I have a corpus of personal letters in which writers explain a tough decision to multiple addressees, each in its own section/paragraph of the letter (for the most part).

I wonder if anybody has ever empirically measured the attention/production/verbosity associated with each addressee (e.g. number of words) as a measure of the importance to the writer of their understanding the reasoning behind the decision. so far I've seen vague and indirect references to that in the politeness literature, pragmatics (e.g. Grice's maxim of quantity), discourse analysis register/style shift, etc. but nothing too empirical, systematic and/or quantitative.

any thoughts are most welcome.

1 Answer 1


Sounds interesting, but I don't think number of words, for example, is necessarily a good measure of addressee importance. It could be, of course, but it could also be that the writer knows that a particular addressee is really dense and needs a lot more explicit explanation, or maybe the writer addresses a very short paragraph to another person because the writer knows that person won't read anything longer than 50 words.

Would you be better to analyze the different lexical items, style, etc., used in the paragraphs to particular people? Does the writer use any pet names? Any diminutives? What tenses? These things are all quantifiable, and research has been done in this area. Off the top of my head I'm not sure what might indicate addressee importance, but you could get a benchmark from looking at other people's writings to important people (or maybe better yet, if you KNOW a particular addressee of the writer in question was very important) to look for trends.

  • thanks, Tim. indeed, stylistic analysis using more specific lexical items is in the works, but productivity seems a parsimonious first approximation to look at difference between different addresses, plus it may be needed later as a denominator to said items. 'Importance' may not be what it captures, but this would be left as an empirical question. hope this makes sense?
    – Shukic
    Apr 20, 2012 at 21:00

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