Online discourse

E-mail among Jamaicans

In my doctoral research I analyzed COJEC, a corpus of private e-mail messages written by Jamaican university students and Jamaican internet discussion forum data. The e-mail data was collected during two periods of field research at the University of the West Indies, Mona (Jamaica) in 2002 and 2003. During fieldwork I was located in a students' hall of residence on campus and relied on the cooperation of Jamaican informants, who ideally sent me e-mails which they had already written to, or received from, other Jamaicans. I obtained 208 messages/~40k words of material. In the analysis, my specific focus is on the meanings of code-switching between Patois (i.e. Jamaican Creole) and standard English. Among the primary findings of the project are that a) despite the lack of an orthographic standard for Jamaican Creole, users systematically and skillfully employ it in writing, b) even though quantitatively, use of the Creole is greatly reduced in e-mail when compared to speech, it serves a great variety of discourse functions - unlike Creole in the diaspora, which tends to be focused on a limited set of discourse functions (at least in the UK).

A more recent project looks at the orthography that Jamaican writers choose to represent Creole in writing. Jamaican Creole does not have its own official orthography, but the language is historically based on English, which does. In spelling Creole, do writers adhere to the rules of English spelling as much as possible, or do they choose to make the language look different from English by not observing those rules? Multivariate regression analysis and survey techniques are useful tools that can help us understand how language ideology and spelling choice are linked, and how they differ between the domestic, Jamaican setting and the diaspora in North America.

Lars Hinrichs. 2016. “Modular repertoires in English-using social networks: A study of language choice in the networks of adult Facebook users.” In L. Squires (ed.), English in Computer-Mediated Communication: Variation, Representation, and Change. Topics in English Linguistics; 93. Berlin: de Gruyter. 17-42. (.pdf, manuscript, at

Lars Hinrichs. 2015. “Chapter 1.1: Approaches to language variation.” In A. Georgakopoulou and T. Spilioti (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Digital Communication. Routledge Handbooks in Applied Linguistics. London: Routledge. 19-35. (.pdf, manuscript, at

Hinrichs, Lars. 2012. How to spell the vernacular: A multivariate study of Jamaican e-mails and blogs. A. Jaffe, J. Androutsopoulos, M. Sebba & S. Johnson (eds.), Orthography as Social Action: Scripts, Spelling, Identity, and Power. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 325-358. (.pdf, manuscript)

Hinrichs, Lars & Jessica White-Sustaita. 2011. Global Englishes and the sociolinguistics of spelling: A study of Jamaican blog and email writing. English World-Wide 32(1), 46-73. (.pdf, uncorrected proofs; at publisher's website)

Hinrichs, Lars. 2006. Creole on the Internet: new types of evidence in the study of written vernacular language use among young people. C. Dürscheid & J. Spitzmüller (eds.), Perspektiven der Jugendsprachforschung/Trends and Developments in Youth Language Research. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 183-200. (.pdf)

Hinrichs, Lars. 2006. Codeswitching on the Web: English and Jamaican Creole in E-Mail Communication. Amsterdam: John Benjamins (Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 147). (at publisher's webpage)