Chapter 1     A Summary of the Research

 

This thesis addresses two fundamental issues regarding lexis in the Business English environment. It firstly asks whether the lexis of Business English is significantly different from that of ‘everyday’ general English, and secondly, if the lexis found in Business English published materials is significantly different from that found in real-life business. It also fulfils a further important descriptive role - so little is known about business lexis that this work has also focused on describing the lexical world it found.  In order to gain answers to these questions and to enter the world of business lexis, it was necessary to have representative samples of all three lexical environments: Business English, general English and the Business English found in published teaching materials. This presented both methodological and logistical problems of how best to approach the study, and how to actually get the data necessary to carry it out. This short chapter presents the solutions arrived at and gives a summary of the conclusions reached.

 

It was decided from the outset that in order to answer the questions satisfactorily the study had to be both computerised and corpus-based. Intuition, whilst being a valuable resource, was in no way sufficient to cope with a task of this nature. Further, as the study needed to address linguistic issues both at the micro- and macro-level, large bodies of data were needed, and this placed analysis beyond the level that any purely manual approach could attempt. This thesis, therefore, falls methodologically into the area of computer-based corpus linguistics, correlative register analysis, and is firmly based in the Firthian tradition of British text linguistics (Stubbs 1993, 1996).

 

Over a period of three years, two corpora were created to form the basis of the analysis. The first corpus created, the Published Materials Corpus (PMC) consists of 33 published Business English course and resource books, and comes to just over 590,000 running words in size. The criteria for inclusion of the books in the corpus were based on sales data gained from EFL bookshops in 1997. The books chosen for inclusion were scanned into the computer with only the language purporting to be Business English included - all rubrics and gapped exercises were excluded. Thus the PMC presents the writers’ views of what Business English is. The second corpus created was the Business English Corpus (BEC). The final size of the corpus was just over 1,023,000 running words and it is divided between spoken (44%) and written (56%) texts. The corpus consists of 28 macro-genres and is further categorised by the knowing-acting axis of Pickett (1988). Thus macro-genres are categorised into the language used to do business (59%) and the language used to talk about business (41%). The 2 million word British National Corpus (BNC) Sampler corpus of general English was chosen as the ‘reference’ corpus.

 

These three corpora were then able to be lexically compared by using WordSmith 3 (Scott 1999). WordSmith operates by using a large reference corpus as a standard by which the other corpora can be compared. Using the notion of key words, the program statistically determines which words in a smaller corpus occur significantly more or significantly less than in the bigger, reference corpus. In this case the reference corpus, the BNC,  represented general English and the smaller corpus, the BEC, represented Business English. In this way it was possible to determine which words occur unusually frequently in Business English as compared to general English. The same procedure was carried out to compare the smaller published materials (PMC) to the larger Business English corpus (BEC), and also the PMC to the BNC. 

 

The results of these analyses produced sets of key words that were then subjected to further, more detailed analysis. These key words not only showed which words were used unusually frequently, they also showed words that were found to be used unusually infrequently in Business English. Using the key words gained from the BEC it was possible to define the world of business lexis, and show how it was lexically separated from general English by placing the words into a limited group of semantic categories. These categories were found to recur across word class boundaries and showed a lexical world of business bounded by its people, institutions, activities, events and entities. The boundary limits of business lexis were placed by the non-business lexis of the negative key words and the semantic groups they formed. Key words had previously been used to study schema patterns (Scott 1997), and written genre (Tribble 1998, forthcoming). This study was able to use them to lexically define a whole ‘specialist’ area of language.

 

Representative words from each of the main semantic groups were chosen for further study to see how they behaved both semantically and grammatically. Louw’s (1993) concept of semantic prosody was used to determine how Business English words associated with certain semantic groups, and Firth’s (1957) and Hoey’s (1997) idea of colligation was used to show which grammatical patterns the words typically formed themselves into. The COBUILD (1995) dictionary was used to help determine what grammar/meaning relationships the words formed, and typical 3-word clusters and word associates (Scott 1997, 1999) were also computed.

 

Results of these secondary analyses of the BEC showed that whilst some business lexis associates with semantic groups unique to itself, most lexis is formed into patterns of interrelated semantic groups which regularly co-occur with each other. Additionally, there was evidence to suggest that words form associations to some semantic groups when in the business environment, and others when out of it. In the business setting, the meaning potential of words was found to be reduced and this had consequences both semantically and grammatically. Fewer meanings were used than in general English - and, as grammatical patterning and meaning were found to be co-dependent, restricted meaning led to area-specific and restricted grammatical patterning.

 

Pickett’s (1988) idea of knowing and acting language was extended. Where Pickett concentrated mainly on language routines, here, individual words showed a tendency to be used more for doing business than for talking about business and vice versa. This also showed at the level of word clusters, meaning that high frequency shorter clusters, previously thought to be largely genre-independent, were found to fall clearly either side of the doing business/talking about business divide.

 

Business English thus differs significantly from general English at several levels. So, too, do published materials from the lexis of real-life Business English. The same analytical methods were used in the analysis of the PMC and it was compared both to the BNC, to see how published materials differ from general English, and to the BEC, to see how two corpora, both purporting to be Business English, differed from each other. Where the BEC could be seen to show a limited and specialist lexis, the PMC was even more limited. The lexical world of business presented by the materials showed a stress on personal and interpersonal contact, and a focus on a limited number of business activities, notably entertaining, travel, meetings and presentations. There was less reference to states and qualities, and the lexis in the PMC concentrated even more than the BEC on tangible, concrete items. There were lacks in the PMC in both pure business and sub-business lexis. A similar semantic environment was found, but it was lexically less rich and varied. Colligationally, the PMC tended to focus on a limited number of grammatical patterns and missed out on several key patternings that were found for words in the BEC. Word clusters found in the PMC indicated an over-emphasis on politeness and contrasted with the shorter clusters in the BEC by being much more genre/situation-specific. 

 

In short, Business English displayed significant differences from general English in terms of its lexis, semantic prosody, clusters and the semantic ‘meaning world’ it is made up of. Likewise, published materials differed significantly from real Business English in many of the same ways. The rest of this thesis looks at these issues in more detail, beginning with Chapter 2, where the basic issues and problems related to the study are laid out.