Chapter 3     A Review of the Literature of Business                         English



3.1 Introduction and overview


The purpose of this chapter is to survey and evaluate relevant research in Business English. It will firstly cover what is known about Business English from actual research that has taken place and, secondly, what is thought to be known about it through the intuition of its practitioners. In doing this, a chronological path will be followed, defining the literature in terms of the broad movements or approaches of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) that they belong to, as they have unfolded during the last thirty or forty years. The relationship of Business English to ESP will thus be the first of two organising factors of this chapter. The second organising factor will be the work of Pickett (1986a, 1986b, 1988, 1989). The chapter is summarised below.


·    The first part of this chapter will place Business English in its historical context by a brief survey of the development of ESP, arriving at both a working definition of ESP and a discussion of where it is today.

·    The work of Pickett (1986a, 1986b, 1988, 1989) will be examined in detail, focusing on his three key concepts of  poetics, ergolect and communication patterns. These three concepts will then facilitate a logical overview of the literature.

·    Poetics - the layered process by which business terminology is formed - acts as a basis for the study of register analysis work, both inside and outside the field of Business English. This leads to a discussion of the notion of sub-technical language, the layering of specialist lexis, and more recent attempts to define aspects of Business English.

·    Ergolect - or work language - will then be used as a heading by which discourse and genre approaches to language research can be examined. Research covered will go from early discourse analysis work, for example, Johns (1980), to later interactional work done by, for example, Lenz (1987) and Micheau & Billmyer (1987). Intercultural aspects of business language use will be examined and the relationship between power, corporate culture and discourse will be looked at in detail. This leads on to studies of genre as defined by Swales (1981, 1990). Again, these studies will be from both inside and outside the field of Business English. Those from outside, however, have a direct bearing on the key issues of this thesis.

·    Communication patterns - Pickett’s ideas on who the participants in business communication are - i.e. who talks to whom - is then utilised to look at needs analysis approaches to Business English.

·    The penultimate section evaluates Business English materials and questions their accuracy in reflecting the real world of business.

·    The final section summarises and synthesises the arguments put forward in this chapter and notes both the positive aspects of the research covered and the lacks. It will be noted how, although lexis plays a vital role in Business English, it has been studied very little.

·    The chapter concludes with suggestions towards a methodology for the study of Business English lexis that will then be expanded upon in the following chapters.



3.2 The development of ESP


The chapter will now begin with a brief overview of the development of ESP. This review is not meant to be exhaustive but simply to serve as a background for the rest of the chapter.


3.2.1 The origins of ESP until 1945


An interest in special languages - indeed of business language - embodied in the comments made by Defoe in Chapter 2, were shown to go back as far as the 1700s. Accordingly, there has been much discussion in the literature as to the origins of ESP. Dudley-Evans & St John (1998:1) note that the origins of Language for Specific Purposes (LSP), in fact, can be traced as far back as the Greek and Roman Empires. Pickett (1988:89) mentions a book authored by Winkyn de Worde[1] who wrote in 1498 a Little Treatise for to Learn English and French so that he could  do [my] merchandise in France and elsewhere in other lands. Pickett also mentions Meurier who published a ‘business English’ book in 1533 containing forms for making letters and other business correspondence. Dudley-Evans & St John continue the history by noting Howatt’s (1984) claim that a need to educate Huguenot and Protestant refugees in England in the 16th century led to a focus on Business English in early ELT. Interestingly these forerunners of present-day ESP were all concerned with doing business.


Strevens (1977), in an article in which he discusses ‘Special-Purpose Language Teaching’ (SP-LT), says that the history of SP-LT goes back ‘at least half a century’ (1977:150). He goes on to say that SP-LT can be found in basically two forms: the traveller’s language course - which he says goes back to the 16th century - and what he calls the ‘German for science students’ type of course. Perhaps more interestingly, he continues by saying that the Second World War engendered the need for specialist language courses where students only needed a very limited competence in a language in order to fulfil pre-set de-limited tasks. He gives the example of Royal Air Force personnel being trained to listen to Japanese fighter aircraft radio dialogue. The personnel were trained only in listening skills and with a very limited amount of lexical input. Thus the stage was set for the boom in this area that was to follow the Second World War.


3.2.2 Post-war ESP


Despite the long history hinted at above, it is probably safe to say that the ESP movement is firmly placed in the second half of the 20th century and, as the millennium has now turned,  no doubt, beyond it. The rise of ESP can perhaps be seen as the result of two separate but related developments: one economic, the other educational.


Economic: The first reason for the development of ESP was the rise in the ‘currency’ of the English language. This was brought about  by  the economic dominance of the United States after the Second World War. The vast influx of US dollars into many countries around the world created with it as a by-product the need to communicate in English, mainly in the world of science and technology. As a result, a large percentage of journals and scientific data were to be found only in the English language. In addition to this was both an influx of foreign aid workers into developing countries and a increased need of English in former colonial countries.[2] Colonialist systems were breaking down and the ‘winds of change’ - famously quoted by British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan - were sweeping across Africa. A conference held at Makerere College, Uganda in 1962[3] noted the increased need for English. More significantly, it noted the need for the teaching of ‘English for Special Purposes’ (Conference Report 1961:19-20). A third factor accounting for the rise of ESP was the influx of western experts into the oil rich countries of the Middle-East, creating an additional need for a lingua franca. This lingua franca was English.


Educational: The second movement leading towards the rise of ESP was an educational one, where the learner was starting to be considered as more central to the educational process. Strevens (1977) notes


... the existence of a major ‘tide’ in educational thought, in all countries and affecting all subjects. The movement referred to is the global trend towards ‘learner-centred education’. 

                                                                                 (Strevens 1977:152)



As both the world and concepts of education radically changed, English language teaching changed with it. The way in which it changed has been seen in the literature as series of distinct but overlapping stages. It is important to now look at these stages, as later discussions on the nature of Business English are viewed in direct relation to the evolution of how language and teaching have been viewed during this period. It is also important to realise that these ‘stages’ in the development of ESP were, and are, fluid and overlapping in nature. Approaches to ESP have evolved and improved as time has gone on. This too must be taken into account later when discussing how Business English has been viewed during this period of development.


3.2.3 Stage 1: Register Analysis


A look at the literature shows that most writers agree that the first real starting point of ESP was in the Register Analysis approach from the early 1960s onwards. Figure 1, on the next page, shows a selected overview of the literature.[4] The basic idea behind Register Analysis (RA) was that the choice of language used in certain circumstances is pre-determined. This pre-determination is governed either by the situation the speakers are in or by the subject matter they are talking about. Thus it would be possible to find a special language or register to match these subjects or situations or, as Pickett put it, you could find ‘the right words in the right place’ (1986a:5). Analysis of these registers was thus called Register Analysis.   It was then thought that  students of these special or ‘restricted’ areas of English (Strevens 1977) could be best served by providing them with the key grammatical features and lexis to be found in their specialist area. In order to provide this, teachers/researchers created  corpora of texts taken from  specific disciplines, notably scientific,[5] and subjected them to a detailed analysis. The aim was to ‘establish the statistical contours of different registers’ (West 1997:36) and try to identify, for example, the frequency of certain grammatical forms or vocabulary.  It rested on the assumption that scientific text, for example, would be made up of certain features unique to itself, that could then be identified and used as the basis for teaching materials. The best known exponents of this were Barber (1962) and Ewer & Latorre (1967). This ‘discrete-item’ (Swales 1990:3) approach, i.e. looking at features in isolation, however, was soon found





JOHNS 1991

WEST 1997


1. Register Analysis


1. Register Analysis

1. Register Analysis

1. Register Analysis

1. Authenticity:

a) skills based

b) skills and strategies

2. Research:

a) Register Analysis

b) Newspeak

1. Register Analysis

2. Discourse Analysis and the communicative approach


a) Discourse Analysis

b) Notional/



cative approach


2. Rhetorical/Discourse Analysis

2. Functional /Discourse


3. Text:

a) Discourse Analysis

b) Genre Analysis



Discourse Analysis

3. Student motivation and analysis of needs

3. Needs Analysis

3. Target Situational Analysis

3. Target Situational Analysis

4. Need:

a) Target Situational Analysis

b) Pedagogic Needs Analysis: deficiency, strategy and means analysis

3. Analysis of Study Skills



4. Skills and Strategies



4. Analysis of learning Needs



5. Learning-Centred Approach

4. Learning-Centred Approach

5. Learning:

The Learning-Centred Approaches







5. No real dominating approach


Fig. 1  The development of ESP as found in the literature


to be disappointing for several reasons. Firstly, it operated only at sentence level and said nothing about wider features of text that operate at intersentential level. More significantly, the results of register analysis showed that there was very little actual difference in ‘scientific’ language as compared to general English. As Coffey (1984) concluded:


In short, register cannot be used...because there is no significant way in which the language of science differs from any other kind of language.[6]                                                                         (Coffey 1984:4-5)


Another problem was that this approach was only descriptive, it did not explain why the words occurred where they did. Finally, the materials that were created from this approach, for example Herbert (1965), whilst theoretically very sound for their period and based on painstaking research, were dull and uninspiring to both students and teachers alike.


3.2.4 Later developments in Register Analysis


Register Analysis[7] in ESP in its purest sense was abandoned to a large extent after this period in the 1960s, but its influence has reached out through the 1980s and to the present day. Dudley-Evans & St John (1998: 31) argue that with the advent of computer technology and concordancing programs, register analysis has become a more valid research approach. West (1997:35) shows that the projects concerned with transport safety, SEASPEAK (Weeks et al. 1988), air traffic control, AIRSPEAK (Robertson 1987) and channel-tunnel communication, POLICESPEAK (Johnson 1993), developed out of the original concepts of register analysis. These projects, however, have included a broader concept of text to include features of discourse and function.


Thus it can be seen that the changes that followed register analysis saw the need to go beyond the sentence level to longer pieces of discourse and see how texts joined together to become both cohesive  and coherent.


3.2.5 Stage 2:  Discourse or Rhetorical  Analysis


Returning to Figure 1, it can be seen that all the writers agree that the next stage of development was that of Discourse or Rhetorical Analysis. This approach attempted to look beyond the sentence to longer pieces of discourse. As West notes

The reaction against register analysis in the early 1970s concentrated  on the communicative values of discourse rather than the lexical and grammatical properties of register.    (West 1997:36)



Discourse Analysis looked at the way in which sentences were linked together in a text to form a wider definition of meaning than the study of register had. This included studying the concept of coherence, ‘the quality of being meaningful and unified’ (Cook 1989:4), and cohesion ‘links between sentences and between clauses’ (Cook 1989:14) and  how meaning is tied together, e.g. through formal grammatical devices. Coffey (1984) mentions Widdowson's idea of use, the idea of language used for a purpose, and usage, the linguistic rules of the language, in relation to discourse analysis:


... it (discourse analysis) encouraged students to think in terms of use of language for a purpose, rather than in terms of practising correct  usage.                                                                            (Coffey 1984:5)



3.2.6  Later developments in Discourse Analysis : Genre Analysis


Discourse analysis has had a strong influence in ESP research and out of it has developed the Genre Analysis approach with Swales (1981, 1990), being largely responsible for bringing genre research to the fore of ESP. Genres,[8] it will be seen, are difficult to define, but at a general level[9] ‘genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes’ (Swales 1990:58).


West notes the difference between genre and discourse analysis by referring to a study done on business telephone calls saying that ‘while discourse analysis identifies the functional components of the calls, genre analysis enables the materials writer to sequence these functions into a series to capture the overall structure of such texts’ (West 1997:36). The key feature of genre analysis is that it places the discourse into the communicative context within which it occurs and takes account of aspects such as culture and situation in a way that earlier discourse analysis was unable to do.  Accordingly, genre analysis has been considered a very important development in ESP (Dudley-Evans & St John 1998:31).


Returning to the chronological discussion of ESP, it can be seen that the natural outcome of the discourse analysis approach was a pre-occupation with the purposes to which the language would be put and with it came a slight change in focus. It was no longer enough just to discover the specialist language of a given area: the concept of learners’ needs now came to the forefront, i.e. in which situations do learners need the language and exactly what is the language of these situations?  The answers to these questions came in the form of Target Situational Analysis (needs analysis) and in the functional/notional approach.


3.2.7 Stage 3: Needs Analysis


The idea of the large scale of analysis of students’ needs was begun largely with Richterich’s (1971) pioneering work for the Council of Europe, though the phrase ‘analysis of needs’ was used as early as the 1920s by Michael West when teaching Indian civil servants. Approaches to needs analysis have changed as views on language and communicative competence have changed. Thus, the first main movement, Target Situation Analysis, grew up alongside the functional/notional work of Wilkins (1976). Wilkins’ work, widely regarded as heralding in the age of ‘communicative’ language teaching, argued that language was made up of functions - the purposes to which language is put - and notions - concepts expressed by language. This resulted in a search to find those situations where students would need language and subsequently an attempt to define the language needed in those situations.


Stuart & Lee (1972) in ground-breaking work analysed the target situational needs of ten different occupational groups. Their results gave insight into the most common situational needs of Business English students. Indeed, their stratification of need according to listening and speaking 49%, listening 8%, listening and writing 3%, writing 17%, reading 19% and speaking 4%, will be discussed later in this work when determining representative corpus content.


Interest in research on occupational needs was followed by a focus on EAP and analysis of students’ needs in an academic setting (Jordan & Mackay 1973). As can be seen from the dates, these movements were not chronologically separate, but were rather a continuous overlapping and evolving of the same thought in different areas. The process of TSA culminated in Munby’s (1978) Communicative Syllabus Design, in which it was taken to extremes. Munby compiled a taxonomy of target situations that students would potentially need to operate in - but the list, whilst of great theoretical value, was so long and wieldy that it could not easily operate in practice.


There followed a backlash against TSA in the purest sense, as other more pragmatic factors came to the fore of academic discussion. The problem had been that Munby’s work could, in many ways, be seen as an ‘ivory tower’ approach with little practical application in the real world. McDonough (1984:33) quite succinctly talks about the post-Munby period as the ‘intrusion of reality’. Additionally, there were other, more theoretical problems with Munby’s work. Although Munby listed constraints,[10] no action was taken to accommodate them in his model. Moreover, the students were seen in an idealised vacuum in a totally objective manner away from the subjectivity of real-life. They were not involved in the process of their own needs analysis; the first consultation with them was also the last. Partly as a result of this, many later writers have stressed the importance of on-going needs analysis (McDonough 1984, Riddell 1991). These matters further seriously impaired the credibility of Munby’s model.





3.2.8 Later developments in Needs Analysis


TSA as an approach has never gone away, but has simply become one of many approaches, rather than being the only one. Its basis, though of extreme practical use (most later models incorporate it in one form or another) is, unfortunately, only in the intuition of its creators.


As views of language changed  towards the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, so too did approaches to needs analysis. Canale & Swain’s (1980) additional sociolinguistic definition of communicative competence, allied with points of dissatisfaction with Munby’s work, led to a flurry of activity.  Needs were no longer defined simply in terms of terminal situation language functions, but in turn in terms of means, lacks and learning strategies.


Means analysis - analysis of the practical constraints on learning - grew out of the backlash to Munby (mentioned above). McDonough (1984) looked at constraints on the teaching situation and viewed them as being at the core of the course design process: thus, options and not constraints. Mountford (1988), Räsänen (1987) and Swales (1989)  amongst several others, have also written in this area and its influence has continued up until this day.


Deficiency analysis was started by Allwright & Allwright (1977), who based their approach - that of looking at the difference between where a student is ability-wise and where they want to be - on their experiences with medical students. It is interesting to note with regard to this study that this approach was all based on their intuition. Nelson (1994 a,b) includes a large scale computerised deficiency analysis to analyse business language needs. This, too is based on intuition. Preferred ways of learning (strategy analysis), also became widespread at this time. Work on learning strategies had been done in other areas of education since the 1960s, notably in Canada and the United States. By the 1980s it had also taken root in EFL with Allwright, for example, holding sessions with his students on how to learn rather than what to learn.


The language audit (Pilbeam 1979) was also introduced about this time. This broadened the spectrum of needs analysis by looking into company training needs and setting targets for learning based on an analysis of staff needs. This approach has proved popular and has developed over the years.[11] However, whilst there has been a lot of work done in practice in this area, most of it has not seen the light of day, largely due to companies’ insistence on a degree of secrecy and the desire of language schools to keep secret what competitive edge they may have over their competitors.


The 1990s saw a further broadening of the concept of need as the computer was utilised to analyse students requirements. Jones (1991) and then Nelson (1992, 1994 a,b) used computers to analyse the needs of students, the latter being Business English students. The concept of need according to Nelson is extended to the finding of suitable teaching materials. This is carried out by the use of a computer database of Business English teaching materials contained in the program.


3.2.9  Stage 4: Skills and strategies


In the 1980s, another broad movement developed: that of concentrating on particular language skills. Concentration on skills had actually been one of the first approaches to teaching ESP in the register analysis period, but at that time had focused almost exclusively on reading skills and written text (West 1997:33).  By the 1980s this ‘skills’ approach had matured to cover a wider definition of text, i.e. to cover speaking and listening skills. One writer associated with this movement, Morrow (1980),  presented skills he considered necessary in reading such as skimming, scanning and awareness of cohesion and coherence. This movement has had a great deal of influence on Business English materials and great number of books from the 1980s focused on skills work, such as the Longman series of skills in, for example, Negotiating (O’Connor et al.1992) and Telephoning (Bruce 1992).[12]


Analysis of needs then grew to cover not only individual skills, but also the strategies students need to complete work. In the wake of the work of Allwright and Allwright (1977), where students were ‘learning how to learn’, both skills and strategy analysis had arrived in ESP. Hutchinson & Waters explain that


The principal idea behind the skills-centred approach is that underlying all language use there are common reasoning and interpreting processes, which, regardless of the surface forms, enable us to extract meaning from discourse.

                                                              (Hutchinson & Waters 1987:13)


This movement will be returned to in more depth later when discussing Business English materials.


3.2.10 Stage 5 The Learning-Centred approach


Concern with skills and strategies led to the next movement in ESP development - the Learning-Centred Approach. This approach has been championed by Hutchinson & Waters and many of their articles (Hutchinson & Waters 1980, 1981, 1983, 1987, Hutchinson 1988) have this approach as their main theme. It is neatly defined below:


ESP is not a matter of teaching ‘specialised varieties’ of  English. The fact that language is used for a specific purpose does not  imply that it is a special form of the language, different in kind to other forms. Certainly, there are some features that can be identified as ‘typical’ of a particular context of use and which, therefore, the learner is more  likely to meet in the  target situation. But these differences should not be allowed to obscure the far larger area of common ground that underlies all English use, and indeed, all language use.  

                                                                            (Hutchinson & Waters 1987:18)    

They argue that in terms of teaching, information gained from the target situation is of secondary importance to the general development of competence in the learner. This competence is not only the knowledge to perform but to isolate ‘how someone acquires that competence’ (Hutchinson & Waters 1987:73). They believe that previous approaches to ESP were intrinsically flawed, in that they were ‘based on descriptions of language use’ (Hutchinson & Waters 1987:14) whereas they were interested in language learning. This approach means in terms of course design that it is a negotiated process between students and teacher and, therefore, a dynamic process where students are constantly consulted on the content and structure of the course: ‘an approach with the avowed aim of maximising the potential of the learning situation’ (Hutchinson & Waters 1987:77).


