Email Correspondence in Russian as a Specific Communicative Genre

Irina Mikaelian, The Pennsylvania State University; Anna Zaliznjak, Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Linguistics

Today, private email correspondence constitutes only a small part of Internet communication and it is poorly investigated as compared to chat, forums, and internet conferences. At the same time, email remains the main tool of person to person communication for people all over the world.

The scope of our paper is to reveal linguistic features of email correspondence as a specific communicative genre. To our opinion, these features oppose email to both ordinary mail as well as telephone conversation. More specifically, we take into account private correspondence of Russian language native speakers having acquired a university degree in Russia. We suggest the following tentative list of such features, some of them not being language specific.

1. In contrast to an ordinary letter, an email message presupposes an immediate response, usually within 24 hours and this property has some important implications. On the other hand, in contrast to a phone call, the answer can be postponed.

2. Email correspondence has elaborated specific tools of intertextual deixis which facilitate communication. One of them is the possibility of insertion of a relevant fragment of the original letter (which may have some negative psychological effects). Alternative linguistic techniques of reference can be used, cf. Russian pro, naschet (‘about’, ‘as to’) introducing a nominal construction.

3. Email correspondence is often realized as series of messages which constitute complex communicative act and, to some respect, it can be assimilated to a telephone conversation. There are specific linguistic tools which ensure the coherence of the series. Thus, two initial messages of a series usually contain a standard full form of address and greetings while the consecutive messages belonging to the same series use reduced formulas or eliminate them completely. Being universal, this phenomenon has a number of specific manifestations in Russian.

4. Email correspondence reveals two opposite tendencies with respect to punctuation. On the one hand, punctuation signs, mostly commas required by the formal rules of the Russian grammar are often omitted (“minimalization of effort” strategy). On the other hand, non- standard, semantically and pragmatically determined use of punctuation signs (dashes, double dashes, two points and parentheses) is widespread. This technique allows compensating for the absence of intonation in a written text (“compensatory” strategy).

5. Russian email correspondence exists in two graphic forms, in Cyrillic characters and in Latin transliteration; messages in Latin transliteration constitute a large part of all email correspondence in Russian. Since there are no standard common rules of transliteration, the Russian texts written in Latin characters acquire a supplementary semiotic dimension.
In addition, private email correspondence provides a most valuable data of generating a spontaneous written text, including its psycholinguistic aspects. Thus, one of the most striking typical “typos” in our Russian email corpus is using of a nominative case form instead of the appropriate oblique form (e.g., ne xochetsja vyxodit’ na ulica).