“If comprehending human communication consisted merely of translating sentences and syntax into thoughts and ideas, there would be no room for misunderstanding. But it does not, and so there is.”
So say Justin Kruger and colleagues who have been researching the ambiguity of email communication. According to the research (full text available here) which is in the latest British Psychological Society research digest (you can subscribe here), "the ambiguity of email communication, stripped as it is of any extra-linguistic cues such as gestures and intonation" leads to misinterpretation and miscommunication.
When we study email communication as part of Language Change, we often focus on the variations in form between email language and its standard written equivalent, but as this research shows, there's a lot more to communication than structure and form: there's pragmatics, for a start, which is the study of what utterances or messages actually mean within their context. So, while we can merrily email away in a tone that we think is perfectly witty or obviously sarcastic, the reader of teh message may find it much trickier to decipher our intended meanings at the other end.
Even with smilies and other emoticons, email can be a blunt tool. But, like texting, for many of us it's a preferred method of communication and one that allows us to keep in touch with people we probably wouldn't bother to phone up or visit.
There's plenty here to follow up from a language perspective, and whole investigations for A2 coursework could explore different areas of this topic.
ENA1 - Language frameworks (pragmatics)
ENA5 - Language Change
EA4C - Language Investigation