3.2.11 Stage 6: ESP today


The general opinion in the literature at present, (West 1997 and Dudley-Evans & St John 1998) is that little has happened in ESP since Hutchinson & Waters’ work in 1987. Dudley-Evans & St John, however,  discuss the rise of genre analysis and its importance in the analysis of ESP situations but they state that it cannot be seen as a major movement such as register analysis, needs analysis and the learning-centred approach were, for example. They also note the arrival of corpora and how this has validated new register analysis work, as was noted earlier in this section. Interestingly in terms of this thesis, another significant change is mentioned:


One major change has been the emergence of Business English as a major strand of ESP teaching. Early ESP work was dominated by English for Science and Technology .... However, in the 1990s … the largest area of growth is Business English. 

                                                                        (Dudley-Evans & St John 1998:31)


This will be returned to later. However, whilst perhaps there have not been major changes as such, it can be noted that practitioners are taking advantage of all previous facets of ESP in order to present students with a mix to fit their particular situation. This present period may thus perhaps be called the  eclectic period (see Fig. 2 for an overview of the developments in ESP since 1960). The diagram shows all the main approaches on a time-line, highlighting the fact that all the previous approaches are available to the practitioner today.





                                                                        Eclectic Period



                                                                        Skills & Strategies


                                                Needs Analysis



                                                                        Genre Analysis                                          

                  Discourse Analysis


Register Analysis




1960                 1970              1980                   1990            2000


Fig. 2  A time-line of approaches to ESP



3.2.12 Summary: definitions of ESP


From the previous sections it has been possible to see the on-going development of ESP to the present day. Underlying all these approaches has been a discussion on whether specific situations where language is used can generate situational or subject-specific language. The consensus has been that whilst the situations do not give rise to separate, special languages as such, there is a restriction of language choice and a certain amount of specialist lexis.[13] The acquisition of this restricted, specialised language, first of all by teachers in order to teach it, and its subsequent transferral to the learners, has created a learning dynamic very different from that of mainstream ELT. Thus, most definitions in the literature are concerned with either language or the teaching of that language.


Mackay & Mountford, in an early definition refer to the practical aspect of ESP in that it is ‘generally used to refer to the teaching of English for a clearly utilitarian purpose’ (Mackay & Mountford 1978:2). Strevens (1977) gives four main criteria for SP-LT:


·    Restriction: only basic skills needed for the learners’ purpose

·    Selection: only the vocabulary and grammar needed by the learners

·    Themes and topics: only those required by the learners

·    Communicative needs: only those needed by students in their given situations


Coffey (1984:3), largely re-iterating Strevens, said that, ‘There is no special language; only a principle of selection from the language to meet the purposes defined’ and that


Before a course can be designed, in any of its parameters, the process

that Strevens calls ‘restriction’ must take place: the selection of items

and features from the corpus of the language that are relevant to the 

designer’s intention and the student’s needs.             (Coffey 1984: 4)


Learners’ needs are highlighted by many writers in ESP. Kennedy & Bolitho sum up well by saying ‘In short, ESP has as its basis in an investigation of the purposes of the learner and the set of communicative needs arising from those needs’ (Kennedy & Bolitho 1984:3).


Arguably, most enlightenment can be gained from later writers who have the benefit of hindsight. West (1997) argues that ESP rests on five conceptions. These are authenticity, research-base, language, need and learning methodology. However, ‘These conceptions all have dual and potentially conflicting origins in both the real world...and in ESP pedagogy’ (1997:33). These potential conflicts he summarises in the following diagram (1997:33):



            real-world conceptions                                    pedagogic conceptions






authenticity        research-based           language as       need              learning/

                                                             text                                        methodology



Fig. 3 Conflict of ESP conceptions after West (1997:33)


Thus the real-world needs of the students, for example, may contrast with their pedagogic needs, authenticity of materials may be constrained by pedagogic considerations and so on.  Dudley-Evans & St John (1998) claim to have found an underlying methodology for ESP as a whole. As early as 1980, Robinson realised that ‘The student of learning English en route  to the acquisition of some quite different body of knowledge or set of skills’ (1980:6). A natural consequence of this is that the role of the ESP teacher is quite different from that of the general English teacher in that ‘the teacher sometimes becomes more like a language consultant, enjoying equal status with the learners who have their own expertise in the subject matter’ (Dudley-Evans & St John 1998:4). They go on to define ESP in terms of absolute and variable characteristics. These are summarised in the table below (Dudley-Evans & St John 1998:4-5):






designed to meet specific needs

may be related to or designed for specific disciplines

makes use of the underlying methodology and activities of the discipline it serves

may use in specific teaching situations a different methodology than general English

is centred on the language, skills discourse and genre appropriate to the activities

most likely to be for adult learners


most often designed for intermediate or advanced learners


The special methodology of ESP, therefore, lies in the nature of the relationship between teacher and learner, which in turn is brought about by the focus on the specific language of disciplines in which the students are experts and the teacher is, in a sense, an outsider.

This methodology of ESP is of key importance to this thesis. The underlying methodology - that of the teacher as ‘coach’- obviates the need for teachers to very quickly learn the appropriate language of the specific discipline. It will be seen in the next section that present knowledge of the language studied in this thesis, i.e. the language of business, is still, at least empirically, limited. The section will begin by looking at how Business English fits into the general ESP picture and will continue by looking at what has been discovered about Business English in each of the five or six stages of ESP development previously covered.


3.3 Business English in an ESP context


It was noted in the last section that ESP has developed greatly over the last thirty or forty years and that Business English has been part of that growth. The place of Business English in that process can be seen in the following diagrams taken from different moments in time. The first diagram (Fig. 4), is from Strevens (1977) and shows SP-LT split into occupational and educational segments. In terms of occupational language it is interesting to note that this is divided into three sections: pre-experience, simultaneous and post-experience. These different aspects of need of language are particularly relevant to Business English. Several writers (Pickett 1988, Johnson, 1993, Ellis & Johnson 1994 and Brieger 1997) have discussed the varying language needs of students who are essentially learning both the language of the job, and also about the job or field of work itself, i.e. pre-experience, and those learners who are already doing the job, i.e. post-experience. Pickett (1988:90) refers to this as the difference between knowing about something and acting - i.e. the difference between the language needed for knowing about a topic and the language needed for actually being able to perform in a given area. Brieger refers to the same distinction of learners calling them  pre-service and in-service learners (Brieger 1997:12).









                  OCCUPATIONAL          SIMULTANEOUS







                        EDUCATIONAL             IN-STUDY





Fig. 4 From Strevens (1977:155-156) - the division in SP-LT



Jordan (1989), in an article on English for Academic Purposes (EAP), reproduces the now commonly-held views on the structure of ESP:






            EAP                                         EST                                         EOP



Fig. 5  The division of ESP from Jordan (1989:150)



Thus Jordan saw EOP as an off-shoot of ESP in general, but separate from EST and EAP. Jordan then divides his particular area of interest, EAP, into two distinct categories - general academic English and specific academic English:





                        EGAP                                                      ESAP


Fig. 6  The division of EAP from Jordan (1989:150)                                    

By implication one may thus present a simplified picture of the division noted by the writers above in terms of  Business English - general Business English and more specific Business English:




                        EGBP                                                    ESBP


Fig. 7 EBP (English for Business Purposes) divided into EGBP (English for General Business Purposes) and ESBP (English for Specific Business Purposes)


Yet it can, and is, argued in the literature that this presents a much too simplistic picture of the broad scope of Business English today. Dudley-Evans & St John say that ‘We see Business English as an umbrella term used similarly to the term English for Specific Purposes to embrace both general courses in the appropriate lexis and grammar for business communication’ (1996:1). Johnson (1993:201) agrees, saying that ‘Business English does not fit neatly into the generally accepted categorisations of ESP’. She goes on to quote Munby (1978), who presented a broad variety of different situations and potential learners of Business English. She then concludes that ‘Business English is much broader than other varieties of ESP because of the number of different purposes for which it is taught’ (Johnson 1993:201).


Ellis & Johnson (1994) present, therefore, in relation to this broadness of Business English, three basic categories of Business English learner:


1. Pre-experience learners: students at business schools - not yet in work.

2. Low-experienced learners: junior company members and learners who are changing jobs.

3. Job-experienced learners: those in work who need Business English for a broad variety of reasons.


Whilst it is certainly true to say that Business English is a broad area, and this will be dealt with in the next section of this thesis, it can also be viewed as a part of the ESP movement - simply a very complex and large part of it. The place of Business English in ESP and the kinds of learners it has can be summarised in the diagram below:


            EAP                                         ESP                                       



                                                  Business English


            EGBP                                                              ESBP




            Pre-experience             Low-experience           Job-experienced


Fig. 8 Business English in ESP and Business English learners



It can be noted in Fig. 8 that pre-experience learners are more likely to need general Business English and those already in the workplace more specific Business English.[14] Also, some students need ‘academic’ Business English in a college setting. Thus Business English, though a separate part of ESP, is still part of it.


With Business English placed in its ESP context it is time to move forward to answer an un-asked but inherent question that has been underlying the previous section. What is Business English? The previous discussion has assumed that there is a fixed concept of  what Business English is that can be related to by all. In reality, this is not the case. The purpose of the rest of this review of the literature, therefore, is two-fold. First, the aim is to investigate attempts to define Business English through research carried out and second, to look at what Business English is thought to be - through the intuition and experience of its practitioners.







A: Studies into what business language is


3.4  Pickett and beyond


3.4.1 Introduction: initial comments on the nature of Business English


The immediately noticeable feature of Business English research is the relative lack of it. The literature on Business English is largely concerned with the practical issues of teaching, rather than with analysis of the features of its language. This state of affairs has been brought about largely by the fact that most Business English teaching remains outside the university environment. This has meant that whereas studies of EAP have been more common, the private language schools that teach Business English often do not have the resources or the time to support research. Moreover, any research done and results gained are often held in-house, and the experience used as a competitive edge over rivals. Business English teaching is a business, not an academic pursuit. Additionally, gaining access to raw data, that is from the companies themselves, is often hampered by the desire for secrecy on their part. Meetings and negotiations held can commonly be of importance to their financial survival and it is, therefore, more difficult to gain access to them than, say, a group of language students on a university EAP course.


Thus, when looking at the three most recent state-of-the-art articles on Business English (Johnson 1993, Dudley-Evans & St John 1996, St John 1996),[15] and two major handbooks on teaching Business English (Ellis & Johnson 1994 and Brieger 1997), discussion for the most part is firmly based around aspects of teaching and materials and discussion of learner issues.

·    Johnson (1993) quickly covers some research done in the area of Business English and then goes on to discuss needs analysis techniques and approaches and materials for teaching.

·    Dudley-Evans & St John are more thorough in terms of discussing what has been discovered linguistically about Business English and go in much greater detail into Business English research - the first fourteen pages of the forty page report are devoted to work done in this area.

·    St John (1996) similarly devotes space to research done in business, and one section (1996:5) concentrates on ‘linguistic issues’. St John however, still notes the lack of evidence on what Business English actually is, saying that ‘One of the difficulties of Business English is the absence of an established  ‘common-core’ of business language’ (1996:5).

·    Ellis & Johnson encouragingly entitle the first chapter of their book ‘What is Business English?’ yet no attempt is given at any kind of linguistic definition. They complain that there is a lack of research and therefore ‘little to support course developers beyond their own first-hand experience gained in the field’ (1994:7).

·    Brieger (1997) discusses the grammar and lexis of Business English but only in terms of who is talking to whom and in what situation. His definition of Business English (shown in the diagram below) is also very much concerned with its teaching rather than any linguistic analysis.



                                        Business English


            LANGUAGE                                      COMMUNICATION

            KNOWLEDGE                                               SKILLS


            - grammar                                                        - presentations

            - vocabulary                                                    - meetings

                                                                                    - telephoning

            - pronunciation                                                - report writing




Fig. 9  Business English as seen by Brieger (1997:35)

He continues by saying that ‘the legitimate scope of our pedagogic activities as Business English to design and deliver courses which aim to increase language knowledge and communication skills’ (1997:35). In terms of language he does provide a check-list of useful phrases at the back of the book, but again these are based on teaching experience rather than on any in-depth study into the language of business.


Other writers have also both attempted definitions of Business English and noted the lack of research into it. Yli-Jokipii (1994), for example, in a study of requests in business correspondence, divided business language into interactive and non-interactive areas shown in the example below (Yli-Jokipii 1994:38):



spoken  >> face to face, telephone >> service encounters, negotiations etc.

written >> method of transmission >> memo, letter etc.


non-interactive >> forms, reports, proposals, adverts etc.


In terms of the language of business, however, she says significantly that ‘I am not aware of any research that establishes the properties of business language as distinct from general language’ (1994:43).  Thus whilst there is definite interest in this question, hard research is missing.


Yet despite the main focus of writing being on learner and classroom issues, major research has been carried out into Business English and is, at time of writing, very much on the increase.[16] Analysis of Business English has benefited both from the direct research done into it and also from studies of other specific languages - notably in EST - the results of which have a definite cross-over effect in enhancing knowledge of Business English. The next section of this thesis, therefore, looks at research done into Business English which has given greater insight into its make-up. The discussion begins with the writings of Pickett, who can be viewed as a major, if not the only major ‘thinker’ on the nature and characteristics of Business English.

3.4.2 Pickett and the ‘poetics’ of the business ‘ergolect’


The following is a short extract from an interview conducted whilst gathering data for the Business English Corpus. In the extract, a sales manager recalls his previous work as a top civil servant and how the civil servants had interfaced with people from the business world. He felt that the campaign for plain English in the 1980s had had some effect in stopping ‘officialese’ as he put it, but that the civil service was still full of jargon. The civil servants had managed to stop using jargon when business people were present but resorted back to it when left alone.


SM[17]: ...but the danger was that we tended to do that when we were talking to the business people and when they left the room or we congregated in an area by ourselves we felt...


Int: Shift back....


SM: But at least then we spoke two languages, if you like, we were becoming a bi-lingual, or multi-lingual and the terminology changed a bit. 


Int: So a language to the outside and a language for the inside?


SM: But there was cross-over, that language became broader in each case. People learned our expressions - we learned their expressions and some of the old expressions were dropped in each case, we adopted some of theirs and they adopted some of ours.


This observation on the cross-over of language from one group to another and the grading of language into understandable and specialist terminology is at the heart of the work of the late Douglas Pickett. His published output concerning Business English was limited, with only three articles appearing between 1986 and 1989[18] along with talks at IATEFL[19] and BESIG[20] conferences. However, despite this lack of volume, the ideas put forward by Pickett represent almost the only real original examination of Business English language at a macro-level in the literature. Pickett’s work was all based on his own experience and intuition and lacked any empirical confirmation, yet it will be shown that work going on around Pickett in other fields both before and at the same time all lend credence to his ideas. Moreover, this thesis will attempt to show that Pickett’s ideas were correct within the field of Business English. For this reason it is important to spend some time looking at exactly what Pickett said, and then discover what empirical evidence is available to substantiate his claims. Evaluation of Pickett’s work will include the three articles mentioned above and the transcript of a talk given to the 1986 IATEFL conference in Brighton.


Pickett (1986a) presented a retrospective look at a gathering of Business English teachers and noted that all the teachers were teaching a wide variety of groups but


...despite all these disparities, they were united in the consciousness

that what they were teaching was ‘business English’. Paradoxically, the question soon arose as to whether there was such a thing.                                                                                        (Pickett 1986a:1)


Pickett himself felt that Business English is a part of ESP but business and commerce are by definition an interface between the general public and the specialist must be a lot nearer the everyday language spoken by the general public than many other segments of  ESP.                                                          (Pickett 1986a:1)


He then refined this statement by comparing Business English to ‘lay-language’:


Conversely, of course, the extent to which it departs from lay language depends more on the nature of the business than on any autonomous subject area it occupies all to itself. Thus if we take three different firms, one in insurance, one in pharmaceuticals and one in fashion, their language to the public will be much the same and no more specialised than can be avoided. Their internal specialist languages, however, will be respectively those of insurance, pharmaceuticals and fashion, not business in general.                                                        (Pickett 1986a:1)



Business transactions, he argued, and as a consequence, a large part of business language, are governed by universal actions that take place in any business, no matter what kind, e.g. the Bill of Lading, the VAT enquiry etc. (1986a:2).  This is certainly true of written communication and Pickett argued that it must also be true to a certain extent in spoken exchanges of a ritual nature, for example, the committee meeting and the annual staff interview. However, spoken language is less easy to define and


...what makes for real business communication is a whole gamut of subtly graded conversations sensitive to the subject matter, the occasion, the shared knowledge and social relationships holding between speakers.                                                        (Pickett 1986a:2)



Pickett believed that Business English, though a part of ESP, is much more complex than other areas. In other areas of ESP, specialist language is for intra-group communication and there is no need for a link to the general public. Pickett likened Business English to the doctor-patient relationship in that doctors, as well as discussing with each other, also need to be able to relate to their patients in understandable language. Pickett’s views on the place of Business English can be summarised in the following diagram - adapted from Pickett (1986a: 4).


                                                GENERAL ENGLISH



                                           Communication with Public


                                                BUSINESS ENGLISH



                                        Communication Among Businesses



                        Insurance         etc.      Petroleum        etc.      Fashion           etc.     


Fig. 10  After Pickett (1986a:4) The specialised language of particular businesses

When discussing the concept of register Pickett basically divided it into two areas: register as defined by subject matter, i.e. special language being used because of the subject area, such as football or cookery, and register as defined by situation, i.e. by the special situation a speaker finds themselves in. ‘In other words, the individual can switch his linguistic code to conform to his role, just as a bi-lingual can shift languages’ (1986a:8). The importance of this discussion on register is that Pickett says that although Business English is a register, it cannot be confined by current definitions of it.


In both major senses of the word ‘register’ business English includes register but is not confined by it. In so far as register is defined by subject matter, business English embraces at least two subject matters. One is the specialist language of whatever sort of business one happens to be in - transport, petroleum, jewellery, hairdressing, banking, catering, etc. The other is the language of business in general that occupies a neutral place between particular businesses. Thus, terms like ‘order’, ‘issue’, ‘bad debt’, ‘invest’, ‘boom’, ‘slump’, ‘invoice’, ‘depreciation’, ‘stock’, ‘discount’, ‘turnover’, would belong there, since they are part of a framework of concepts that would probably be used in any business. Insofar as a register is defined by situation, we might also speak of a ‘business register’, since there are certain situations peculiar to business which shape the language used in them.                                                                           (Pickett 1986a:9)


Thus, ‘Business English is too rich and complex to be equated merely with register, however defined, and like most chunks of real-life defies neat categorisation’ (1986a:12). What is of key importance for the actual production of business language are sociolinguistic factors, as Business English ‘depends much more on the setting and social relations than upon the subject matter’ (1986a:2).


Pickett’s key points thus far were summarised in Pickett (1986b):


1. Business language looks out to the general public and inwards to a particular business. It thus in one way resembles general English, but it also contains many words and phrases unknown to the lay-person.

2. These distinctions are more to do with lexis and less to do with grammar, more written than spoken.

3. Business language can best be found in the ‘forms and frameworks of conventionalised transactions, governed by the courtesies and formalities of business life which are to a large extent universal’ (1986b:2).

