When you email a professor, do you call her “Mrs.”? “Ms.”? “Professor”? What if she earned her doctorate degree? This only complicates things further. Alternatively, what if you are replying to your brother’s third email in the span of an hour? Does your attitude change? Do you even address him directly or does sharing the same family tree preclude him from a proper introduction? The underlying presumption is that one’s tone, words and context of what is written changes depending upon the status of the person receiving the email. Through a meticulous analysis of 25 emails sent to “low status” individuals and 25 emails sent to “high status” individuals, we discovered some intriguing differences in the parts of speech and semantic value in each corpus.
By examining the parts of speech applied in high and low status emails, our group focused exclusively on the individual words that were used without applying context to what was written. One trend we discovered was that we used the preposition “of” more often in high status emails compared to low status emails. The reason for this could be when writing emails to high status emails, we may want to be very descriptive and carefully explain things; whereas, when we wrote emails to low status people, we were not as concerned with coming across crystal clear. On a similar note, words like “being” were used more in high status emails in order to be descriptive. Also, the preceding noun of a title was more evident in high status emails, which undoubtedly have an inherent formal and professional tone compared to low status emails
In terms of semantic analysis, the time period category manifested itself the most in both high and low status emails. Although the frequency of time in high status emails edged out the frequency of time in low status emails 37-26, it is understandable that time plays a pivotal role in both high and low status emails. These emails referred specifically to work and school deadlines or specific dates. Time appears to be the only category for which the status of the email does not impact the frequency. Education was one of the main areas of focus in high status emails compared to low status emails. For example, every undergraduate in the group included at least one email to a professor as a high status email. Money also served as a main discussion point in high status emails. One may attribute this to the fact that our group is largely comprised of students, who are conversing with prospective employers and/or discussing funds devoted to a particular on campus group or association. The topic of money may also seem prevalent since one of the group’s members owns his own business.
Although several differences were also demonstrated in other categories, the frequencies of time, education and money were the most prevalent. Similarly, in the parts of speech analysis, prepositions and official titles accounted for the most prevalent occurrence. While our suspicions that official titles, such as “Mr.” and “Dr.”, were applied more frequently in high status emails, this analysis also generated some unexpected results. The fact that time, education and money frequently occurred in high status emails may not have been as easy to surmise prior to the analysis. However, after a thorough examination of our group’s emails, it seems obvious that these categories would account for the largest frequencies.