Considering parentheses and postscripts in emails as potential indicators of changes in footing

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


While parentheses are discussed as CMC (computer mediated communication) cues by some researchers (Del-Teso-Craviotto 2004; Whalen et al. 2009; Cho 2010), very few writers mention postscripts at all. Where parentheses are mentioned in the literature, there is generally little discussion of what they do, other than separating some text from other text (with no discussion of which text, or why), which is clearly also a function of postscripts. I argue that these ‘separations’ frequently indicate a change in footing (Goffman 1981, p.126). Some prior investigations also discuss effects akin to footing changes: Whalen et al. (2009) note that parentheses can indicate that those parts of text enclosed “are to be interpreted nonliterally” (Whalen et al. 2009, p.275). This change to a humorous or informal mode, when in contrast to the surrounding text , is a sure sign of a footing change (Kangasharju & Nikko 2009; Archer & Willcox 2018; O’Driscoll 2018). Using 224 emails containing parentheses, and 18 emails with postscripts, written by 16 and 4 authors respectively (taken from a larger dataset), this paper examines the usage of these cues, in an intercultural business context, to signal various footing changes, for example, from present to past, formal to informal and one topic to the next. This addresses a gap in the literature no scholarly work has focussed on postscript usage in media other than sales emails (see e.g. Zhu 2005), and no study has mentioned CMC cues as potential signals of footing change.
Period30 Aug 2019
Event titleBritish Association for Applied Linguistics: Broadening the Horizons of Applied Linguistics
Event typeConference
LocationManchester, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational