E-Mail: A Language From Cyberspace


B eep.

The E-mail message arrives in the computer: hi--luvd your last messg/made me LOL. Lets get togther over lnch. soon.

The New Age of Communication could render good spelling obsolete. Electronic mail--computer-generated messages that zip through phone lines to computer “mailboxes” all over the world--tends to emphasize content, not form.


“E-mail is a more informal use altogether. The message is important, the presentation is not,” says Dennis Baron, a professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois, Urbana. “Conventions of correctness are usually suspended. What we’re seeing is the democratization of communication.”

E-mail message writers don’t use letterheads. They don’t formally sign their names. They don’t necessarily capitalize letters. They use shorthand (“LOL” means “laugh out loud”) and they don’t necessarily spell properly.

“The ethos of E-mail is that you say what you have to say in the moment. The point is speed and naturalness, not correctness,” says John Seabrook, a New Yorker magazine writer whose recent profile of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates included selections from E-mail between the two men.

“There was a big discussion in the copy department here about whether to keep Gates’ misspellings in the piece,” Seabrook says. “We felt we ought to keep them--which is a pretty big deal at the New Yorker--because it was more in the spirit of what E-mail is about.

“Maybe the point is that you’re not committing anything to paper,” he says. “Somehow, what you write doesn’t have the same kind of real existence, so things like spelling don’t really matter.”