E-mail excludes the multiple nonlinguistic cues and gestures that facilitate face-to-face communication. How, then, should interaction in a text-based context be understood? The authors analyze the problems and solutions experienced by a research panel that communicated over e-mail and face-to-face for 18 months, evaluating both kinds of exchanges alongside survey and interview data. Semiotic and linguistic theory is used to expose essential properties associated with the successful communication of meaning in each context. The authors find that e-mail requires the cultivation of new techniques for specifically conveying the "pragmatic information" that connects the meaning of words to their users. Such information is assigned in e-mail through the use of what are termed emphatic, referential, and characterizing semiotic tactics. These tactics are also evident in sustained online interactions studied by other researchers. This theoretical vocabulary represents an alternative to the dominant sociological characterization of e-mail as an inferior substitute for face-to-face interaction.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science