Półrocznik Językoznawczy Tertium/ Tertium Linguistic Journal

Vol 3, No 1 (2018)

File Not Found: Error 404 as an Example of a Spontaneous Web Genre

Grzegorz Antoni Cebrat


The development of the Internet has led to the emergence of new digital genres, also known as cybergenres or web genres. The existing research into diverse web pages has revealed that the new medium not only generated changes in traditional genres (reproduced or adapted) but also created a number of novel genres. The creation, development and nature of spontaneous genres are connected with the evolution of the web since they have no counterparts in traditional media. The present study deals with one of them: it concentrates on the genre analysis of a small set of 35 web pages representing the 404 error message genre, which are automatically generated to indicate that a server cannot find the page requested by a web user who follows a dead or broken link. The paper presents the origins of the genre in question, its structure, content and communicative purposes. The research has been carried out by means of the methodology of genre analysis proposed by John Swales (1990). Four moves that express the communicative purposes of 404 error have been identified and the commonest rhetoric choices have been analyzed. Additionally, the paper presents a selection of unusual, ingenious or funny 404 error pages



404 lab [web page] Retrieved from http://queenofsubtle.com/404/ July-December 2017.

“A brief history of 404” 404 lab [web page]. Retrieved from

http://queenofsubtle.com/404/?page_id=1921  July 6, 2017.

Askehave, Inger, Anne Ellerup Nielsen (2005) “Digital Genres: A Challenge to Traditional Genre Theory.” Information, Technology & People 18: 120–141.

Burke, Sean Michael (2003) “The Design of Online Lexicons.” [In:] Sterkenburg, Piet van (ed.) A Practical Guide to Lexicography. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Cebrat, Grzegorz (2016) Death Notice as a Genre: An Analysis of The New York Times Online Edition. [Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Uniwersytet Śląski w Katowicach]. Available at: https://www.sbc.org.pl/dlibra/show-content/publication/edition/220974?id=220974.

Crowston, Kevin, Marie Williams (2000) “Reproduced and Emergent Genres of Communication on the World Wide Web.” The Information Society 16: 201–216.

Crystal, David (2001) Language and the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grzenia, Jan (2008) Komunikacja językowa w Internecie. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Herring, Susan C. (2012) “Discourse in Web 2.0: Familiar, Reconfigured, and Emergent.”[In:] D. Tannen, A. M. Tester (Eds.), Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics: Discourse 2.0: Language and new media. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. Retrieved from http://info.ils.indiana.edu/~herring/GURT.2011.prepub.pdf December 10, 2017.

Rodrigo, Isabel Herrando (2014) “Genre Evolution in Research Communication in English.” Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 69; 35–49.

Santini, Marina (2007) “Characterizing Genres of Web Pages: Genre Hybridism and Individualization.” Proceedings of the 40th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c6e7/beff68eb8f03523d8a64a7f97bc9b915ee5b.pdf  November 11, 2017.

Shepherd, Michael, Carolyn Watters (1998) “The Functionality Attribute of Cybergenres.” [In:] HICSS Proceedings of the Thirty-second Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Vol. 2. Washington, DC: IEEE Computer Society; 97–109. Retrieved from https://web.cs.dal.ca/~shepherd/pubs/evolution.pdf  December 3, 2017.

Swales, John (1990) Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tereszkiewicz, Anna (2010) Genre analysis of online encyclopedias: the case of Wikipedia. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.

Yates, Joanne, Wanda Orlikowski (1992) “Genres of Organizational Communication: A Structurational Approach to Studying Communication and Media.” Academy of Management Review 17; 299-326.

Yates, Joanne, Wanda Orlikowski (2002) “Genre Systems: Structuring Interaction Through Communicative Norms.” Journal of Business Communication 39, No. 1; 13–35.

Ziębka-Białożny, Justyna (2009) Gender and Discourse – a Contrastive Analysis of Polish and English Singles Ads. Katowice: Wydawnictwo WSZMiJO.