
    > I believe, and we ought not to abandon it without a struggle.
    > -- I do realize that many pairs of Corpora List eyes will now be scanning this
    > message to find an incorrect classical plural, split infinitive, or the
    > like; I'll just have to take my chances on that.
    > G.R. Sampson, Professor of Natural Language Computing
    > School of Cognitive & Computing Sciences
    > University of Sussex
    > Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, GB
    > e-mail
    > tel. +44 1273 678525
    > fax +44 1273 671320
    > web

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