4. Thus, while there is a grammar and lexis of Business English, its main content is sociolinguistic - the language showing ‘sensitivity to subject matter, the occasion, shared knowledge and social relations holding between companies and communicators’ (1986b:2).

5. Business English fits none of the conventional definitions of register ‘but embraced all and probably transcended them’ (1986b:3).


The talk is concluded by hopes for the future  - he suggested the setting up of a spoken Business English corpus to analyse spoken language, being especially interested in what he called ‘oral collocations peculiar to business speech’ (1986b:4). These, he suggested, should also be taught.


His arguments are taken up and further developed in Pickett (1988), where he both introduced new ideas and also elaborated on old ones. The new idea concerned the learners of Business English and he made the distinction discussed earlier of knowing about business and acting in it. Both, he proposed, should essentially generate different language.


In his final article on Business English (Pickett 1989), he discussed his perhaps most important points: ergolect - the concept of a work language - and what he called the poetics[21] of Business English - that of business language being drawn from general English to create fresh meaning in a business context which can then flow back into general usage. In the article he concentrated on the language of Business English and offered a framework for discovering exactly what it might be. He began the article by saying that Business English


... is clearly a dialect of English but not exclusively of England. Indeed, it is not a dialect defined by place at all but by activity, occupation, subject matter or situation. For this we might coin the term ergolect - work language, though for many years linguists have been using the term register.    (Pickett 1989:5 - Pickett’s own italics)


This ergolect, at least partially, is created by the poetics of business language. Poetics is of key importance to later discussion on technical and sub-technical language as it shows a feature of specialist language noted by most writers in the field - that of the layering of specialist lexis. Pickett suggested that general language flows into the Business English environment and takes on new combinations and meanings. These meanings are graded in terms of how understandable they are. It is perhaps easier to see this gradation of business lexis by viewing the examples below in Table II:












free on board






public borrowing requirement











Confederation of British Industry





Thus, for example, the terms public, borrowing and requirement which all have a general English use are, when used together, an obscure term. When the acronym PBR is used the same words become opaque. One key distinguishing feature of Business English, Pickett believed, is that although all ‘special’ languages may be based on this process, in Business English it is much more apparent. The languages of science, medicine and technology, by way of comparison, are concerned with ‘the natural order’. A gall bladder is the same the world over, and this uniformity is a unifying factor.  Business, however, is based on regional variations and thus totally different all over the world (Pickett 1989:9).



3.4.3 Pickett: A summary


From Pickett’s work it is possible to discern three key areas in which he put forward ideas - all of which affect the nature and make-up of business language used in different ways. These are summarised in the diagram[22] on the next page (Fig.11), but are also laid out here:


·    The language of business itself: There is a lexis of business created by the process of poetics - flowing from the general to the opaque (and back again). This results in a layering of language and indicates that words in a business environment take on new meanings.

·    Language choice: The ergolect of business determined by subject matter, situation, social roles and channels used (speaking or writing): all these factors influence the final choice of language output.

·    Communication partner on a macro-level: Business to public, business to business,  and business to business area, i.e. discussion within a company’s own field


These three main points will now be used to order the remainder of this review of the literature.


It was mentioned at the beginning of this section that Pickett’s ideas do rest on some empirical evidence, even if he himself used only intuition. Much of the evidence to confirm his ideas, however, lies outside the field of Business English. This evidence will now be examined and related back to his work. Additionally, it is clear that Pickett can be criticised on certain counts and, therefore, a full analysis of his work is also necessary before continuing further.                                       

Fig. 11  A summary of Pickett’s main ideas



MACRO-LEVEL LANGUAGE CHOICE                                                             ERGOLECT                             POETICS OF LANGUAGE



                                                                                 LEXIS OF WHOLE LANGUAGE                          GENERAL



          TO GENERAL PUBLIC                                                       SUBJECT MATTER




                                                                                           SOCIAL ROLE

         BUSINESS           TO OTHER

         ENGLISH            BUSINESSES





  TO OWN BUSINESS                                                          SPEECH              WRITING






                                                                                          SPECIAL FILTERED

                                                                                          LANGUAGE OF BUSINESS


3.5  Pickett’s Concept 1: Poetics and the nature of ‘technical’ language



It has been seen that the first movement in ESP was that of register analysis and that the early pre-occupation of register analysis was to try and establish the ‘special’ vocabulary of different disciplines. In its earliest stages this was almost exclusively in the field of EST. Of these early examples, Barber (1962), who looked at the grammatical and lexical make-up of scientific text, Herbert (1965) and Ewer & Latorre (1967, 1969) are, perhaps, some of the most well-known. Other interesting work, however, was being done at this time on the question of vocabulary in specific disciplines and deserves a mention here. Kirkham (1978) looked at what he called common core words in engineering and mathematics textbooks. Friel (1978), in the same volume,[23] carried out a small study in an attempt to find useful verbs to teach students on legal English courses. Wingard (1981) looked at verb forms and function in medical texts after a student had suggested that when learning medical reading, the simple past passive was the most important form to know, whereas Wingard believed in the importance of the simple present active tense. His study of six medical texts bore out his belief in the importance of the simple present active. Whilst all these studies were quite small in scale (with the exception, perhaps, of Ewer & Latorre), they are all important as they represent the first real attempts to get to grips with the language of specific disciplines on an empirical rather than on an intuitive basis.


In addition to this focus on EST, examples of register work on Business English can also be found both in this early period and later. Farmer (1967) established a vocabulary frequency list for the vocabulary of business letters from a 10,956 word corpus, claiming that they account for ‘nearly 97 per cent of the words in business correspondence’ (Farmer 1967:129). Lyne (1985), in later work, established the most common words of French business correspondence using a corpus of 80,000 words (670 business letters in all). He was able to establish what he called the ‘registral value’(1985:155-156) of words, ranking the 100 most frequent words of his corpus in order of their significance, as compared to the Frequency Dictionary of French Words (Juilland et al.1970).[24]


Other work from the early period noted above was also starting to look at the layering of the language of these specific disciplines - most of it outside the area of Business English - but studies into Business English were to follow the trail blazed by these early writers.


3.5.1 The notions of sub-technical language and layering from outside the field of Business English


As was noted above, Pickett has not been alone in considering  ‘technical’[25] language to be layered. A reading of the early related literature - loosely defined as belonging to the field of register analysis - shows similar ideas. Close (1965:3) suggested that there are three layers in scientific English: ‘a) a foundation that could serve any purpose; b) a superstructure that could serve for any scientific purpose;  and c) a later superstructure serving some special scientific purpose  (Close’s italics). Martin (1976), in an article on academic vocabulary skills, divided them up into three areas for teaching purposes: the research process - primarily verbs and nouns, the vocabulary of analysis - high frequency verbs and two-word verbs e.g. consist of, derive and base on, and the vocabulary of evaluation - academic adjectives and adverbs.


Cowan (1974), writing at around the same time, is widely attributed with the introduction of the concept of what he termed sub-technical vocabulary.[26] His ideas came out of a joint research program between the University of Illinois and Tehran University in Iran[27] to train science students to read English at an advanced level. The students, he explained, basically encountered problems in two areas: vocabulary and syntax, the former being of interest here. Cowan distinguished four categories of vocabulary:


1. Highly technical words:  these were words such as duodenum and aorta.

2. Sub-technical vocabulary: These he defined as ‘context independent words which occur with high frequency across disciplines’ Cowan (1974:391). Examples of these words he gave were function, inference, isolate, relation, basis. He also expressed the need to determine these sub-technical  words for each individual discipline.

3. Semi-technical and 4. Non-technical: these were words such as hospital, medicine, patient, disease and he grouped them together making no explicit distinction between them.


It can be noted here that this division of categories already sounds very similar to Pickett’s notions of poetics. Cowan was also notable for his time in that he advocated the use of electronic corpora and his data came from a 79,000 word corpus of medical texts.


Inman (1978), cited in King (1989), having created a 110,000 word corpus of science and technology texts, was able to divide the corpus into three categories: technical terms 21% - with low distribution across disciplines; function words 9% and 70% sub-technical words.


Godman & Payne (1981), in an article mostly concerned with the taxonomy of scientific lexis and its division into clusters, suggested that the lexis of science is made up of two elements - technical terms, which are terms where ‘there is a congruity of concept between all scientists’ (1981:24) and common language terms used technically or non-technical terms. Non-technical terms are further divided up, they suggested, into a) terms of the general language, e.g. co-ordinators, determiners and adjuncts, and b) terms that can be described as ‘a basic list for usage in science’ (1981:28).


Trimble (1985) continued the discussion on sub-technical vocabulary by quoting Cowan’s definition of it and then extending its meaning to words which ‘have one or more ‘general’ English meanings and which in technical contexts take on extended meanings (technical, or specialized in some fashion)’ (Trimble 1985:129). Thus, sub-technical vocabulary for Trimble meant both context-independent words that occur with a high frequency across the different disciplines of science, and also words that are found in both general English and ‘scientific’ English but with different meanings. He gave actual examples of this latter category of terms, e.g. base, which has different meanings in botany, chemistry, electronics and navigation - as well as in general English. Trimble also looked at the special noun compounds to be found in scientific texts such as metal shaft and liquid storage vessel and graded them on a four-stage scale depending on their difficulty of learning: simple, complex, more complex and very complex (Trimble 1985:133), again substantiating Pickett’s theory of the layering of specialist language. 


Yang (1986), put forward a technique to automatically retrieve scientific and technical terms from machine-readable texts. He was also interested in a way of characterising the text types once found. He worked on the hypothesis that as terms are context-specific they should have a very high frequency where they occur but also ‘vary dramatically from one subject matter to another’ (Yang 1986:97). Yang compiled a 270,000 word corpus of science texts using a novel - Graham Greene’s ‘Human Factor’ - as a reference corpus. His results were interesting and showed a ‘remarkable difference between science texts and general texts in two-word combinations’ (1986:102). Overall, he was able to divide the corpus into four categories of word:


1. Function words:  Well distributed words - high frequency

2. Sub-technical words: Broad distribution but with peaks in some texts

3. Science/technical terms: Low distribution but high frequency in some texts

4. Overlap category: Where a general sub-technical term can be a specialist term in one specific area

King (1989), working with MSc students who needed to write English assignments, chose five assignments from different fields and was interested in seeing ‘what kind of lexis was common to the five projects and how this commonality compared with other cross-textual features in the corpora’ (1989:16). He decided to consider only nouns and found that out of the 571 nouns extracted from the texts, only 43 of them occurred in four or five of the texts. His analysis concluded with implications for teaching, where he said that


What has here been identified as sub-technical vocabulary can be considered from the point of view of two functions:

a) the referential function, in which the items have their meaning as part of a system which is the topic of writing ... and

b) the discourse-oriented function, in which the clause-linking relationships or the superordinacy are typically the focus (most instances of way, procedure, case, for example).   (King 1989:19)



It can thus be very clearly seen that in the specialist lexis studied above there is a distinct layering of language along the lines that Pickett proposed. The next section will attempt to discover whether the same can be said of business lexis.


3.5.2 The notion of layering in the field of Business English


The previous section noted that ‘technical’ lexis from various disciplines can be seen to contain a layering of elements. Research in the area of Business English on this matter has been scarce, but there is enough to show that Pickett was probably on the right track. Zak & Dudley-Evans (1986), Alejo & McGinity (1997), Posteguillo & Palmer (1997) and comments by Mascull (1996), all point in the direction of a layering of business language.


Zak & Dudley-Evans’ (1986) study of word omission and abbreviation in telexes found three main types of abbreviation used: firstly, standard abbreviations that are used in everyday life such as a.m. , p.m., approx;  secondly, abbreviations that would only really be used in the office such as asap, c/n  (credit note); and thirdly, highly specialised abbreviations that can be found only in telexes such as adv = advise, bal = balance. They stated that:

...the extent of omission and abbreviation depends very much on the type of audience to which the text is addressed and on conventions established by a company, a department within a company or by an individual.                                             (Zak & Dudley-Evans 1986:70)


The concept of audience thus seems to be critical in the choice of language used in a business setting. The importance of audience was also found in work carried out by Posteguillo & Palmer (1997), who discussed the use of language in business articles found in newspapers. They distinguished between two kinds of article:


1. Business Press Articles (BPA) - aimed at the actual business community to both give information and perhaps influence the economic development of the country.

2. Business News in the Press (BNP) - articles aimed at the general public, their main purpose being simply to give information on business events of note.


The aim of their research was to find significant differences between these two kinds of article. Their results showed that whilst there were some similarities, owing to the fact that both can be seen to belong to the same genre of journalese, there were in fact significant differences which they attributed to the different intended audiences of the articles. Below is a summary of those factors shared by the two types of article and the differences found between them.



1. Both had similar average sentence length.

2. Both had a similar number of finite verb forms per sentence.

3. Both used similar amounts of the passive and active voice in sentences - the active voice being used more than the passive.


1. BPAs had double the references to specific figures.

2. BPAs had an average of 35 business terms per article whereas BNPs had only 25.63.

3. BPAs used more technical acronyms than BNPs.

4. Differences in syntax: the BPAs had much more complicated sentences than the BNPs.

5. Differences in the use of visual aids: BNPs often used a cartoon or clarifying map whilst BPAs used tables and graphs.

Fig.12 Similarities and differences in BPAs and BNPs

In their conclusion Posteguillo & Palmer state that

All these distinctions can be related to the existence of two different types of audiences: a specific readership of business people in the case of BPAs, and a wider less business aware audience in the case of BNPs.                                                 (Posteguillo & Palmer 1997:114)


It can be seen from this that there is a gradation of difficulty in the articles - simpler language for the general public and moving to the more complex for the business people themselves. This point is confirmed by Alejo & McGinity (1997), who, in an article looking at the use of English loan words in Spanish economic texts, found that in the case of one-word anglicisms used in the economic texts, there was a graded scale of difficulty in identifying them. Patent - easily identifiable - terms were either unadapted from English, e.g. antitrust, boycott, broker, or were adapted but still easily recognisable such as barter >bartear and charter > chárter. A second category was also found  - that of non-patent or not easily identifiable terms  (Alejo & McGinity 1997:220).


In addition to this research, it seems that the idea of the layering of specialist lexis has now started to become accepted in the literature. Mascull (1996), for example, in the introduction to his COBUILD-based book, Key Words in Business, says that ‘It systematically covers words and expressions that frequently occur and recur in talking about business. Some of these occur almost exclusively in business contexts; others are used in general English but are used in a particular way when talking about business’ (Mascull 1996:v).


All the above examples lend further credence to the ideas of Pickett and thus suggest the need for further study into the language of business. However, before continuing, it is necessary to go back and make a critical review of both Pickett and the other research mentioned above. There are limitations to all of them that need to be considered before drawing any final conclusions.



3.5.3 Discussion


Pickett: In evaluating the literature centred around the ideas of Pickett it is useful to ask the following questions. Firstly, how is Pickett actually adding to general knowledge of Business English - what is he saying and conversely, what is he not saying? Secondly, is what he is telling us plausible and can it be assumed to be correct based on any empirical evidence? Thirdly, is the empirical evidence - presented in the last sections - valid?


It is possible to criticise the work of Pickett on two separate levels: in a general sense in terms of his methodology (or lack of it) focusing on the overall import of his ideas, and at a more detailed level, on individual points he made. The more general points will be considered first.


The first major criticism has already been mentioned - his work is totally based on his own intuitive ideas and not on hard evidence. Pickett does suggest that he believes that his idea on poetics can be proved empirically (1988:93), thus indirectly inviting it to be investigated, but so far this has not been done. This criticism affects all his writing in that whilst he presumably had access to written texts, and so could draw some informed conclusions, he also speculated on spoken language which he did not have access to, as far as it is known. The greatest flaw in his work, however, is not what he said, but what he did not say.  What Pickett did was give a framework by which Business English can be further examined - a structure that says three things:


1) Business language is layered and formed by a process of poetics.

2)  People choose how to speak business language depending on the subject, situation and a whole range of sociolinguistic factors.

3)  The communication partners in business are business to business, business to public, and business to businesses in the same area.


All these in turn affect the kind of language being used. What Pickett does not say is exactly what the language is that is being used in all these different situations, other than suggesting a few words like order, issue, bad debt, and invest (1986a:9).  The reader is thus told to a certain extent why and where the language is being used, but the most important factor - what that language actually is - has been left out. Thus, in many ways, this thesis begins where Pickett left off, being primarily concerned with the what, as opposed to the where and why of Business English.


Certain lesser details of Pickett’s work can also be called into question. His assumption that business language faces two (1986a) and later three (1988) ways: to the general public, to a particular business field and to other businesses, has been criticised by Dudley-Evans & St John who said that ‘The distinction Pickett makes is useful but probably not fine enough for today’s wide-ranging business activities’ (1998:55). Even a cursory look at the literature of needs analysis in business shows that this is probably true, as the number of people that business people need to deal with can be vast - each one of whom may need a different level of language. However, other writers have tended to follow Pickett’s line on this, for example, Barbara & Scott (1996), Brieger (1997) and O’Brien & Jones (1998). This will be dealt with in detail later in this chapter.


Pickett’s definition of poetics is to a certain extent problematic - certainly in terms of empirically proving it - in that the categories, though reasonably well defined, depend almost entirely on the previous knowledge or intuition of the person who is categorising the language. It must be assumed that Pickett meant a native speaker of English to do the sorting, as he does not specify this in the article (1989). To use some of his own examples of the grading of business language, demassification of the market and volume car are put in the Transparent column. It can be argued that these terms would be opaque or at least misleading to many native speakers of English, and it highlights just how difficult it is to classify much of the language of business in the way he suggests.


One of Pickett’s central tenets was that Business English can be singled out on the grounds that the process of poetics is much more pronounced than in any other specialist field. His comparison with the field of medicine, mentioned earlier, suggests that the subject matter of medicine is its ‘unifying factor’ - the more easily doctors can speak together, the more the discipline will progress. Admittedly, there is not the same altruistic spirit in business - quite the opposite in fact, as Pickett himself mentions - but the effect on language this has may not necessarily be the same as Pickett suggests. He seems to be suggesting that the language of business in different countries is formed on the basis of institutional and legal grounds that are particular to each country and, therefore, lexicalised differently. Thus, whilst there may be a certain amount of overlap with regard to terminology, the terms are essentially institutionally and culturally bound. This may well be true when comparing terms found in, for example, Spanish and French, and then comparing them to English, but Pickett was talking essentially about English. He thus ignores what Mole (1996) calls ‘International English’ - the language of airlines, business and diplomacy. This can be seen as a parallel to the international ‘doctor-speak’ he mentions above - an attempt to do business on the same terms despite national language variations. Thus a Finn doing business with a German may not operate using the same system of purchasing as his or her German counterpart, but they can communicate together using the ‘refined’ English that they have in common. Thus it could be suggested that there is a universal Business English - International English - that draws less on poetics for its formation than on a common ground of standardised terminology understandable to all parties. This is definitely an area that would need more research in the future.[28]


Other work on the layering of language: Despite these criticisms, Pickett’s work does seem to be credible both on an intuitive level - it seems to make sense - and also on an empirical level if the research discussed above can be regarded as valid. Most of the pieces of research mentioned above, however, suffer from the same lacks associated with register analysis that were noted in the previous section on ESP. The research covered concentrates solely on written language and is only descriptive of the language - not saying why one kind of language is being used rather than another, Barber (1962) being a good example of this. A further problem is the nature of the samples from which conclusions are drawn. Wingard draws conclusions from six medical texts, Swales (1985:2) in his notes on Barber’s work also notes a worry about the size of corpus being used - less than 25,000 words. Similar criticism can be levelled at Kirkham (1978) and Friel (1978). The work of Cowan (1974), Inman (1978) and Yang (1986) can be complimented on the fact that larger corpora  were used - 79,000, 114,000 and 270,000 words respectively, but again they concentrated solely on written texts. Additionally, Yang’s choice of a Graham Greene novel for use as a reference corpus seems strange to say the least.


