Sociocultural Differences in Email-Mediated Communication: An Analysis of Metadiscourse in Chinese and English Request Emails


This study examines how metadiscourse is manipulated to build rhetorical structures and emphasize interpersonal connections in emails written by native speakers of Chinese and English. Participants were asked to compose request emails addressed to recipients of either higher or equal social status. Results reveal that emails in both languages employ a greater number and broader range of interpersonal metadiscourse markers compared to textual ones, reflecting the highly task-oriented and interactive nature of computer-mediated communication. Social factors also play a role, with relatively higher volumes and varieties of metadiscourse markers observed in emails to recipients of higher social status. Nevertheless, metadiscourse analyzed reveal significant differences in terms of socio-cultural tendencies. Emails written in English exhibit an overall higher frequency of metadiscourse markers compared to those in Chinese. This is especially true for markers signaling transitions (e.g. but), hedges (e.g. maybe), and self-mentions (e.g. my). Emails written in Chinese, on the other hand, more frequently adopt attitude markers (e.g. hopefully), as well as stress the addresser-addressee relationship through explicit in-text references to the recipient, but not to the sender themselves, a preference even more salient in emails to recipients of higher social status. Conversely, such engagement (e.g. you) and self-mention markers (e.g. I) are found in equal distribution in emails composed in English, regardless of differences in social power. This study concludes with a discussion on the underlying factors affecting metadiscourse usage, with the goal of providing insight as to the unique linguistic and cultural features of discourse in the email genre.

Author Information
Chia-Ling Hsieh, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan
Kankanit Potikit, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan
Daniel Marvin Rodabaugh, National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan

Paper Information
Conference: ACL2022
Stream: Language and Culture

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon