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Summary Details

Query:   "Netiquette" on Linguist
Author:  Richard Sproat
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Discourse Analysis

Summary:   On September 20, I posted a query about people's experience with
responding to posted queries and receiving no acknowledgment from the
person they were responding to.

I posted this with some trepidation, since the query was a comment
about social behavior, and such queries are at risk of getting some
quite negative feedback. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that,
not only did I get a large number of responses, but the responses were
uniformly positive, with several people thanking me for raising this
issue. It came as no surprise to me to learn that a lot of people had
had this experience, and had felt frustrated by it. A couple of people
did say that they were perhaps not as bothered by it as I am: they
view it as a kind of civic duty to respond to queries when they think
they have useful feedback, and they view it as an added bonus when
that feedback generates an acknowledgment. I certainly admire that

One respondent suggested that the behavior discussed in my posting may
in part be due to the fact that e-mail is a relatively new medium, and
this in turn may induce different social interactions. It is well
known that people do behave differently in e-mail than they would in
other kinds of media, and impoliteness is one of the phenomena

On the other hand, several people observed that this phenomenon is
hardly restricted to Linguist, or to electronic lists, which is of
course true. As one respondent cogently observed, we should not expect
linguists to be more polite than the general population. Also, insofar
as this affects other professional activities besides Linguist, some
people suggested that it might be worthwhile to have a broader
discussion, for example of the use of acknowledgments in academic

The suggestions as to why this behavior is observed were the usual
things: people not having enough time or being too engrossed in their
work to bother with social niceties. But it was generally agreed that
these do not excuse the behavior. Some people also suggested lack of
experience, e.g. in normal professional interactions, as a possible
cause. I find this perhaps the least convincing explanation, since the
social niceties we are discussing transcend the rather narrow context
of Linguist.

A couple of people suggested that it was educators' responsibility to
teach socially acceptable professional interaction, and one respondent
even said that they already teach this in their classes, which seems
like a good practice.

Two positive upshots of the posting are the following:

1) The standard boilerplate that comes with all query postings on
Linguist reminding readers to respond to the individual rather than
to the list will be updated to include a note suggesting that
people who respond to queries might appreciate being thanked.

2) The editors of Linguist are considering a mechanism whereby people
will be rewarded for interesting summaries, for example by
highlighting particularly good summaries in some fashion. With any
luck, this should encourage the posting of summaries which, I am
told, has been lower than one might like.

I thank the following people for responding to my query. All of these
people were also thanked individually:

Michael Bernstein,
Charles Bigelow,
Matthew Bloomfield,
Colleen Chapco,
Adrian Clynes,
Roy Cochrun,
Bruno Estigarribia Fioravanti,
Madalena Cruz-Ferreira,
Baider Fabienne,
Suzette Haden Elgin,
S.J. Hannahs,
Birgit Henken,
David House,
Kevin Johnson,
Ann Lindvall,
Sudaporn Luksaneeyanawin,
Alexandre Mattos,
Nikolinka Nenova,
Ingo Plag,
Ida Rebelo,
Deborah Ruuskanen,
Lena Santamarta,
Conny Seck,
Uwe Seibert,
Richard Steiner,
Jess Tauber,
Robert L. Trammell,
James Vanden Bosch,
Dan Villa,
Jane Vinther,
Remy Viredaz,
Karen Ward,
Job van Zuijlen

Of course, given the nature of my posting, it would be an unforgivable
sin if I omitted someone's name from this list: I hope I have not
committed that sin.


Richard Sproat Human/Computer Interaction Research AT&T Labs -- Research, Shannon Laboratory
Tel: +1-973-360-8490 180 Park Avenue, Room B207, P.O.Box 971
Fax: +1-973-360-8809 Florham Park, NJ 07932-0000
- --------------

LL Issue: 12.2439
Date Posted: 02-Oct-2001
Original Query: Read original query


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