Cultures and communication: The email, still a powerful communication tool

Different spheres of interest such as linguistics, sociology, psychology, communication, computer and information science were explored in relation to email. Despite all the findings published throughout the years, researchers still find them “unsatisfactory” (Sallis and Kassabova, 2000, p. 45), because they do not provide complete answers to all the research questions.

The Internet and the computer-mediated communication (CMC) operate as one “social identity dimension for their users” (Amaral & Monteiro, 2002, p. 577), meaning that the intercultural email exchange shapes a particular social identity dimension. It has been reported that people with different cultural backgrounds and using email have to adapt to the constraints required by CMC in order to achieve successful communication as in a face-to-face condition. This is “probably the most dramatic adjustment users of CMC have to make to communicate in text messages” (Newlands et al., 2003, p. 327).


During a research project whose goal was to investigate how people adapt to text-based communications, Newland et al. found out that beginner CMC users “changed the way in which they interacted with each other after just a few hours’ experience of the technology” (2003, p. 344). The research subjects found adequate communicative approaches, other than from the face-to-face condition.

Email intercultural communication is significantly affected by intercultural issues, as Garzia Conzales (1995) points out when discussing some aspects of online language learning. She argues that the tendency of changing and influencing the other’s views may be more obvious in email than in a face-to-face context. Even though email communication excludes the non-verbal context, it allows participants, in turn, to concentrate on information exchange as such and less on the sender.

The email obviously implies two participants in the information exchange: a sender and a receiver. They are not co-present, but they read and reply each other message whenever desired. The communication outcome is a text and not a spoken dialogue. Friedman and Currall (citing Clark and Brennan, 2003, p. 1328) point out that there are six face-to-face communication tools which are not present in email communication:

  • co-presence: communication partners are in the same surrounding
  • visibility: they can see each other
  • audibility: they are able to listen and hear the speech and intonation
  • co-temporality: each party receives an utterance just as it is produced
  • simultaneity: both participants can send and receive messages at once
  •  sequentiality: where turn-taking cannot get out of sequence.

These tools are also called non-verbal cues or contextual clues. Friedman and Currall claim that the lack of non-verbal clues seems to be compensated by two facilities offered only by email, namely “reviewability”, that is “the ability to have a record of each person’s comments that can be reviewed as often as desired”, and “revisability”, that is “the ability to revise a statement before sending it” (2003, p. 1329).

Email is still a popular communication channel even though new channels have been in place lately, mainly as tools integrated into the social media and social networks platforms.


Amaral M.J. and Monteiro M.B., (2002), “To Be Without Being Seen: Computer-Mediated Communication and Social Identity Management”, in Small Group Research, Vol. 33 No. 5, Sage Publications

Friedman S. and Currall, (2003), “Conflict escalation: Dispute exacerbating elements of e-mail communication”, in Human Relations, Vol. 56, No. 11, Sage Publications, London

Garzia Conzales, Y., (1995), “Benefits of cross-cultural communication”, in On-line Distance Learning, Reflection ’95, Faculty of Education Science and Technology, University of Twente

Newlands et al., (2003) “Adapting Communicative Strategies to Computer-Mediated Communication: An Analysis of Task Performance and Dialogue Structure”, in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 17, Wiley InterScience

Sallis Ph. and Kassabova D., (2000), “Computer-mediated communication: experiments with e-mail readability”, in Information Science, Vol. 123, pp. 43-53, Elsevier Science Inc.

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