Yet despite these criticisms, some points have become clear from this review. There are in specialist disciplines, after Yang (1986):


1) function words, as in general English

2) sub-technical terms, i.e. terms that are found in general English but have different general technical meanings. These words are thus found to have a broad distribution across disciplines, but may peak in a specific discipline if they happen to constitute a specialist term in that area.

3) technical terms only found in a given area.



Despite some disagreement on the precise definition of sub-technical lexis, for example, King (1989:14) criticised Inman’s division of lexis on the grounds that it is too broad, there seems to be little doubt that it actually exists, and that specialist language is indeed layered in the way that Pickett proposed. This notion is further backed up by the work done in the field of Business English (Zak & Dudley-Evans 1986, Alejo & McGinity 1997 and Posteguillo & Palmer 1997) which is all based on actual authentic data of greater or lesser volume.


Once again, however, the only language being considered is written language and the topics researched are all small-scale; telexes or economic texts, for example. This means that although it is possible make an educated guess and say that the results found here can be generalised out to the whole of Business English, it is not possible yet to do that based on the evidence presented. Interestingly, the hint for further discussion comes from the work of King, who found that sub-technical terms fulfilled a dual function: a referential function  ‘in which the items have their meaning as parts of a system which is the topic of the writing’ (King 1989:19) and a discourse-oriented one ‘in which the clause-linking relationships or the superordinacy are typically the focus’ (King 1989:19). Thus, when reviewing what is known about Business English from the literature, it is logical to move on to the next stage. Here we will cover what Pickett termed the ergolect of business in terms of subject matter and situation, and in terms of other factors that go beyond the sentence level to discourse, genre and the concepts of power and culture.



3.6  Pickett’s Concept 2: The ‘Gamut’[29] - the ergolect of business



By the time Pickett was writing (1986-89) it had long been clear to many researchers in ESP that seeing language only in terms of frequency lists and grammatical form was not giving a complete picture of what was going on. Something more was needed. The answers to be found to this something more problem have, as was discussed in the first section of this review, gone through various stages. This next section will look at the ways that researchers have added to our knowledge of Business English using a variety of methodologies.


The review begins with discourse analysis and research into the use of discourse strategies used in business. Analysis of discourse has led to a very rich related field of research in Business English, that of cross-cultural differences. This examines how the discourse patterns of different cultures vary and the problems this can cause in a cross-cultural business situations.  Culture here will be examined in the traditional sense: as referring to people from different countries, and also in terms of corporate culture and what effect that can have on business language use.


Another key factor emanating from the literature that will be considered is power: how the power relationships between the interactants in a business process affect the use of language. Finally, genre studies into Business English will be examined. The aim is to present a rounded view of Business English and what is really known about it before moving on to look at more intuitive approaches to Business English in the form of materials creation. Once again it will be seen that, although this section has been divided up into smaller parts for the sake of convenience, many of the categories overlap, with some studies encompassing aspects of discourse, genre, culture and power simultaneously.


3.6.1 Discourse


Early research into discourse analysis arose from a discontent with the register analysis approach of sentence level analysis. In a key article in 1974, Allen & Widdowson criticised the register analysis approach, saying that courses taught in this way did ‘little more than provide exercises in the manipulation of linguistic forms’ (1974/1985:74). They went on to say that


We take the view that the difficulties which the students encounter

arise not so much from a defective knowledge of the system of English, but from an unfamiliarity of English use.  

                                              (Allen & Widdowson 1974/1985:74)


They then summarised their views as follows:


One might usefully distinguish two kinds of ability which an English course at this level should aim at developing. The first is the ability to recognise how sentences are used in the performance of acts of communication, the ability to understand the rhetorical functioning of language in use. The second is the ability to recognise and manipulate the formal devices which are used to combine sentences to create continuous passages of prose. We might say that the first has to do with the rhetorical coherence of discourse, and the second with the grammatical cohesion of text.

                                 (Allen & Widdowson 1974/1988:74 -their italics)


This was a useful distinction to make and the first pieces of research covered here in Business English were concerned with the second of these two factors - cohesion. Cohesion


Cohesion was studied by Johns (1980), who conducted a small study into the use of cohesion in business letters, reports and academic textbooks of business and economics. She began by dividing Business English or English of Business and Economics (EBE) into two main classes: the English of applied business and the academic English of business and economics.  Her aim was to see if she could find constellations - or groups - of cohesive elements that would occur repeatedly in the discourse types selected (1980:36). She used a corpus of twenty letters, twenty reports and ten textbooks. Her results showed that lexical cohesion is the most common type of cohesion in letters and reports - similar findings were also made for the textbooks. She was, however, unable to find the constellations she was looking for in the major classes of literature (applied or academic business literature) but she did find that there were constellations of features within the genres of letters, reports and textbooks respectively. Dudley-Evans & St John (1996:6) point out that this might suggest it would be more worthwhile ‘establishing the distinctive linguistic features of key genre of business communication than in trying to develop a detailed linguistic description of the variety of Business English’.[30] 


Work on cohesion also included analysis of conjuncts (Morrow 1989).  His study on the use of conjuncts within written Business English used news stories from the Wall Street Journal and articles from Economic Enquiry to try and discover if conjunct use in the two discourse types differed. He found higher conjunct use in the academic journal texts as opposed to the business news stories. He attributed the differences in conjunct use, for example, to the need for greater explicitness in the academic articles.


There is much to be lauded in the approaches used in these two studies. Both relied on authentic material and both were addressing questions that are of potential difficulty to business students when using English. Both finish their articles with implications for teaching and both realise the limitations of their studies and suggest that larger studies should be forthcoming that could benefit from a larger corpus of authentic material. Thus any discussion on the limitations of these studies is built into them already and recognised by the authors themselves. A further limitation of these works (although it must not be seen purely as a criticism) is that, again, they are concerned only with written text.


A second band of discourse studies grew up along the lines of the first point made by Allen & Widdowson above (Lenz 1987, Micheau & Billmyer 1987, Maier 1992) - looking at how language was used in communication and how different discourse strategies can be used in business situations. This time, studies were also carried out into spoken language. Strategies


Turn-taking strategies were very much at the heart of 1980s analysis of discourse in the field of Business English. This trend is exemplified by work done by Lenz (1987) and Micheau & Billmyer (1987). Lenz (1987) carried out a discourse analysis on a corpus of six  technical meetings. He was interested in the turn-taking rules operating in these kinds of meetings. He utilised the conversational system of Sacks et al. (1978) and later on Sinclair & Coulthard’s (1975) model of classroom interaction. Lenz believed that


As long as discourse analysis neglects the turn-taking rules in operation, it cannot show consistent results as the discourse structures evolving at different phases of the speech event are dependent on the turn-taking rules employed by the participants.            (Lenz 1987:162)


Lenz found both similarities and also significant differences in the turn-taking patterns of the participants, as compared to the models of both Sacks et al. and Sinclair & Coulthard.  There was little silence in the technical meetings, meaning that the discontinuous talk (silence) idea of Sacks et al. was not to be found as ‘The chairman seems to feel responsible and takes over before a discontinuity could arise. All we find in our data are short gaps between two turns’ (Lenz 1987:163). Also found were significant differences in turn size, with multi-unit turns being common.


Retrospectively, we can say that the participants in Technical Meetings rely on the same selection mechanisms as in conversation, but they use additional techniques to introduce and terminate extended turns.                                                                   (Lenz  1987:167)


Lenz summarised by saying that turn-taking strategies have a great effect on the pragmatics of a meeting. This finding was re-iterated in the often-quoted study of Micheau & Billmyer (1987), who studied the differences in discourse strategies between native and non-native speakers in a case study simulation exercise. They had two main objectives in doing this. Firstly, to gather empirical evidence about native speaker speaking and patterns of interaction, in an attempt to identify patterns of how they did what they did. Secondly, to gather those discourse strategies used by non-native speakers and to identify those that did not conform with the native speaker patterns. Once these had been identified they could then be used as a base for teaching them how to fit in better with native speakers. The results showed that non-native speakers (NNS), had serious problems with both frequency and quality of participation. The findings are summarised below:

1. Violations of turn-taking

- inability to predict end of turn

- insertion of attention-getting devices e.g. 'excuse me'

2. Problems with turn allocation strategies

- reluctance to bid

- pauses after nomination

3. Problems with turns

- significant intra-sentential pausing

4. Use of 'high-considerateness' frames - over politeness did not help get a turn


Fig. 13 Problems related to NNS discourse patterns


Native speakers, it was found, used such devices as latched utterances - phrases used to ensure smooth transition from one speaker to the next - and showed an ability to build up a strategic argument over a period of time. It was also noted that native speakers placed high value on the quality  of the interaction, and not the quantity  of it.


Other studies on discourse strategies comparing native and non-native speakers have found similar mis-matches of native speaker and non-native speaker behaviour. Maier (1992), in her study into the differences in politeness strategies used by native and non-native speakers of English, used Brown & Levinson’s (1987) model of politeness strategies, gathering data from eighteen writers, eight native speakers and ten non-native. As with Micheau & Billmyer, she found significant differences in the strategies used where ‘Several of the non-native speaker letters gave the impression of being somehow too casual, too desperate, too personal or too detached’ (Maier 1992:194). She also found that ‘The native speakers used more negative politeness strategies to preserve the addressee’s face: they mitigated their apologies more, they expressed thanks more often, they were more pessimistic and less direct’ (Maier 1992:202).


These last two studies both compared strategies used by native speakers of English to non-native speakers. This leads to the next section, where the influence of culture on the language of business is discussed. A body research has already been carried out into how inter-cultural factors can affect language and discourse or, more specifically, how the language use[31] of one culture is interpreted by the other in business meetings and negotiations. This next section therefore reviews some of the numerous examples of these studies, starting with intercultural studies of written discourse, followed by a look at research into spoken discourse.[32]


3.6.2 Culture


Written: The styles and rhetorical features of English, French and Japanese business letters were compared by Jenkins & Hinds (1987). Despite the fact that business letters are quite similar in format, ‘Differences in the prescriptive treatment of business letter writing among cultures should, in fact, be expected, based on our knowledge that persuasion is a rhetorical exercise and that rhetorical organization may vary considerably from culture to culture’ (Jenkins & Hinds 1987:329). Their results were very interesting in that they found that


American business letter writing is reader oriented, French business letter writing is writer oriented, and Japanese business letter writing is non person  oriented, reflecting an overall tendency to frame communication in terms  of the relationship between people rather than in terms of the people.                                                              (Jenkins & Hinds 1987:330)


·    Thus in the United States ‘The purpose of the business letter is to attempt to get the reader to appreciate the benefits of doing what the writer wants’ (1987:330).

·    In France ‘The importance of the correspondence is that it constitutes evidence in cases of litigation...Thus the primary virtues of the French business letter are prudence, conciseness, and precision’ (1987:333). They noted that ‘the most obvious difference here is in the salutation. There is more rigid observance of formality and respect in French use’ (1987:33) and the letter ‘rarely...attempts to personalize or to establish a friendly tone’ (1987:335).

·    In contrast, in the Japanese business letter, ‘The concern is with the format and language which will most effectively establish or maintain the appropriate relationship between reader and writer’ (1987:336).


Jenkins & Hinds related their findings to Hall’s (1976) ideas of high and low context cultures. In low context cultures a message is more explicitly coded in the spoken message than in a high context culture where, in a sense, a reader has to ‘read between the lines’ to gain the actual message. As they find that the letters differ in terms of emphasis used, this distinction seems to fit rather well[33] (1987:341).  Hinds’ (1987) distinction between what was termed writer-responsible cultures and reader-responsible cultures also comes into play here. Thus, in these different approaches to writing, the relationship between the author and the reader is essentially different: the former using devices to not only convey information but also say how the information is being given, e.g. through use of meta-text, the latter making the reader ‘do the work’ in understanding the message.  This is, of course, perfectly normal when writing within one’s own culture, but when the writing styles are applied in cross-cultural situations, this can lead to problems. 


This reader- or writer-oriented distinction proved useful for Mauranen (1993), who examined the use of meta-text in Finnish and English articles on economics. She found that the Finnish texts used much less meta-text so that


Finnish discourse does not explicitly indicate what the text is going to

do, and in this sense does not prepare the reader for what is to come.

Nor does it orient the reader very much in retrospect, either.

                                                                                (Mauranen 1993:16)


She continued by saying that ‘In contrast, native speakers of English often use devices which anticipate what is to follow and how text segments relate to each other’ (Mauranen 1993:16).  Interest in meta-text was also expressed by Lampi (1992) whose study into Chairman’s Statements in Finnish[34] and English annual reports investigated use of rhetorical strategies in terms of meta-language, discourse structure and assumptions of shared knowledge. This study, though small in nature (six Finnish and six UK annual reports)  agreed partially with Mauranen’s assertion of Finnish being a reader-responsible culture. The British annual reports formed a homogenous discourse group, but the Finnish reports seemed to be divided into two groups: one group that represented well-established international Finnish companies, and the second group comprised of the smaller, newer companies just starting out on the internationalisation process. What is of note here is that the first group resembled more closely the British style of discourse, whilst the second group, of newer companies, were more ‘Finnish’ in their discourse style. This suggests that discourse patterns in texts can change and grow according to circumstances.


Further differences in discourse styles between Finnish and English writers (Yli-Jokipii 1994) have also been found. She studied the differences in the use of requests between Finnish, American and British writers of business letters. Differences were found not just between the Finnish and native speaker group, but also between American and British writers, though this was less marked. Finns tended to use ‘non-intruding detached behaviour’ (1994:252) when making requests, whereas ‘American writers preferred explicitness’ (1994:253) and the British writers ‘employed less overt tactics’ (1994:253).


At the level of genre analysis, O’Brien and Jones’ (1998) study on the language of minutes taken from business meetings in France and the UK found several differences in both linguistic content and format (both sets were written in English). For example, in the French documents there were no lists of Apologies for Absence as there were in the British, nor were there sections concerning Matters Arising or Any Other Business. Grammatical differences were noted, for example, in that the French used more active verbs, the British speakers more passive forms. Thus culture cannot only be seen to affect the discourse structure of writing, but also the very content of the documents themselves. The concept of genre will be considered more closely later on in this chapter.

 It is clear from these few examples above that there are considerable variations of style and content in business writing that are affected by cultural differences and this in turn, can affect a cross-cultural meeting of business parties.  Studies have shown that the same can be said for spoken exchanges as well.


Spoken: The dangers of misunderstandings in a cross-cultural negotiation were central to the work of  Neu (1986), who realised that


Certainly in a business setting, cultural and/or linguistic mis-understandings...can be dangerous both to the negotiator as an individual, and as a representative of his/her company. (Neu 1986:41)


Her data was collected from students doing simulated negotiations and she used multi-variate statistical techniques to see what differences there were in negotiating styles and format. In all, thirty negotiating events were chosen and transcribed. She found nine stages that took place during a negotiation and showed that they did not take place within a linear pattern, but rather cyclically. Beneath the stages she found that


.... there are five underlying linguistic behaviours which characterize

American English negotiations. These behaviours demonstrate that

negotiations consist of giving information, promoting interaction,

discussing procedural matters, conceding, and agreeing. 

                                                                                      (Neu 1986:46)


Neu went on to create teaching materials directly from the research she had carried out, emphasising that knowledge of how native speakers negotiate can be transferred, via teaching, to non-native speakers. Garcez (1993) also stressed the need for the results of intercultural discourse research to be available to the classroom teacher. Garcez took a microethnographic approach to analyse the point-making styles of negotiators in business negotiations between American and Brazilian leather goods companies. He found that

‘American negotiators make their points in a direct, self-explanatory way, while the Brazilians make points in an indirect way which demands a high degree of conversational involvement  from their interlocutors’ (Garcez 1993:103). He stressed that the discourse skills highlighted in his study should be taught both to business students and to business people, in order to increase their knowledge of potentially business-damaging discoursal variation between cultures.


Interest in the area of discourse in cross-cultural settings has increased in recent years and a lot of literature has started to appear in this area.


·    Firth[35] (1995a) looked contrastively at how accounts  - a justification or excuse for an action or speech - are used by Danish and Middle-Eastern business people in the dairy industry. He found that rather than being purely negative features of discourse, accounts  can be used ‘in a proactive, creative sense’ (Firth 1995a:199).

·    Bilbow (1997) studied the verbal behaviour of western ex-patriates and local Chinese people in Hong Kong using a 140,000 word corpus - the Meeting at Work (MAW) Corpus. He looked at two kinds of speech acts, directing (requests and commands) and suggesting (suggestions and proposals) and how they were used in the two groups. He found that the Chinese spoke a lot less than the ex-patriates, accounting for only 35% of talking time, and that they also used directing strategies a lot less than the ex-patriates.

·    Neumann (1997:73) ‘focused on identifying and analysing differences in the requesting behaviour of German and Norwegian managers’. A corpus of face-to-face and telephone conversations was used and he found that  ‘Norwegian speakers choose more indirect linguistic strategies than native speakers of German. Germans utter twice as many requests as do Norwegians and appear to prefer strategies that have been classified as direct’ (Neumann 1997:90).

·    Mulholland (1997) also studied request systems, this time between Australian and Asians, and examined how cultural assumptions were linguistically encoded.


Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris (1997a) were able to present an overall model to cover cross- and inter-cultural discourse. This model is shown below in Fig.14. It is seen from this model that in intercultural discourse situations there is an interplay between discourse and culture. Culture, here, also has the added element of corporate culture, and several writers have noted the influence of corporate culture on discourse patterns or indeed language use as a whole. The influence of a corporate culture on language is inextricably linked to the concept of power within companies. Thus, the next section will look at both how corporate culture can affect the language used and also how power relationships operating within the companies, or between companies, can affect discourse events.




                                                        NATIONAL CULTURE


                                                          CORPORATE CULTURE







                                                   GENERIC TYPES OF DISCOURSE



                                                INDIVIDUAL LANGUAGE SYSTEMS







Fig.14  A model of cross- and inter-cultural discourse (Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris 1997a:14)


3.6.3 Corporate culture, power and language


The concept of power relationships in business settings stemmed from the work of  Hofstede (1980). In a mammoth study on the business relationships of over 116,000 IBM workers world-wide, Hofstede developed four factors that he found to underlie the behaviour patterns of the workers: Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individuality and Masculinity. Whilst all of these factors are important, discussion here will only focus on Power Distance, which refers to the level of inequality ‘formalized in hierarchical boss-subordinate relationships’ (Hofstede 1980:65). In some cultures such as Sweden, Ireland and New Zealand, the distance between a boss and subordinates is quite short and they can in some ways be seen to work as a team. In other cultures this distance is quite great, with the boss exerting authority and the subordinates seen in a much more subservient role. Countries mentioned in the latter category were the Phillipines, Mexico and Venezuela. Further research has shown in a variety of linguistic situations the power relationships between interlocutors directly affect the kind of  language used and in some cases this is also found to be concomitant with the corporate culture of the companies involved. Corporate culture


Watson (1997) spent one year working in a Midlands (UK) telecommunications company. His intent was to study the management and workers in an ethnographic manner, similar to nineteenth century studies of remote tribes. Watson’s study is of interest here because during his stay in the company he was able to discover two separate discourse patterns emerging within the company, related to two opposing corporate cultures. The company had been taken over a year before and new incoming management were in opposition to the old - they had previously been rivals in a very competitive market. In this rather tense environment two separate managerial discourses were found:


1. Discourse A: Articulated by consultants hired to create a ‘winning culture’. The discourse of ‘empowerment, skills and growth’ (1997:220). Thus all the positive things of company life - what it could and should be.

