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The Inbox

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E-mail is a common medium of communication in academic settings, and its informal nature has given rise to unique discourse strategies that can advantageously combine the norms of oral and written language. Unfortunately, e-mail is also a potential source of misunderstanding. Some teachers, annoyed by the informalities that characterize this discourse context, interpret students’ messages as demanding, impolite, or unprofessional. For many students, however, e-mail is outdated, and some use it only in the university context, opting to text, facebook, or tweet their family and friends. This book provides a detailed analysis of 1,403 e-mail messages sent by 338 university students to a professor of Spanish and linguistics. This research has several goals: to analyze features of students’ messages that reveal their beliefs about the norms for student-teacher e-mail exchanges; to explore the effective incorporation of the conventions of both oral and written language in this particular discourse context; to identify patterns or rhetorical strategies used by students in e-mail to perform certain pragmatic functions, such as making a request, offering an excuse, expressing gratitude, apologizing and complaining; and, to identify students’ choice of language for e-mails to their teacher and the pragmatic functions for which they chose to write in their first or second languages. Each of the chapters specifically addresses several pedagogical implications and identifies areas for additional investigation.

Published: Feb 1, 2016

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
Student-Teacher E-mail: An Introduction Jennifer Ewald
The Present Study: Research Design Jennifer Ewald
E-mail Communication: Student Beliefs and Conventions Jennifer Ewald
Students’ Use of the Dropbox Jennifer Ewald
Requests Jennifer Ewald
Repair Work: Apologies Jennifer Ewald
Repair Work: Excuses Jennifer Ewald
Expressions of Gratitude Jennifer Ewald
Complaints Jennifer Ewald
Student Use of L1/L2 Jennifer Ewald
Where to go from here Jennifer Ewald
End Matter
References Jennifer Ewald
Index Jennifer Ewald


This book serves as an excellent aid in recognizing and elaborating on the patterns found within email communication between students and instructors. It is beneficial to linguists and the academic field as it enhances knowledge concerning the discourse strategies used by students. The author does an excellent job of presenting her collected natural data, analyzing the different function categories, identifying patterns and offering explanations. ..This book would be beneficial in university pedagogy courses that educate young and aspiring instructors to become more knowledgeable, insightful and effective. The contents of this book can easily be understood, and is pertinent in particular to foreign language instructors.
LinguistList, October 2016

The Inbox addresses an important gap in research in pragmatics and technology-mediated discourse, and the findings will serve as an important baseline for comparison with future studies. Ewald identifies several crucial directions for research that would shed further light on patterns of student/facultycommunication outside of class using email and other technologies.
Language Learning & Technology, 20.1 (2016)