[globaloutlookDH-l] Some ideas on list language

Daniel O'Donnell daniel.odonnell at uleth.ca
Wed May 15 15:07:48 MDT 2013

Hi all,

I had somebody ask me the other day about whether there should be any 
special advice for posting to a list like this--"like this" in the sense 
of explicitly multicultural, very conscious of multilingual issues, and 
so on.

We've obviously been discussing aspects of language use in a variety of 
contexts on the list, but I don't think we've had a metadiscussion about 
how we should post to this list--things to keep in mind, to be careful 
of, and so on.

Here's some of the things I suggested. What do others think?

1) Be really careful about humour, especially humour that could be 
misread as being dismissive, insulting, or mockery. One reason for this 
is because, as is well known, email doesn't convey tone well at all. But 
in the case of this specific list, we are also dealing with a variety of 
different academic cultures--what comes across as normal bantering in a 
more free-rolling academic culture may appear to be extremely aggressive 
in another.

2) Be careful about allusions to pop culture, and national history and 
politics. Many people may not get them. But more importantly, allusions 
and inside jokes shared among a small group of people can quickly create 
a sense of exclusion among those who don't know the references being made.

3) Since this is an academic list, we will find ourselves disagreeing 
with each other, attempting to correct or improve each other's ideas, 
and so on. In keeping with (1), be careful about how you phrase these 
disagreements: again, what may seem like relatively light criticism in 
one academic culture may seem crushing in another; and especially if 
there are language issues involved, it can be difficult to clear things 
up. This doesn't mean that we can't criticise each other's ideas, but 
rather that we should always try to phrase this disagreement as 
constructively and supportively as possible.

4) Generally, try to write in short sentences and using common words 
(this is true, BTW, of all languages on the list): you are being read by 
people who are not as strong in your language as you are.

5) Always try to provide context for people: use more links to external 
sites than you might normally (e.g. to explain ideas and give examples.

If people think this is good and especially have additional ideas, we 
could perhaps publish a page on etiquette and tips for emailing in an 
international context?


Daniel Paul O'Donnell
Professor of English
University of Lethbridge
Lethbridge AB T1K 3M4

+1 403 393-2539

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