2. Discourse B: ‘the alternative control, jobs and costs discourse’ (1997:221). This was associated with the new management - fads, fashions, management initiatives, headcount reductions.


Discourse A represented the old management - those who were in the company before it was taken over. ‘Discourse A is used in the reference to getting the right results for the business and considering the customer’s end of things  rather than simply, in Discourse B terms, producing output’ (1997:225 - Watson’s italics).  Thus Watson was able to discern how two separate corporate cultures - in this instance forced into the same working environment - engendered two separate discourse patterns. In turn, this was linked to the wielding of power - the speakers in the Discourse B group were the new owners and thus ‘spoke a different language’ to the original workers. Watson concluded by saying  ‘To put it very simply, management is talk. And work organisations are constituted through the dialogues and discursive processes which that talk creates and expresses’ (1997:226). This thought is reiterated by Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris (1997b) who, in attempting to define communication in business organisations, observed that  ‘no ‘organisation’ exists prior to communication: organisations are talked into being and maintained by means of the talk of the people within and around them. Among the ‘competing discourses’ that shape daily organisational life, some become dominant’ (1997b:4). Their view of communication and language is a holistic one based on an intrinsic interrelationship between culture and organisational culture where language is seen ‘not merely as a linguistic code but [it] embodies a whole system of beliefs, a vision of the world’ (1997b:5). Thus, their definition of culture is a multi-dimensional one (1997b:221) which, ‘includes, amongst other things, both organisational and national culture’ (1997b:221).


Yli-Jokipii (1994) highlighted this link between culture and corporate culture in her study of requests in British, American and Finnish business writing. She noted that the  ‘corporate environment formed the social context in which the request occurs’ (1994:253) and that it can be found that American business writers identify themselves more with the company than the British do. Thus the British writers perhaps ‘rather see themselves as individuals than as employees performing an institutional role, and thus refer to self  more frequently with a first person singular pronoun than plural’ (1994:254). Thus, culture and corporate culture are seen to be working together to affect linguistic output.


The influence of corporate culture has also been studied by Nickerson (1998). She took an interdisciplinary approach relating ESP research to corporate culture to see how the two interact. Her approach was thus one ‘where language is not considered as separate from the corporate environment within which it is used, but rather as an intrinsic part of that environment’ (Nickerson 1998:282). A questionnaire was sent to 107 British subsidiaries working in Holland (with a 35% response rate) enquiring into the type and quantity of English used by the Dutch workers. She found that ‘the relationship that the subsidiary has with its Head Office in Britain clearly influences the amount and type of written English required’ (1998:291), and that ‘it is clear that analysing English business writing in isolation is not sufficient because of the potential influence of the corporate culture’ (1998:292).


An important factor in the research carried out by Nickerson and Watson, noted above, is another factor involved in the relationship between culture and corporate culture: power. The next section, therefore, considers how power relationships can affect Business English discourse.


3.6.4 Power


Power relationships between interlocutors or correspondents can be seen from at least two angles: at an intra-company level between bosses and subordinates within the same company relying on the relative rank of the people involved, or at an inter-company level dependent on the relative power in-built into the situations (the superstructural layer of Charles 1996).


Intra-company: Intra-company power relationships were seen clearly in the research of Watson (1997) and Nickerson (1998).  West (1981) had also hinted at the relationship between language and the relationships between workers. His functional study of industrial language use noted the relationship between structure - language where information and facts are passed from person to person, consideration - language concerned with the affective side of communication, and metalanguage - varying ways of checking that the message had been understood.


The findings of this survey have provided further evidence of the relationship between these three aspects of industrial language use. While it cannot be said that particular proportions are likely to indicate ‘good’ or ‘bad’ working relationships there is a clear indication that the ratios reflect the degree of rigidity and formality in supervisor-employee relations.                                                           (West 1981: 30)


More recent research carried out into power and linguistic choice at an intra-company level has found that the key factor is not always power itself, i.e. hierarchy, but can also be the amount of perceived relevance the subject under discussion has to a given individual or department. Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris (1997b) in their studies of both UK and Italian meetings, had assumed that hierarchy would directly affect the level of formality of meetings and consequently the language used. However, they found that it was the perception of relevance that set the tone of the meeting, though hierarchy provided the ‘pecking order’ for the subjects under discussion (1997b:207).


Inter-company: As with intra-company power relationships, research has also been conducted at an inter-company level.


Charles (1996) discussed the relationship of power and language in negotiation situations. She applied a modified version of Brown & Levinson’s (1987) model for politeness strategies in spoken language (Charles 1996:24). She found that the length of the relationship between the two negotiating parties had a distinct bearing on the language used. She divided them up into Old Relationship Negotiations (ORN) and New Relationship Negotiations (NRN). She noted that


Differences between the two groups were discernible in the kinds of topics initiated, the rhetorical moves produced, and, above all, in the face saving strategies used.                                         (Charles 1996:33)


The two concepts of politeness and hierarchy in relation to power and language are joined together by Scollon & Scollon (1995) who suggest that ‘power (that, is hierarchy) is interrelated to politeness levels’ (1995:49). These concepts have been the subject of research in business writing where the relationship of politeness to power has been studied.

Yli-Jokipii (1992) noted that  ‘politeness is connected with the investment of power that the linguistic choices comprise’ (1992:101). She studied a small corpus of business letters at the levels of syntax, semantics and pragmatics and showed that power can be given away by the writer if they employ discourse strategies that are too polite. She also commented on the relationship between power, quantity of text and politeness. The shorter the letter, the less polite it is, the more power is kept in the hands of the writer. She continued her study into power relationships in Yli-Jokipii (1994), discussing the roles of buyers and sellers in written documents. Here she suggested that ‘No matter who physically composes the message, it is this ‘corporate role’ of the Buyer or Seller that bestows that person, within the framework of the prevailing institutional norms, with more social power or less than the other party’ (1994: 54). She discussed the differences in cultures in terms of power in correspondence and showed that, for example, Finnish writers are inclined to ‘remove power from self to other’ (1994:225).


This difference in power status and its effect on language use according to the roles of the writer is also noted by Barbara & Scott (1996). In a study of Invitations for Bids (IFBs) they found that choice of modality reflected the power attached to the purchaser or the bidder in the bid situation:


IFBs are quite impressive in their inequality of both rights and discourse. The Purchaser enjoys a number of rights and has almost no duties; the Bidder has a lot of duties and very few rights.

                                                                     (Barbara & Scott 1996:16)


This is shown in the language used in the text:


              The language reflects the power and the rights of the Purchaser, who is explicitly allowed control over the process. The Bidder has to meet many more obligations, characteristically signalled by shall or an equivalent.                                                     (Barbara & Scott  1996:6)



The Purchaser’s rights were shown through phrases such as ‘reserves the right to’ and the Bidder’s duties were shown by repetition of ‘shall’ to imply necessity, i.e. not the future meaning of it.

At the beginning of this section on discourse and genre, it was stated that its divisions were in a sense arbitrary, serving a function only of highlighting certain features of business language research. Thus the sections can be seen to overlap at many points. This is seen most clearly in the case of genre studies. Several of the authors now already mentioned, Lampi/Charles,[36] Mauranen, Yli-Jokipii and Barbara & Scott, for example, have contributed to the study of Business English as a genre more or less along the lines of Swales’ (1990) definition, and a more detailed look at questions of genre is now, therefore, timely.


3.6.5 Genre: a brief overview


The term genre and the concept of genre analysis represent a broad and often confusing area of English language research. The term itself has no unified meaning and is perceived differently by the three main schools of genre analysis: the ESP, the New Rhetoric School from the USA and the Australian School (Hyon 1996).[37] Even within each of the schools there is diversity of opinion and Kress (1993:31) quite succinctly remarks that the term ‘comes with a considerable baggage of accumulated meaning’. This work will concentrate mainly on work done in the ESP school, though some mention of the concepts of genre from the other schools is unavoidable, notably that of Ventola (1983, 1987).


Genre analysis has evolved as an important  system of analysis in ESP over the last decade, notably following the ideas of Swales (1981), with work on article introductions and (1990) where a detailed theoretical framework for genre analysis in EAP is presented. Swales’ conceptualisation of genre has been summed up by Barbara & Scott (1996:1) as follows:



1. shares a class of communicative events

2. shares communicative purposes and an intended audience

3. shares restrictions on form and content recognised by the insiders in the relevant discourse community

4. has a specific nomenclature recognised as in 3’.



In this ESP model, genre has been primarily seen as ‘a tool for analyzing and teaching the spoken and written language required of nonnative speakers in academic and professional settings’ (Hyon 1996:695). Genre research in ESP can be broadly divided into two phases. Firstly, earlier work based on analysing the moves and steps involved in discourse - structural move analysis - and, secondly, later work which has broadened the definition of genre analysis to look at how extra-linguistic features and more recently intercultural aspects, have affected the both the form and sequencing of language.


Swales’ work in 1981 and later in 1990, where his definition of both the discourse community (1990:24-27) - broadly speaking a community sharing a language with common set of public goals, mechanisms of communication, common genres and specific lexis - and genre as a whole are set forth, has proved a useful methodological starting point for a lot of research in ESP, mostly in the fields of EAP and writing. Swales’ enthusiasm for genre analysis is shared by Dudley-Evans (1987), who argued for genre analysis as a system of analysis in ESP stressing that  ‘we need a system of analysis that shows how each type of text differs from other types’ (Dudley-Evans 1987:73). This system of analysis, he suggests, must do the following things:


1. It must group together texts that are similar in rhetorical purpose, form and audience.

2. It must show how the texts are different from others and between themselves.

3. It must provide information about rhetorical structure and form that can be of use in the classroom (Dudley-Evans 1987:72).


He argued that genre analysis is able to do all of these things. Dudley-Evans’ work has been mainly in academic writing (e.g. Hopkins & Dudley-Evans 1988 on discussion sections in articles and dissertations) and its implications for use in the classroom (e.g. Kay & Dudley-Evans 1998). His work, like that of the majority of research using the genre analysis model, has been into written language. Thus, in terms of Business English, genre analysis has, unfortunately, only been utilised sparingly and much more work needs to be done. Indeed, the first and perhaps most important  question concerning genres in Business English still needs to be satisfactorily resolved - that of actually defining the genres that belong to Business English. Therefore, the next section considers the question of genre in Business English, followed by a discussion of the two main stages in the development of ESP-based genre analysis: moves, steps and cycles and extra-linguistic aspects of genre. Business English genres


It should be stated that Business English cannot be seen as a genre in itself, except in the sense of being an umbrella term that covers a multitude of smaller and separate genres that go to create it. However, successfully defining all those genres is no easy task.  Dudley-Evans (1987) argued that genres should be reduced down to the smallest possible components and be listed as separate genre. There have been some attempts to list the various genres of Business English, for example, Dudley-Evans & St John (1996:8-9) cite Bucholz’s (1989) list of genres used in business communications. However, as with most genre analysis, this list concentrated only on written genres.  Tompos (1999) has been able to expand on previous work to produce a list of business-related genres that covers not only written, but also spoken forms. The spoken genres are presented below:


introduction to place of work: office, lab, production unit, machines etc.

introduction to own job, responsibilities and working conditions

description and explanation of equipment, technological processes, etc.

warnings and instructions, e.g. safety instructions

‘professional’ telephone conversations: with professionals from the same field/with lay-people/clients or professionals from another field.

business-related telephone conversations

interviews with professionals

counselling non-professionals

negotiations: with professionals from same field/with non-professionals

professional meetings, workshop discussions

short professional talks to non-professionals

socialising/personal conversations at work

other ?


Fig. 15  Spoken genres in Business English as identified by Tompos (1999)


It can be seen, therefore, that attempts at definitions of Business English genres are very limited. Work on genre at a more general level, however, is more abundant. Moves, steps and cycles


Despite the difficulties in capturing all the potential genres of Business English, genre analysis has added fresh insight into the processes of various business activities. 


Dudley-Evans (1987) mentioned two unpublished works that look at business negotiations (Anderson 1987) and company board meetings (Ross 1987). Both these works are of interest in that they focused on spoken language and both of them found four (Anderson) or five (Ross) move patterns in the structures of the meetings. Dudley-Evans concludes that ‘it is interesting to note that they found a four or five move pattern repeated cyclically throughout their data’ (1987:76-77).


A similar move pattern was found by Bhatia (1993) in a very important work which studied company sales promotion letters and job application letters. Bhatia found a similar seven move organisational structure within both.


The concept of communication being cyclical in nature, found by Anderson and Ross above, can be found elsewhere in the literature. Hopkins & Dudley-Evans had noted it in the academic writing of articles and dissertations (1988).  Neu (1986), in her discourse analysis of US native speaker negotiations, found that the communication patterns were not linear, but rather were recursive. She noted that ‘American English negotiations have been found to consist of nine episodes, four of which are mandatory’ (Neu 1986:45) and that this process is cyclical (1986:46).


Ventola (1983, 1987), in her work on service encounters in Finland and Australia, also found that simple linear representations of communication patterns were not satisfactory. Ventola’s methodological starting point was that of the Australian genre analysis school which has been heavily influenced by Halliday’s social semiotics and his concept of  register, and her work encompassed register, discourse and genre analysis. Ventola had been unhappy with the notion that service encounters could be presented as linear events.  Instead she presented them in the form of flow chart, so that as the conversation or discourse unfolds, the flow chart could show ‘the interactive development as choices of various paths’ (Ventola 1983:245).


Ghadessy & Webster (1988), in an article concerning the applications and teaching of  

business letters, suggested that business letters be considered in terms of their form and function. They regarded business letters as belonging to a genre of persuasive writing - and they specified three basic types of letter - informative, request (ive) and directive (Ghadessy & Webster 1988:115). These could be used to either initiate or respond to communication. The form a letter takes is in relation to the potential function it has, and the elements they describe are used in different combinations, dependent on the context.


Genre study into moves and steps has continued but has expanded its brief into analysing intercultural differences. O’Brien & Jones (1998), as noted earlier, looked at the differences between British and French minutes. In terms of spoken interaction, Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris (1997b) conducted a study of the generic properties of business meetings based on a corpus of recordings of formal and informal British and Italian meetings. They presented the following generic model:


1. meetings are explicitly task-oriented and decision-making encounters;

2. meetings involve the co-operative effort of two parties, the chair and the group; and

3. meetings are structured into hierarchically-ordered units.                      

    (Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris 1997b:208)


Based on their gathered data, they were able to present a generic structure for corporate

meetings. This is shown in Fig.16 on the next page.


Thus, the meetings are divided into three phases and the transition between the phases is handled by the chairperson. Within each phase there are many moves which they define as ‘utterances which present claims, explain or give support to a claim, challenge a claim, shift topic, resume a topic etc.’ (1997b:210). Exchanges are clusters of moves which are ‘self-contained units of discourse realising well-defined sub-tasks within the management of meetings’ (1997b:211) and take place in three directions: chair to group, group to group and group to chair. Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris suggest this model is important, as it provides a method of analysis for meetings of many people - meetings represent a much more diverse environment for linguistic expression than, for example, service encounters accounted for by Ventola’s (1987) flow chart model (Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris 1997b:206-207). When comparing the generic structure of British and Italian meetings utilising this model, they were able to deduce several differences whereby in Italian meetings the structure was much looser, the role of the chair was weaker, and  Italians tended to use successful interruptions more to get their speaking turn than their British counterparts.





            Opening                                   Debating                                  Closing

            Phase                                       Phase                                       Phase


            Exchanges                              Exchanges                                Exchanges

                                    Trans-                                      Trans-

              Moves           itional                Move             itional                 Move

                                    Move                                       Move



Fig.16  Generic structure of corporate meetings (English meetings) (Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris 1997b:209).  Extra-linguistic aspects of genre study


This area has already been covered in previous sections so a simple re-iteration of the most notable of these writers will be sufficient here. In this category can be included Lampi/Charles (1992, 1994, 1996) with her work on power in negotiation situations, Mauranen (1993), Barbara & Scott (1996), Yli-Jokipii (1992,1994) and O’Brien & Jones (1998).


3.6.6 Discussion: approaches to researching the ‘gamut’ - discourse and genre


The research into Business English reported on here began with early discourse analysis cohesion studies (Johns 1980 and Morrow 1989), and went on to strategy analysis (Lenz 1987, Maier 1992 and Micheau & Billmyer 1987). The study continued with cultural issues in writing, (Hinds 1987, Jenkins & Hinds 1987, Mauranen 1993, Lampi 1992, Yli-Jokipii 1994 and O’Brien & Jones 1998) and cultural issues in spoken negotiations, (Neu 1986 and Garcez 1993). Further aspects of cross- and inter-cultural discourse patterns were discussed by Bilbow, Neumann and Mulholland (taken from Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris 1997a), who themselves provided a model for factors involved in cross- and inter-cultural discourse. Corporate culture, power and language was discussed in reference to the work of Hofstede (1980), Watson (1997), Yli-Jokipii (1992, 1994), Nickerson (1997), Charles (1996), West (1981), and Barbara & Scott (1996). The section concluded with a report on genre studies resulting from the work of Swales (1981, 1990), Dudley-Evans (1987), Hopkins & Dudley-Evans (1988) and Kay & Dudley-Evans (1998). Work on categorising genres in Business English was then discussed mentioning Bucholz (1989), Tompos (1999),  and then research into the moves and steps in genres by Andersen (1987), Ross (1987), Neu (1986), Bargiela-Chiappini & Harris (1997b), O’Brien & Jones (1998) and Ventola (1983, 1987). The work of Lampi/Charles (1992, 1996) Mauranen (1993), Barbara & Scott (1996), and Yli-Jokipii (1994), was then briefly re-visited in the context of genre studies.


The aim of the section so far has been to establish a broad overview of what is known about Business English. This chapter began with the observation that there has been a lack of research into Business English (Williams 1988, Robinson 1991, St John 1996, Dudley-Evans & St John 1996). Yet it has been shown that despite this relative lack,  there has already been quite a substantial amount of research carried out, and this is increasing all the time.  The research included in this section has been presented relatively uncritically to this point, with the emphasis on the content of the research rather than on any critique of the methodologies and approaches taken. This next section will now review the literature of this previous section and critically discuss the methodological implications of the research. Where possible, discourse and genre issues will be dealt with separately but it will be seen that there is a distinct overlap in the problems faced by these two related approaches. Discourse


There is no doubt that discourse analysis work done in the 1980s and 1990s has been valuable for both ESP and Business English, yet at a methodological and indeed pragmatic level it has certain shortcomings.


