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Tella, Seppo (1992). Talking Shop via E-Mail: A Thematic and Linguistic Analysis of Electronic Mail Communication (=Research Report 99). Helsinki.

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Abstract: The linguistic purposes were (i) to focus on contents (themes and topics), and (ii) to analyse the way the target language (English) was used in e-mails. Communicativeness and the roles of the communicator (writer–reader) became central, emphasising the multidirectional character of e-mail communication. The basic tenet of communicativeness and a naturalistic communicative learning environment in classrooms was connected to the question of the degree of initiative and free negotiable topic choice. The research method was based on an ethnographic approach complemented by a thematic and linguistic analysis on contents and language. The research problems included issues concerning content (themes and topics) and language used in e-mail communication. The Finnish participants consisted of six classes (Form 1 or 2) in three senior secondary schools, with four teachers of English (mother tongue: Finnish). The foreign participants consisted of schools in Britain and the USA (with further contacts in Austria, Canada, the former Federal Republic of Germany, the former German Democratic Republic, Iceland, Japan, and Sweden). Data was gathered during fieldwork (November 1989—May 1990). New contents and focuses on methods of work were achieved. Process-led collaborative e-mail communication encouraged writing and exchanging ideas across the world in open-ended linguistic situations in an information-rich learning environment. A collaborative effort made writing more public, drawing social and negotiation skills into focus. The modes of writing also became more versatile. From students' viewpoint, negotiable topic choice was in harmony with the official curriculum. E-mails formed a new repository of teaching and learning materials. E-mails written on-line resembled oral communication (elliptical language, colloquialisms, casual style, focus on cohesion). Non-verbal communication was replaced by textual visualisations. Off-line writings showed more textual and linguistic coherence and were more hierarchically organised wholes. Phatic use of language (contact establishing and supporting) was essential to the functionality of the communication channel. Artistic, emotive, and poetic language was widely used besides referential or informative use of the target language.

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