The contribution and shortcomings of discourse studies are discussed by Bhatia (1993:6-10), who firstly largely discounts work done in grammatical-rhetorical analysis, for example by Trimble (1985) and later work done in the field of interactional analysis. In terms of the grammatical-rhetorical analysis work of Trimble (1985), he praises his attempt ‘to discover how specific linguistic features take on restricted values in the structuring of scientific communication’ (Bhatia 1993:7) but concludes that in general ‘the analysis yields only limited information on discourse structuring in scientific discourse’ (Bhatia 1993:7). This lack of information has led to ‘mis-leading generalisations’. Bhatia gives the example of how the concept of definitions misguidedly assumed an important role in the teaching of the rhetorical structure of scientific discourse beyond their actual importance. Other assumptions based on rhetorical analysis are mentioned by Hutchinson & Waters (1987) who comment that


... there was a more or less tacit assumption in this approach that the rhetorical patterns of text organisation differed significantly between specialist areas of use..... However, this point was never clearly examined and indeed paradoxically, the results of the research into the discourse of subject-specific academic texts were also used to make observations about discourse in general.      

                                                              (Hutchinson & Waters 1987:12)


Bhatia (1993:8) termed grammatical-rhetorical analysis the writer’s discourse - in that analysis is carried out from the point of view of the writer - and it considers how certain language choices are made by them. Interactional analysis, the next stage, he therefore terms the reader’s discourse (1993:8), where discourse is viewed as an interactive process between reader and writer.


Bhatia’s concern here was to summarise previous approaches to the study of discourse, criticise them and lead the way to his definition of genre analysis. This became clear in his criticism of interactional analysis, saying that it fails to pay enough attention to ‘the socio-cultural, institutional and organizational constraints and expectations that shape the written genre in particular settings, particularly in the case of highly specific academic and professional genre’ (1993:10).[38]


Dudley-Evans & St John are also critical of discourse analysis (1998:89), highlighting the fact that a failing of discourse analysis is that it still, like register analysis, isolates texts from the environment from which they come. It also highlights another inherent problem with the whole movement - its concentration on written text. The implication of the word discourse, though intended to include speech discourse, is largely used only in terms of writing and, indeed, largely scientific writing and the world of EST. A further serious problem with discourse analysis approaches has been that of defining the moves and steps that the said discourse is comprised of. The naming and analysis of steps and moves have been  done on an intuitive level by the researcher[39] and there is also the further problem of the sequencing of these steps.


Two further key problems need to be highlighted here: the limited size of data gathered in the studies; and the lack of transfer of results to the classroom. A brief survey of some of the work reviewed reveals the emphasis of work done in this field with some examples of the corpus size used in the investigation.


It can be seen from Table III below that discourse (and indeed genre) approaches tend to fail in these two respects: the corpora used are not large enough and transferral of results into the classroom, at least in Business English, has been very limited.


Sample size: It was already noted in Section, that the two studies into cohesion in written texts, Johns (1980) and Morrow (1989) both suffered the same limitations - that of taking data from a small and therefore not potentially representative corpus. Johns used twenty letters, twenty reports and ten textbooks, whilst Morrow used a corpus from the  Wall Street Journal of 23,095 words and from the journal Economic Inquiry of 33,925 running words. Thus, these studies can be seen as interesting and useful but limited in their potential application.








X -20 letters/20 reports



X - 31 news stories/9 journal articles



X - 6 meetings

No mention

Micheau & Billmyer

X/? - 6 NNS/ 45 NS



X - 8 NS / 10 NNS


Jenkins & Hinds

X - corpus size not stated


Lampi (1992)

X - 6 Fin/6UK Annual Reports

Later materials


+ - over 200 letters


O’Brien & Jones

X  - English 22,603 words / French 12,217

No mention





+ - four days of meetings




Later materials

Barbara & Scott

X/? - five IFBs

No mention


Key:    + = Good        X/? = Satisfactory       X = Not satisfactory


The authors, as was noted earlier, do in fact mention these limitations and also do stress the importance of transferral of these results to the classroom. Similar criticisms of corpus size can also be levelled at all the other researchers mentioned with the exception of Yli-Jokipii, Neu, Garcez and Charles.  However, in fairness it should also be noted that the corpus size for the works presented was probably sufficient for the stated aims. Indeed, in some cases, small amounts of data have been deliberately chosen, for example, Mauranen chose texts from a single discipline from a much larger bank of data in order to ‘focus on differences between national rather than disciplinary cultures’ (1993:7).


Lack of classroom application: The second factor emerging from the table above is that there has been a failure to transfer results of discourse analysis work to the classroom and this may partly be as a result of researchers not clearly specifying the pedagogic implications of the research. There has been some transfer of discoursal ideas to the classroom, for example, in the Nucleus Series (e.g. Bates & Dudley-Evans 1976) but this has happened only to a very limited extent in Business English. Neu (1986), as can be seen from the table above, is an exception in this area. Her research work fed directly into classroom materials that would ‘promote understanding and proficiency in cross-cultural negotiations’ (1986:47). Knowledge of discourse patterns was utilised in a series of resource books published by Longman in the 1980s. An example of this, Negotiating (O’Connor, Pilbeam & Scott-Barrett 1992), presented the moves and steps in the negotiation process in the form of functions alongside the linguistic exponents of them. For example in the section  How to keep a conversation going,  the conversation between two people has notes in the margin to explain the moves taking place, e.g. asks a question, answers, adds a comment, reacts, adds a comment  (1992:11). This kind of extra information can be very useful for students and more of it should have filtered through to Business English materials by now. Additionally, Robinson (1980) noted most work on discourse materials that has been done is for higher level students, leaving lower levels out (Robinson 1980:26).


A further, and possibly controversial criticism, that can be made of some of the discourse  studies presented earlier, is that they deal in the obvious, i.e. they spend a long time telling us what we already know. A good example of this is Lenz (1987), whose results of research into discourse patterns in technical meetings found that there were was little or no silence in the meetings due to the influence of the ‘chair’. This result, as well as being highly predictable, is also dependent on the ‘chair’ recorded in the studies.[40]


Despite the criticisms mentioned here, the focus of discourse analysis approaches was clearly on communication and it is unfortunate that it has not had more influence in the Business English classroom. Arguably, the most fruitful work done has been that on what differentiates native and non-native speaker patterns in discourse strategies. These studies have been able to point to potential clash points in cross-cultural business situations (Micheau & Billmyer, Neu, Jenkins & Hinds, Mauranen, Lampi and Garcez to name a few). This relation of culture and extra-linguistic features of discourse is one feature of genre analysis, and the next section will provide a brief critical analysis of genre analysis both at a general level, and with regard to Business English in particular. Genre


The concept of genre can still be seen to be a controversial one. Although it has been, and is, a fruitful methodological approach to the study of language, it has been subjected to criticism on several counts. This criticism has been in relation to its very definition, its concept of nomenclature, its definition of discourse community and its pedagogical application where it has been criticised for being over-prescriptive and too much concentrated on written genres.


Definitions: It was noted in Section 3.6.5 that the three major schools of genre research have different interpretations of genre (Hyon 1996). Even when concentrating on the ESP school of genre, Swales (1990:33) calls genre a ‘fuzzy concept, a somewhat loose term of art’ and Louhiala-Salminen (1999:107) points out ‘The notion of genre seems to be an elusive concept, not easy to catch, describe and analyse’. This, of course, has immediate pragmatic implications, initially for research, and subsequently for teaching. If it is not possible to define a genre successfully, how can analysis begin and the information be passed on to students? Obviously a line has to be drawn somewhere. Yet the problem of where to draw the line in determining what is a genre and what is not still largely operates at the level of the individual researcher’s intuition.


Dudley-Evans (1987:77), in reference to different types of academic article, asked the question whether academic articles could be considered one over-arching genre, or individual genres in their own right. Dudley-Evans proposed seeing each type as a separate genre. He also suggested that in determining whether a genre is a genre or not, the researcher should ‘take seriously the terms used by those who write, edit or read articles’ (1987:77), i.e. the members of the discourse community, or indeed, communities concerned. Yet breaking down genre into minute areas is arguably both time consuming and potentially confusing for students.


This problem, of saying where one genre stops and another starts, is immediately obvious in the work by Tompos (1999), quoted previously on Business English genre. Genre have been defined as ‘sharing the same class of communicative events’ (Swales 1990). Taking just one example given by Tompos - socialising/personal conversations at work - it is hard to say whether socialising be considered a genre along the lines of this definition. Whilst socialising situations can possibly share the same class of communicative events, the communicative purpose can vary greatly. St John quite rightly notes that in business the communicative purpose of socialising ‘is to establish a good working relationship through less formal channels and hospitality rather than merely socialise’ (St John 1996:10). Thus the communicative purpose of socialising in business with clients can be quite different than that of chatting to a colleague. Additionally, it is also hard to define any specifically recognisable nomenclature for business socialising.

Nomenclature: Nomenclature itself has been found to be misleading at a cross-cultural level, (Dudley-Evans 1997), and at an intra-cultural level (Barbara et al. 1996). Dudley-Evans (1997), reported on work done by Mauranen (1993, 1994) on how Finnish student writing was perceived by British lecturers. Mauranen found that the lecturers were very tolerant of grammatical or lexical errors but very intolerant of differences in discourse style. Simply put, the genre conventions for the essay or assignment in Finnish universities are different from those in British universities and ‘What might have been seen as a cultural difference was in fact attributed to a weakness on the part of the students’ (Dudley-Evans 1997:354). He concluded by warning that nomenclature in a genre is not universal across cultures and will vary from one academic tradition to another (Dudley-Evans 1997:357). Yunick (1997:332) in the same volume also agrees that ‘cross-cultural and cross-linguistic comparisons of genre is problematic’ and that British and American text conventions should not be seen as international conventions.


At an intra-cultural level, Barbara et al. (1996) surveyed communication in Brazilian businesses sending questionnaires to companies, asking about the most frequently-used documents in business. Their results showed that there was a


...clear mismatch between what the researchers meant by the labels used to refer to different types of documents, namely, project, proposal, report, prospectus, memo, presentation and meeting, and the respondents’ perception of the meaning of these terms. It also became apparent that the terminology mismatch is not only between research and organisation, but also between organisations.

                                                                          (Barbara et al. 1996:69)

They continued


There are therefore indications that the same label is being used to refer to different document types, and conversely, that different labels may be referring to the same document type. The pattern is still far from clear. Moreover, it raises a point of theoretical interest: if the discourse community is central to the notion of genre (Swales 1990) and the discourse community itself uses a variety of terms with no straightforward one-to-one relationship between term and function, this raises questions about the potential fuzziness           (fuzzy edges or fuzzy membership) of the discourse community itself.

                                                                           (Barbara et al. 1996:69)

Discourse community: Dudley-Evans & St John (1998), also point out the difficulty behind the ideas of defining a discourse community, as a person may belong to more than one discourse community at a given time and also the fact these communities may be ‘large and amorphous’ (1998:92) and therefore difficult to actually define. This can be said to be especially true of Business English owing to the vast number of discourse types to be found in it.


More recent work, however, on business correspondence (Louhiala-Salminen 1999), points in the opposite direction - that a given discourse community, far more readily than those outside it, even if well-educated - can identify key genres from within the community itself. This is true here both at a cross- and intra-cultural level. The concept of discourse community is set at perhaps a more general level than Swales’ (1990) definition, to cover the idea of a business ‘community’. Louhiala-Salminen gave four faxes of different types to four groups of respondents: native speakers with business experience, native speakers without business experience, non-native speakers with business experience and non-native speakers without any business experience (1999:107). The respondents were asked to respond to the faxes through a variety of questions in a questionnaire. It was found that the respondents with business experience were able to recognise the features of the fax better. For example, a scrawled note on an original fax that had been sent back to the writer went unnoticed by the non-business respondents (only 4% noticed the note, as opposed to 49% of business people). Thus the ‘native-speaker factor did not differentiate the groups in this respect at all’ (1999:110). Non-business people commented more on the form or tidiness of the faxes whereas the business people, ‘reconstructed the situation and saw themselves as actors in it’ (1999:110). In her conclusion she comments that


... in spite of the wide variety of the quality and nature of the messages that are transmitted by fax, there seems to be an understanding among business practitioners about the notion of a business fax. 

                                                                (Louhiala-Salminen 1999:113)


This would go to suggest that members of a community - discourse or otherwise - are able to recognise the key genres that belong to it better than outsiders - even across cultural boundaries.


Pedagogical issues: One of the criteria for having an ideal system of analysis for ESP was that it should provide information of ‘pedagogic value’ (Dudley-Evans 1987:72). This emphasis on getting the message across to the classroom has been much more evident in the Australian school of genre analysis, for example with the LERN[41] project set up in the 1980s. The Australian concept of genre has always been concerned with the empowerment of students, though mainly at primary and secondary, rather than at tertiary level. In the ESP tradition of genre this, to a large extent, has not happened. This led Hyon to observe that ‘many researchers have presented their descriptions of genre...but have not detailed methodologies for presenting this content in the classroom’ (1996:702).


Kay & Dudley-Evans (1998) examined the concerns of teachers related to genre and noted their problems with regard to the use of genre in the classroom. These worries were basically two-fold. Firstly, that genre is prescriptive rather than descriptive - a reproduction of product as opposed to being student-centred. This rigidity therefore ‘disempowers’ rather than empowers. Secondly, there has been too much concentration on writing and not enough on speech.


Prescriptive-descriptive: Teachers were concerned that the placing of linguistic boundaries around genre forced a prescriptive approach to its teaching. However, it must be noted that prescription in language teaching is certainly not confined to the teaching of genre, and is therefore a pedagogic issue, not a genre one. O’Brien (1999, personal communication) suggested using a ‘dynamic concept of genre’ to avoid prescriptiveness, saying that the ‘answer lies in process-oriented teaching as much of the prescriptiveness comes from a product-oriented approach’. This echoes Flowerdew (1993:306), who stated that students need the skills to adapt to new genre, ‘emphasizing the process of acquiring new genre, rather than the product’.


Written - not spoken: Teachers were also concerned about the overwhelming focus on written genres at the cost of spoken. This concentration can, to some extent, be seen to result from Swales’ conception of genre and discourse community. This has been criticised by Gunnarsson (1999). She noted that Swales makes clear distinctions between spoken and written discourse where ‘the difference between the spoken and the written medium is crucial for the type of community involved’ (Gunnarsson 1999:144). Using data from a study of a local government office in Sweden, she proposed a model that combines both written and spoken discourse. She criticised Swales’ model, saying that it is a valid approach for describing communities of experts (e.g. stamp collectors), but less for other types of communication. It is valid for describing products, but not processes. Her model of communicative community integrates both speech and writing, combining at once the concepts of Swales’ discourse community with the sociological concept of speech community. Within the model she distinguishes four types of communication  communities (1999:146), local-private, local-public, distant-public and distant-private. The emphasis is on the idea that the ‘individual acts within a social structure, and it is this social structure that determines the outcome’ (1999:141). It may be that future applications of this model can lead to more studies that combine spoken and written discourse seen within the social context in which they occur, thus solving the problem of over-emphasis on written text in genre studies. Discussion


Whilst the problems of genre analysis pointed to here are of concern, there can be no doubt that it is, and will continue to be, one of the key areas of studies in Business English and in ESP as a whole. Though still insufficient, work has started on transferring the results of genre analysis to the classroom (Hyon 1996). Swales (1990:203-231) devoted time to looking at transferring his theories into practice. Flowerdew (1993) gave suggestions on how genre teaching can be implemented in the classroom. He suggested six types of activity so that rather than trying to master a given genre, students could apply genre techniques to a wide range of genre in order to understand them better. His suggestions included computer concordancing which, for example, could be used to see how the word please is used in different genres. More work is needed.


In a study such as this, which looks at business language at both a macro- and micro- level, the concept of genre can be incorporated and accommodated in such a way as to give coherence to the study. Thus, whilst this thesis is not genre analysis research per se, it is research that takes note of genre and uses its concepts in order to define both the corpus of Business English and some of the results gained from it. However, this research has attempted to learn from the failings of genre analysis, and gives more focus to both pedagogical application and spoken language than previous studies have done. 


The whole of the last section has attempted to look at the range of influences on language use in Business English as pointed to by Pickett. This was preceded by an investigation of Pickett’s first idea on the layering of business language. It is now time to consider the third of his ideas concerning the actors in business communication - who communicates with whom. This leads us into the realm of needs analysis and language surveys, and the next section will look at how needs analysis has added to our knowledge of Business English and examine if Pickett’s assumptions were correct.


3.7 Pickett’s Concept 3:  

Business communication - needs analysis and Business English


The first two of Pickett’s three main ideas, the poetics and the ergolect of Business English, have now been discussed. The third main idea he put forward; that in relation to communication in business - who communicates with whom -  now needs to be considered. Pickett used a three-way distinction: business to general public, business to business and business to other members of the same business area.  The implication, of course, of this proposition, is that the type of language used in the various situations with a variety of speakers in different roles would be essentially different. This review of the literature has already shown the great variety of factors that can affect language choice, but despite the criticisms by Dudley-Evans & St John noted earlier that Pickett’s model is very simplistic, it has been reinforced by later writers looking both at specific genre in Business English, and Business English in general. Barbara & Scott (1996), in an article concerned with Invitations for Bids, observed that


...texts produced in business situations can be classed as public or private. Public texts include leaflets of various kinds, house organs, several types of reports etc. These are non-confidential documents and their readership is not narrowly specified. Private documents, on the other hand, are such as minutes of meetings and reports on staff selection interviews, that may circulate within the organisation or between organisations, but are usually accessible only to a limited number of people.                                           (Barbara & Scott 1996:4)


Examination of other business documents has led to the same conclusion. O’Brien & Jones (1998), in their study of minutes in business meetings, noted that


Within the business world we can distinguish between minutes written for internal purposes based on internal meetings (these are usually very specific); those written for internal purposes based on external meetings (these may be more revealing than those written for other purposes, including, for example, expressions of surprise) and those written to be shared externally based on meetings with external bodies (these will usually be at the more formal end).

 (O’Brien & Jones 1998:8)



Brieger (1997:38), on Business English in general, suggested the following lines of communication between business people which more or less replicate Pickett’s:


1. Specialist     -----------------------------> specialist

2a. Specialist ------------------------------> non-specialist

2b. Non-specialist ------------------------> specialist

3. Generalist ------------------------------> generalist



For a more detailed examination of  whom business communication takes place between, there is a need to look at work done under the banner of various needs analysis approaches. These main approaches to needs analysis were briefly mentioned in Section 3.2.7 earlier and have been covered in much greater detail in West (1994), so discussion will be limited here to questions directly relevant to Pickett’s assertion and will not cover needs analysis as a whole. However, a brief overview of the early developments in needs analysis will serve to highlight the key issues under discussion.


3.7.1 Needs analysis and Business English: who communicates with who ?


The literature on needs analysis is abundant and points to its centrality in ESP (Munby 1978:1, McDonough 1984:29, Kennedy & Bolitho 1984:3, Brindley 1989:63 and Riddell 1991:73).  The development of needs analysis as an integral part of course design came with the evolution of more communicative approaches to language teaching. Chomsky's definitions of competence  and performance  in the mid-60s had brought about a shift away from more structuralist approaches, where needs were seen merely as mastery of grammatical form, to a communicative view of language with satisfactory communication in the terminal situation seen as the goal of language study. This led to what was known as Target Situational Analysis (TSA) - an approach that gathered information on the situations where students would need to use the language, and thus by implication with whom they would need to communicate. An early example of this was the survey conducted by the London Chamber of Commerce (LCCI) which, in a broad study of 593 firms and 11,595 respondents (Stuart & Lee 1972:4), found that listening and speaking skills were considered the most important (49% of respondents). Other examples of these early surveys were ELTDU (1970) and Trim et al. (1973).  These early studies were valuable in that they were a valid attempt to find out exactly in which situations business learners needed English. Some (e.g. Trim et al.) even attached relevant functional items along with the situations. Simpler versions of these large scale studies filtered down and were utilised at language school level. Hughes & Knight (1977) described a needs analysis system for business students developed at their school which included  information on ‘who he speaks to and who he writes to, where he speaks’ (Hughes & Knight 1977:68).  Shaw (1982) used what he called an ad hoc approach to needs analysis, operating along similar lines but using it as a group-work exercise to get students involved in their own learning.         


Interest in TSA peaked with Munby (1978). His model for identifying the needs of language learners, CNP (Communicative Needs Processor), took target situation analysis to its logical limits and though much criticised over the years (e.g. McDonough 1984, Coleman 1988), ‘its importance in heralding the dawn of a new age for LSP should not be underestimated’ (Riddell 1991:73). The views on language that had inspired TSA began to change and with it so did needs analysis. Needs analysis approaches have always clearly expressed the designers’ concept of language framed in terms of need. Thus needs analysis underwent a process not dissimilar to that of ESP in general - new methodologies came along and the old were not totally discarded, but were kept, along with the new, to help isolate learners’ needs all the more accurately, it was hoped. West (1994) described this process in detail and suggested a four-stage evolution taking needs analysis through TSA, deficiency analysis, strategy analysis, means analysis, language audits and computer-based/integrated needs analysis. Thus, whilst there was still interest shown in needs analysis models on who was communicating with whom, the issue became only one part of a larger battery of questions. Holden (1993), for example, in his needs analysis for business people, uses TSA, asks who is communicating with whom and also includes a strategy analysis. The newer definitions of language and therefore needs also highlighted the problems inherent in any needs analysis approach and these will be discussed below.


3.7.2 Problems with needs analysis approaches


In terms of Business English and a further understanding of the communication relationships and the language used in these situations, needs analysis approaches have certain limitations. They do not address the second, and arguably more important,  implication of Pickett’s idea - that of different language being used in different situations. In fact, needs analysis approaches can be criticised on at least two grounds: language and intuition.  Firstly, needs analysis approaches largely fail to adequately address language issues, i.e. they may determine where and to whom a business person speaks or writes, but they largely fail to indicate the type of language needed to teach the student to communicate in these situations.[42] This is a result of the fact that they have been primarily concerned with method and not result. By this it is meant that the literature of needs analysis focuses on a variety of needs analysis methods, rather than on the results of these methods. Thus models are refined to better understand the needs of learners, to be fed into course design, but the results of the use of these needs analyses are not generally publicised, and the knowledge gained by them has not filtered down to other practitioners in the field. Secondly, virtually all needs analysis models have been based on the intuition of their creators, thus building into any model a dangerous element of subjectivity. These issues will now be addressed.


3.7.3 Language and needs analysis


The main problem with most later needs analysis approaches, as was noted above, is that the work done since the early days of TSA has been more concerned with asking the right questions rather than publishing the answers. The early work done in the 1970s, for example Trim et al. (1973) and Stuart & Lee (1972) was not just interested in presenting questionnaires - they were surveys that also presented answers. Trim et al. gave a detailed account of different categories of professions and with whom the practitioners might communicate. For example, they noted that technical staff may need to communicate with colleagues, and so will need language for communication as well as specialised terminology (Trim et al. 1973:68). They also continued by attempting some definition of the kind of language that might be needed in each situation, for example architects and engineers would need to give orders, give explanations and negotiate (Trim et al. 1973:69). However, sentences such as the language of negotiations, which abound in needs analysis questionnaires, do not essentially help the teacher, who then has to decide what the language of negotiations is and also how to teach it. Thus, whilst these early attempts at needs analysis helped and guided teachers to a certain extent by suggesting the possible participants of business communication and even suggesting the type of language that might be needed, they were unable to go into detail. Later needs analysis models did not even do that - models were presented and the results were kept ‘in-house’ by their users. A good example of this has been the Language Audit of Pilbeam (1979), Berggren (1987), Räsänen (1991) and Lynch, Stevens & Sands (1993). The concept of language audits is ideal for gathering and elucidating information on the very issues that are of concern here - who talks to who, why and for how long. Once again, however, results have been firmly kept in-house by the language institutions concerned. Moreover, all of these approaches have been subject to a much greater flaw - that of intuition.


3.7.4 Perceptions and intuition


Brindley (1989:65) reported on  a survey he carried out in 1984 asking one hundred ESL teachers what they thought were ‘student needs’. He summarised the answers under three headings:


1. Language proficiency view of needs, where teachers saw need as the gap between current and a desired proficiency level, though this assumes that there is a target proficiency level that is recognised by all teachers.

2. Psychological-humanistic, which emphasised affective needs. Needs were here seen as a gap between current and a desired psychological state; confidence and strategy building were seen as very important.

3. Specific purposes view, aligning course content with learners' occupational or academic goals.


Nelson (1992) reported on a similar but more modest survey carried out amongst a small group of business language teachers at the Kielikanava Language Centre, Turku, Finland, asking them what they thought were Business English student needs. With the teachers being in an ESP situation it might be expected that the specific purposes view mentioned above would be the main approach adopted by the teachers, yet the Kielikanava  survey proved otherwise. It took place in an informal setting in a teacher training session, in which the teachers first completed a questionnaire and were then asked to discuss and explain their comments. The teachers were all experienced, with a minimum of two years ESP teaching in companies in and around the Turku area in south-west Finland. The questionnaire asked them to consider their own students and to try and analyse their language learning needs under the headings target situations, needs, wants, and constraints.  Finally, they were asked what would be essential content of materials in relation to these categories. Although there were a wide range of answers,  all the teachers (except one) put forward linguistic or grammatical items as needs - mastery of prepositions, verbs or just a general need for grammar. However, fluency, appropriacy and confidence were all mentioned, though seen as slightly less important. In the discussion that followed the completion of the questionnaire, it became apparent that the teachers had very wide views on student needs, especially in terms of target situations. The teachers tended to favour one or the other situation, some seeing telephoning as very important, others not. Thus the concept of need was found to be a very relative one, depending on the individual teacher’s own views.


This problem of defining exactly what needs are has also been a point of debate in the literature, as Brindley pointed out ‘teachers' approaches to ‘needs’ will be heavily influenced by their practical experience as well as by their personal philosophy’ (Brindley 1989:65). Chambers (1980:27) pinpointed the problem by noting that ‘whoever determines needs largely determines which  needs are determined’.


The results of the small survey mentioned above (Nelson 1992) shows teacher perceptions of student needs rather than actual student needs. For example, in terms of target situations, telephoning was considered an important need for students by some teachers. However, the same survey done with different teachers might well have thrown up a completely different result. What this small survey served to highlight, therefore, was that the previous experience and predilections of the teacher/researcher can clearly influence the data-gathering process. Items can be included or excluded on a questionnaire depending on how important they are considered by the writer.


Work in the 1990s on needs analysis tried to address the problems related to identifying language needs and intuition and attempts were also made to address the language issue in needs analysis.


3.7.5 An attempt to overcome the question of language in needs analysis


Nelson (1992, 1994a, 1994b) used a tailor-made computer program to analyse the needs of Business English students. The concept of need was extended to the finding of suitable teaching materials carried out by the use of a computer database of Business English teaching materials. In Nelson’s system a profile of the learners’ needs is gained by the computer and then linked to a database of published Business English materials. The computer program is pre-programmed to find suitable materials set at both ability level and target situation. Thus an attempt was made not only to define the situations where a student would be using Business English, but also to suggest the kind of language that might be needed in each instance. Additionally, a list of key grammatical areas attached to each target situation was suggested to help the teacher in designing lessons (Nelson 1992b:78-82). Nelson, however, mentioned the main problem with this kind of listing is that it has ‘been compiled introspectively and therefore only represents what we have found useful. It is not meant to be exhaustive, nor does it try to suggest that there is a one-to-one relationship between a specific grammar point and a target situation’ (1992b:78).


3.7.6 An attempt to overcome the question of intuition in needs analysis


The question of intuition in needs analysis questionnaire design is difficult to overcome. However, Nelson (1997) has attempted to at least minimise the effects of it by using a ‘pre-questionnaire’ questionnaire. The pre-questionnaire was used in an Oxford University Press project to create an electronic needs analysis system for both Business

and general English to be situated on their World Wide Web site. In order to try and  avoid the intuition problem, Nelson carried out a survey to determine just what questions it would be useful to have in the final needs analysis questionnaires. The survey sent questionnaires world-wide via the Internet, not only to teachers, but also to potential student[43] users of this needs analysis service - 89 students and 45 teachers replied. The respondents were asked a variety of questions concerning needs analysis. The pre-questionnaire answers confirmed to a certain extent the intuition of the writer of the questionnaire, i.e. most questions were seen as relevant - but differences were found between the students’ and the teachers’ answers.[44] Further, several issues were raised by both the teachers and the students that affected the final design of the needs analysis system created that had not been expected by the original ‘intuitive’ design, for example, some question formats were changed owing to answers received.


3.7.7  Language and needs surveys


In the 1990s there were several needs analysis-type surveys, though the methodology had moved on considerably since the early days of TSA. Van Hest & Oud-de Glas (1990) carried out a survey of surveys into foreign language needs in industry, mostly in continental Europe but also to a lesser extent in the UK and US. They found surveys to be relatively abundant, but lacking in statistical analysis - sampling, validity and reliability checks were rarely carried out to verify the results of the data gathered - and response rates were found to be dangerously low (1990:12-13). More recent surveys, however, can be seen to satisfactorily address the questions raised in this section, on business communication in general, and on specific genres of Business English.  Barbara et al. (1996) surveyed business communication in Brazil, sending out 1,347 questionnaires and from replies gained used 214 as the basis of their data. They found that reports, memos and meetings were the most common business genres that their respondents participated in. It was also found that industrial and large organisations used English the most and 72% used English to conduct business internally or externally. Louhiala-Salminen (1996) studied the development of written correspondence in Finnish companies. She found that written skills were given most importance by respondents (51%)[45] and that the fax was the most important medium of delivering the message. It was also found that the language used in correspondence was seen to have changed, it was less formal, more to the point and more speech-like (1996:49-50). Thus, it can be seen that knowledge of the communication patterns of business people are starting to become more widely available.


3.7.8 Discussion


At the beginning of this section two central question were implied: with whom do business people communicate, and what language do they use to do it? It would appear that after a review of the literature of needs analysis the answers to these questions are still not totally satisfactorily answered. It is still not known in any systematic way who different groups of business people communicate with. Perhaps because of the very complexity of business, this would be a very difficult and ultimately fruitless task, as communication partners vary so widely from job to job. However, needs analysis has shown us by the very complexity of its design, that business people do communicate with a variety of people on a daily basis. It may be useful, therefore, to see Pickett’s categories simply as umbrella terms and teachers and researchers can use a more focused needs analysis approach to determine the details.


In terms of language use, Pickett’s three-way distinction has been studied mostly with regard to language used business to business - both inside and outside needs analysis work. For example, Nelson (1997), in the Oxford University Press needs analysis system, enquired about the communication partners of business students. Nelson asked the business people questions concerning contact with colleagues, clients, business contacts and suppliers in a very simplistic approach to this question. Interestingly, three out of the four questions related to business to business communication. Studies outside the business to business paradigm have been carried out by, for example, Ventola (1983, 1987) and Kalaja (1992) - work done on service encounters, and research on the discourse of advertising (Cook 1992), which must be seen as a key interface between business and the public.[46] The whole of this review of the literature bears witness to the fact that the central thrust of research has thus been business to business communication.


The review of the literature so far has attempted to map out what is already known about Business English and discuss its central issues (summarised in the diagram below).







                            technical/sub-technical words               formulaic phrases              




                        corporate culture                                                   hierarchy   



                 register                                                                               cohesion


            ergolect                                        BUSINESS ENGLISH                                     poetics





                           perceived  relevance                          politeness




discourse strategies                 genre               power                                                  culture



Fig. 17 Factors involved in the discussion of  Business English in this chapter

Yet empirical studies have not told the whole story of Business English. As has been noted in the literature, Business English has grown up via its materials and its teachers, rather than by its research (St John 1996, Dudley-Evans & St John 1996). As this study will later attempt to empirically determine how successful Business English materials have been on a lexical level, it is now necessary to look at more intuitive attempts to define Business English through its materials, and examine research that has already been carried out into the accuracy of both Business English and EFL materials in general. 


B What Business English is thought to be


3.8  Business English materials


Business English materials have been summarised in Robinson (1991), Dudley-Evans & St John (1996), St John (1996), Johnson (1993), Brieger (1997) and Flinders (1998a) - and Nelson (1994 a,b) has created a large computer database of these materials for on-line reference. Therefore, instead of offering a simple description of the materials available, this section will concentrate on methodological issues concerned with Business English materials. This will largely concern the debate that has continued in ESP over the level of specificity necessary in ESP - and in this case Business English - materials. This section will also consider attempts to categorise the materials by different authors and then go on to critically review the accuracy of the materials by discussing them in relation to research done both inside and outside the field of Business English.


3.8.1 General or special English ?


At the beginning of this review of the literature, the development of ESP over the last thirty to forty years was presented. During this same period there has been a concurrent development in the materials used in teaching. The methodologies of past years, from register and discourse analysis in the sixties and early seventies, on to functional/notional and communicative approaches, have given rise to a great variety of materials. Arguably, the very term ESP has implied that there are specific areas of English or Englishes tied to an occupation or study area. This has been confirmed to an extent by the concentration there has been on some form of special needs analysis as the starting point of ESP courses as noted in the previous section.  For most writers if it is not the starting point then it seems to be at least an indispensable element. Yet despite this apparent agreement that some form of needs analysis must be done, it was noted that there have been more divergent views on exactly what those needs might be, and how they are turned from needs  to means - i.e. how those needs can be met.


Accordingly, there has been dissension on whether or not subject-specific material should be used to teach students operating in a certain professional area. This matter was raised by Arthur (1983) in a survey review of Business English materials. She noted that because the term Business English is rather ‘nebulous’ (1983:167), there had been disagreement over what form the materials should take. She asked if materials should offer general English in a business context taking account of a ‘restricted register’ of English or if they should be more concerned with discourse patterns and functions. This seems to have been a burning question in the early 1980s. Hutchinson & Waters (1980:181) stated ‘there is no justification for subject specific ESP materials’. Although their purpose in writing this statement was not as drastic as it first appears - they do not deny the motivational elements of subject specific materials - they represent a school of thought that has focused on the underlying competences of language and how they may best be acquired, rather than focusing so closely on the specific language itself. This underlying competence, it is argued, can be acquired more from general English materials than concentration on a specific linguistic area.


By contrast Pickett’s concepts of ergolect and poetics tend to lead in the opposite direction - there is a special language that needs teaching, and by implication, materials should reflect this.  Thus, the learning of Business English is at least partly a matter of acquiring the formulaic patterns that most transactions consist of:


[ the student] ... already knows the routines and transactions to which business English will refer, since these are almost behavioural universals. His task will, therefore, be the more narrowly linguistic one of acquiring the expressions.

                                                                                     (Pickett 1988:90)


He continued in a later article, ‘it is the words that are unfamiliar, not the situations’ (Pickett 1989:6). This was obviously pointing to a different notion of competence to that expressed by Hutchinson & Waters. Whilst Hutchinson & Waters realised that there can in some senses be special ‘Englishes’, they argued that in terms of learning to use them, it is a more general approach that is needed. They suggested that  if lessons concentrate purely on linguistic items, there can be no real communication. They are, therefore, not concerned with the surface structures themselves, as Pickett seems to be, but the acquisition of the underlying competences needed to cope with typical situations.


Mountford (1988) agreed with some aspects of Hutchinson & Waters’ views in that he realised the problems encountered with ‘authentic’ materials. However, he criticised ESP materials development, saying that there had been an over-preoccupation with writing ‘special’ material. His experiences of teaching in Thailand led him to see certain constraints on the use of ESP materials in the classroom. These included institutional factors, such as time and money, teacher factors, such as training and differing levels of their competence, and learner factors, which he believed are often not given as much consideration as they should be. He criticised the approach where


... the relevance and appropriacy of teaching materials must derive from the language of the target situation, whether or not there is any evidence that the student's interest in his or her area of study or work as a motivating purpose will automatically carry over into the ESP classroom.                                                             (Mountford 1988:83)


These issues have been in the background of the development of materials for business English since their beginnings in the early 1970s and, it must be said, still continue today. Ayers & Van Huyssteen (1996) in their review of Business Opportunities (Hollett 1994) commented on the tension between materials designed for very specific areas, i.e. what they would consider ‘real’ ESP materials, and what are basically general English course materials with something of a business context added on. In the case of Business Opportunities they say that ‘it seems that a grammatical syllabus has been drawn up, and a list of ‘business situations’ ‘matched’ to those structures’ (1996:74). They concluded the review by saying that ‘for a book to be truly ESP, there needs to be a more in-depth coverage of the communicative events which occur in a particular context and the language covered has to be determined by those events through a detailed linguistic analysis’ (1996:75). Whilst this may or may not be true, teachers - the end-users of these books - have come down firmly on the side of the Business Opportunities approach (if it can be called an approach).


Flinders (1998a) commented on a short survey[47] of Business English teachers and the ideas about the materials they use. Business Opportunities (Hollett 1994) and Business Objectives (Hollett 1991) were both at the top of the list of the most-used books along with several other course books that adopt a similar style - Business Class (Cotton & Robbins 1993) and New International Business English (Jones & Alexander 1996), for example. The survey carried out for this thesis also found these books to be in the top five sold in 1996. However, whether this popularity is an endorsement of the methodology used by the books or is simply due to the effective marketing of the publishers it is not possible to say.


The generality of Business English course books was also noted by Robinson (1991) and she suggested three reasons for this: the role of Business English as a mediating language between public and business, the wide range of students who may be termed ‘Business English’ students and the ‘open door’ policy of many language schools which leads to very heterogenous groups of students who need to be accommodated. Materials, she noted, must not be so specific that they would alienate certain members of a given group (Robinson 1991:98).


The tension between materials’ specificity and usefulness had been discussed earlier by Pilbeam (1987), who questioned whether published materials could be used at all on ESP courses and especially on Business English courses. As a Business English trainer of many years’ experience, Pilbeam recalled the early days of teaching where ‘each case was special’ (1987:119) with the result that materials had to be designed in haste with a resultant loss in both quality and creativity. Published materials at that time were not seen as sufficiently relevant for ‘specialist’ Business English courses. The standard and amount of materials, however, has risen since then and Pilbeam presented eight criteria[48] by which he believed, if successfully adhered to, Business English published materials could readily be used in the classroom.[49] Even so, he also stated that ‘published ESP materials must always be a compromise’ (1987:119). Discussion


The debate on the specificity of ESP teaching materials has continued. As Pilbeam had already noticed back in 1987, the amount and quality of Business English materials has grown all the time and Business English nowadays represents the single biggest growth area in ESP. It will be seen in the following sections that along with this growth, there have been some attempts to incorporate research into the materials (Dow 1999). However, the starting points of this thesis have been the facts that a) there has not been enough research, and b) there has not been enough crossover from research to classroom/materials. This thesis accepts the points made by Hutchinson & Waters - the skills and strategies of learning are central to a successful learning outcome. However, their focus on the generality of language, rather than on the specific lexis of a discipline, needs to be put into perspective. An ESP course that relies solely on area-specific terminology would probably be both too limited, and also potentially very boring for students. However, as the term ESP does imply a specificity of purpose, the key lexis of a given discipline must play a central role in the teaching process. This thesis has attempted to discover the key lexis of Business English so that it can be integrated into Business English materials and courses of the future. This lexis does not, and should not, represent the only element of an ESP for business course - but without Business English lexis at the heart of the course, the specificity and arguably the effectiveness of the course will be diminished. The ideas of Ayers & Van Huyssteen (1996) noted earlier are, therefore, preferred by this research. The communicative events of Business English have been collected in the BEC and materials have been written to take advantage of the linguistic analysis the language has been subjected to (example materials can be found in Appendix 11 in Vol. II of this thesis).


After this discussion of materials at a general level, it is useful to now look more closely at exactly what kinds of materials have been produced in the Business English market. Business English materials have become increasingly abundant over the last decade, and there have accordingly been attempts made to categorise them. By looking at these categorisations it should be possible to analyse them more easily. In the next section these attempts at categorisation will be examined before going on to a more detailed evaluation of the validity of the materials themselves.


3.8.2 Categorising Business English materials


Categorisations of Business English materials, although differing in terminology and approach, have tended to make the same distinctions between the materials on the market. Four separate categorisations of materials will be considered here, Johnson (1993), St John (1996), Brieger (1997) and Flinders (1998b).


St John (1996:9-14) gives perhaps the fullest account of Business English materials and puts forward the following description:


1. Materials for business communication skills: These are materials that ‘focus on the core skills of business activity’ (1996:9).  This area covers that aspect of communication that is not concerned with specialised knowledge, but the general communication  skills that we all need to function in different walks of life. Non-language skills are also included here, for example non-verbal communication and organisational skills. In this section she includes books such as those in the Longman Business English Skills Series, for example, Negotiating (O’Connor et al. 1992), Socializing  (Ellis & O’ Driscoll 1992), and Telephoning (Bruce 1992).


2. Materials for business contexts: These are the ‘hard-core’ ESP materials where the nature of the business forms the interaction. Examples of this are the Business Management English Series by Brieger & Comfort, which include books with a relatively high ‘business’ content such as Personnel (Brieger & Comfort 1992a) and Finance (Brieger & Comfort 1992b).


3. Materials for business studies: Business studies materials have borrowed a lot from actual business courses: Uber-Grosse, (1988) in her article The Case Study Approach to Teaching Business English stated that the Harvard Business School first used case studies over seventy years ago and St John notes that this has led to the widespread use of case studies and simulations for training purposes. In terms of teaching Business English, Uber-Grosse says that case studies ‘teach language through content, rather than through grammatical or lexical exercises’ (1988:131). She says that they typically use authentic materials where the students are presented with a problem to solve.  In Business English they have been used quite widely and examples include Portfolio (Howe 1987) and Case Studies in International Management (Sawyer-Lauçanno 1987).


4. English materials in a business setting: Most of the Business English materials available today fall under this category. This category includes ‘course books and supplementary materials’ (1996:12-13). Examples of these in wide use are Business Opportunities (Hollett 1994), Business Objectives (Hollett 1991) and Insights into Business (Lannon et al. 1993). Examples of supplementary materials given by St John include In at the Deep End (Hollet et al. 1989).[50]


St John summarises the categories in the following diagram (1996:9):



Business Communication                                            Business Contexts



                                    Business Studies Methodology



                        (English) Language in Business Settings


Fig. 18 Business English categories of materials - St John (1996:9)



Johnson (1993) takes a slightly different approach to categorising teaching materials.  She follows what is basically a chronological approach, starting with the early approach of looking at specialist lexis and ending up with the latest books concerning business skills. Her categories are as follows:


1. Focus on specialist lexis: Johnson (1993:205) notes that early course books presented specialist vocabulary to students and focused on ‘randomly selected structures and vocabulary and there was no consideration of how the learner might apply the language in real-life’. More recently, however, with the emergence of the Lexical Approach  in the late 1980s and 1990s, there has been a re-birth of lexis as a central theme of Business English materials.


2. Focus on Gambits: Johnson defines gambits as ‘fixed expressions that can be used in meetings, for example, to put one’s point of view, agree or disagree’ (1993:205). Almost all Business English books have used this approach in one form or another - but books such as The Language of Meetings (Goodale 1987) exemplify the approach.

3. The Case Study Approach: This was a sub-section of St John’s categories (Materials for Business Studies) but Johnson gives it special mention in its own right. As we saw from St John above, this idea has been borrowed from pure business teaching and is a method whereby students are presented with a hypothetical life-like business situation that they must resolve. In terms of Business English teaching, the language skills needed to resolve the issues is the main focus of the activity.


4. Focus on Business Skills: This is a focus on the communication skills needed in a business environment, for example, socialising, entertaining and presentation skills (1993:205). Johnson gives a long list of materials using this approach.


Published materials for Brieger (1997) are not stressed or discussed directly and are thus relegated to an appendix at the back of the book. However, he does categorise the books under eight headings: coursebooks, language, listening, communication skills, vocabulary, professional context, activities/case study/role-play and reading. Examples of book types are listed under each heading.   


Flinders (1998b) also attempts to categorise Business English materials. He suggests that there has been a shift from 1980 to the present day in that there has been a move from using authentic materials to using ready-made published materials. He continues by saying that the 1990s saw the rise of what he calls the media mix - so that in the classroom today, students get a mixture of books, photocopies, audio and video, PC disks, CD ROMs and use of the Internet. He presents definitions of Business English materials  by suggesting five main course components:


1. Language knowledge

2. Communication skill

3. Professional context (sub-divided into companies, business areas and countries)

4. Cross-cultural area

5. Management  skill


This short section has given an overview of the wide range of Business English materials available at present and their development over the last twenty to thirty years. Attention now turns to the validity of the materials summarised above and an analysis of how well they reflect the world that they are supposed to give linguistic insight into.


3.8.3 Analysis of the validity of Business English materials in relation to intuition


The influence of intuition on all the approaches and methods within ESP is a recurring theme of this work. It has been noted especially within needs analysis but also in genre, discourse and register analysis. Use of a researcher’s intuition in many ways is inevitable - if a given factor is not known about, then hypotheses need to be created in order to explain it and intuition can often play a key role in formulating ideas. This is a normal and valuable part of scientific thought and practice. However, when intuition plays an important part not only in the creation of ideas but in the fabric of the results themselves, one starts to get on to more shaky ground. Materials writers in ESP and indeed Business English have used their intuition to create models of language  for students that purport to be Business English. Yet under more rigorous examination some of these materials have been found to be lacking in one form or another. Furthermore, there is no firm definition of just what Business English actually is. Therefore Business English materials, more than anything else, represent what the writers of the materials believe Business English to be via their intuition.


Powell (1996) attacked this use of intuition in Business English materials,  arguing that

‘the list of instances where the materials writers intuition has proved false is almost endless’ (1996:5). He especially criticised the language of textbooks used for teaching meetings, presentations, graphs and telephoning, claiming that all of them present an unrealistic picture of the language actually used. However, Powell, in criticising the use of intuition by other writers, was still using his own intuition to do so. Therefore, it is necessary to examine actual research that has been done in order to critically evaluate Business English materials writing as a whole in relation to this question of intuition.


Factual indications of the presence of faulty intuition were seen in Nelson (1997) in the Oxford University Press needs analysis survey noted earlier. Nelson was interested in looking at the question of intuition with regard to course design and wanted to see if the teachers’ ideas of what students wanted matched what the students themselves said they wanted. Identical[51] questionnaires were sent to teachers and students asking them to state their preferences on their business language needs and the format of the final needs analysis questionnaire. Key differences were noted.


·    Students wanted the results of the language questionnaire to be given to them in terms of functions and notions, whereas the teachers predicted that students would want the results shown in terms of the situations and tasks where they would need the language.

·    Teachers consistently made mistakes in judging the value of target situations to the students - for example, students saw specialist vocabulary to be twice as important for them than the teachers predicted they would.[52]


The Oxford University Press study has not been subjected to statistical validation and can only point to possible trends and not make any definitive statements about intuition. However, when combined with other research it does seem to be pointing in the same direction. Although most of the work on the differences between real-life language and EFL/TESOL[53] language has been carried out outside the field of Business English, it can still be seen as very relevant to the issue here, as what little work there has been done in Business English has come to very similar conclusions. Comparative studies into materials and real-life have covered a variety of items in ESP/ESL research both in the UK and in America. These have included use of grammatical items  (Kennedy 1987, Holmes 1988), refutation (Pickard 1992), service encounters (Scotton & Bernsten 1988,  Ventola 1987), direction giving (Scotton & Bernsten 1988), complaints (Boxer & Pickering 1995), intonation patterns (Cauldwell & Hewings 1996) and lexis (Ljung 1990). These studies from outside the field of Business English will now be looked at in more detail, followed by analysis of work directly related to Business English.


3.8.4 Studies of intuition outside Business English


Holmes (1988) examined the use of doubt and certainty in four well-known ESL textbooks using a combination of two corpora to compare findings to an examination of the books.[54] Her results showed that whilst in some cases, doubt and certainty - in fact the use of epistemic modals - was adequately covered, ‘some textbooks were positively misleading’ (Holmes 1988:40). She noted that other books give information of ‘variable quality’ (1988:40). Interestingly, she also dismisses earlier attempts of analysis of this issue on the grounds that the research had not been corpus-based, but along rationalist, i.e. intuitive lines. Kennedy (1987) looked at quantification - more specifically the use of approximation - and how it is used by native speakers. Two corpora and the Oxford Concise Dictionary were consulted and compared to input from teachers who were asked to give their own intuitive input on the subject. The results showed that the intuition of the teachers gave the largest range of types of approximation terms, but that on its own  was not enough. The vast amount of intuitive information needed ordering and


... the frequency data which the computer-based examination of these types in large corpora now makes possible were also necessary to give the descriptive information pedagogical value.                                                                                                                (Kennedy 1987:282)


Ma (1993a), in his review of the literature of small corpora concordancing, gave further examples of work done in this field citing Pickard (1992), who noted that the language of refutation used in textbooks was not actually used in real-life. Scotton & Bernsten (1988) considered  two language situations - asking for directions and service encounters - and compared them to how these situations were presented in TESOL teaching materials. They noted that ‘Most textbook direction-giving dialogues contain only three parts’ (1988:373) and that ‘interactional demands on the direction-seeker are not normally considered in the TESOL classroom’ (1988:373). The textbooks also lacked all the fillers and non-fluencies of actual English discourse. In terms of the service encounters they found that in the real-life encounters, the native speaker actors tended to use the ‘bald imperative’ can in requests, whereas the non-native speakers tended to use more overtly polite phrases such as would you please?. This more direct way of making requests, they said, should be taken into account when making materials and also in teaching.  Mason (1989), in a small-scale study of service encounters at a chemist’s shop in the UK, found the service encounters to be quite different than she had expected and noted the lack of use of the phrase Here you are beloved of EFL textbooks. She also found:


The use of ‘dead’ as an intensifier is quite commonly heard in certain areas of Britain, but apart from its use in the instruction of drivers (‘Drive dead slow’), does not seem to have found its way into grammar books or ELT textbooks because it is generally deemed to be ‘incorrect’.                                                                   (Mason 1989:90)


Ventola (1987), also researching service encounters notes that in her opinion


The textbook dialogues did not appear to be very well equipped to teach students the many ways in which linguistic patterns vary when language is used to realize social activity.                    (Ventola 1987:232)



The lack of reality and the reliance on over-polite discourse strategies are themes that will be returned to as these complaints are widespread concerning published materials. A third theme is highlighted by Boxer & Pickering (1995) in their survey of complaints and how they are presented in EFL materials. They took seven EFL textbooks, four from the US and three from the UK, and studied them to see how the language of complaining was presented. Their main finding was that the textbooks again oversimplified the real-life situation and presented, for the most part, only examples of  direct complaints. Boxer & Pickering stress the need for students to also be aware of indirect complaints, as they have a  ‘rapport-inspiring function in social conversation’ (1995:45). In their conclusion they warn:


One of the dangers of relying on native-speaker intuition for the creation of language textbooks is that we wrongly emphasize explicit rather than tacit knowledge of how we speak.

        (Boxer & Pickering 1995:56)


Thus the third major criticism of materials can be seen to be the over-emphasis of overt uses of language at the expense of the implicit - the direct over the indirect. This, too, will be returned to later when discussing Business English materials.


Another study looking at spoken language, this time at intonation rules and how they are presented in ELT textbooks (Cauldwell & Hewings 1996), again noted the over-simplification and, indeed, erroneous information given. Suggesting a discourse approach to the teaching of pronunciation, they showed how intonation patterns used by native speakers when giving lists and asking questions differed intrinsically from the over-simplified patterns presented in most textbooks. They gave as one example from textbooks that when asking yes/no questions, a speaker will end the sentence with raised intonation. They gave real-life examples that showed this is not always true, and basing their ideas on the work of David Brazil, they suggested that ‘falling tones in questions indicate that the speaker is ‘finding out’, rising tone indicates that the speaker is ‘making sure’’ (1996:332). They criticised the rules presented in the books on three grounds: that they present only a limited part of the language, they fail to show how rules interrelate, and that the rules fail to show why the tendencies expressed in them exist and why speakers deviate from them (1996:333).


Research has also been carried out comparing real-life lexis and that found in EFL textbooks. Ljung (1990), [55] created a one million-word corpus of TEFL textbooks used in Swedish schools and compared it to several corpora, notably COBUILD. The methods and approach used will be discussed later in more detail, but here it is important to note that he found discrepancies between the ‘real’ vocabulary found in the natural language corpora and the materials used for teaching it. A frequency count showed that 204 words out of the top 1,000 were not shared by the two corpora, indicating a significant difference in emphasis, notably between concentration on concrete terms in the EFL corpus to more abstract terms in COBUILD. In his conclusion, he noted that


... there is reason to be critical of the TEFL texts on two major counts, i.e. the low general level of lexical sophistication and the absence of a clear increase in vocabulary difficulty as we move from the early to the later school years.                                         (Ljung 1990:44-45)


He went on to note that the materials do not adequately prepare the students for the tasks of the real world. All these examples go to show that materials writers intuition is not a sufficient basis alone on which to write materials and it will be seen in the next section that similar problems to those noted here have also been found in Business English materials.


3.8.5 Studies of intuition in Business English

Perhaps the best-known study into the differences between Business English materials and real-life language was carried out by Williams (1988), in her functional analysis of the language of meetings and the materials used for teaching them. Her study began because she was unconvinced that ‘the language taught by the textbooks reflects the language that is commonly used in meetings, nor that the language taught is of any particular use to students when they participate in meetings’ (1988:45). In this small scale study of three one-hour meetings between native speakers of English in Hong Kong, she found a significant gap between the ‘real’ language of the meetings she recorded and the materials she analysed that are used in teaching English for meetings.


Of the exponents taught by courses to realize functions, there was virtually no correspondence with the forms actually used in meetings. Of 135 exponents taught to realize 12 functions, 7 (5.2 per cent) were in fact used. Of the 7 used, one was said  by the textbooks to be rude.                                                                                    (Williams 1988:51)

She also noted that when selecting language exponents it appeared that writers did so by using ‘introspection or a kind of educated hunch, rather than empirical research’ (1988:46). Thus, it can be seen that Williams’ findings very closely match the work of Scotton & Bernsten, Ventola, Boxer & Pickering and Cauldwell & Hewings in noting a lack of reality in the materials, an emphasis on over-polite forms of the language and a preoccupation in focusing on the explicit forms of the language as opposed to the implicit. This study, whilst potentially very significant, was too small for any generalisable findings - a fact Williams herself noted - yet the results ‘do suggest that a more wide-ranging comparison between language taught and language used could provide some interesting insights’ (1988:53). Indeed, other work done in this area serves only to strengthen Williams’ distrust of Business English materials.


Shields (1994), in a similar study, looked at the use of agreement and disagreement in business meetings and in textbooks and again found significant differences. He found that Business English textbooks tended to teach agreeing and disagreeing in formulaic and explicit terms, e.g. I agree or I think you’re wrong. From the meetings Shields attended  he found participants much more likely to express disagreement by use of a longer pause before speech or a phrase such as yes but.


Yli-Jokipii (1994), in her study of requests in business correspondence from different cultures, compared the presentation of requests in real-life correspondence with textbooks from both the UK and the US. The same themes were again noted:


The text books provide less variation and sophistication than real-life calls for the British being more monotonous in their choices than the Americans. In fact, the British real-life and the corresponding instructional material occasionally represented the two extreme ends in the frequencies of the choices and the investigation. The American instructional material showed a tendency to avoid the conventional and formulaic ways of requesting, an aspiration affecting even flexible choices. The real-life situations seemed to call for greater implicitness than the instructional material is able, or chooses, to pursue. For example, the textbooks prefer explicit devices to indicate the action in the request, whereas the real life writers employ more covert means such as the passive, circumstantial, or evasive orientation. The discrepancies between instructional material and real-life practice are wider in this respect in the British data than the American.

                                                          (Yli-Jokipii 1994:249 - my italics)


She does say that the US textbooks were meant for native speakers and that the UK ones were for learners (1994:251), thus the samples represent examples of text written for very different target audiences, making any comparison a little unfair on the UK authors. However, her findings match precisely those of the other studies mentioned so far. Similarly, in another study of business correspondence, Maier (1992) noted in respect to materials published to help in business writing that


...these books focus solely on issues of form, ignoring the often more crucial matters of style and content. A survey of books on business correspondence revealed a similarly disturbing lack of attention to such issues, yielding several volumes of ‘model letters’ from which a user may choose.                                                                 (Maier 1992:189)


Ma (1993b) studied the difference between a corpus of 50 business letters and published materials for its teaching and also noted several differences, for example,  use of the PS section of letters was not covered in the materials, but widely used in real-life. In terms of business writing materials one possible reason for discrepancies between real-life and materials is suggested by the work of Louhiala-Salminen (1996). She notes the situation of permanent change in Business English and, in a questionnaire and interview-based survey of Finnish business people, she described the feeling of teachers facing the rapid technological shift from the ‘business letter’ to faxes and email:


It seemed to me that we, i.e. educators, students as well as the business people themselves, were all slightly lost, not knowing where we stood, when the basis of our concept of communication, The Letter, had suddenly almost disappeared, and we did not have anything to compensate the ‘store of phrases’ which had been a suitable resource to draw on in most writing situations.

                                                                  (Louhiala-Salminen 1996:38)


Her findings showed that the fax is now the dominant medium of business correspondence and that written skills are just as needed as spoken skills (1996:49). Even a detailed study of all Business English published materials fails to find adequate and detailed work on how to write faxes; thus, reality is so far not displayed within available materials.

3.8.6 Discussion


The key problems found in Business English materials presented above can be summarised as follows:

1. Materials present an oversimplified and unreal picture of the business world.

2. The language found in the textbooks differs from that used in actual business.[56]

3. There is a concentration on politeness and pleasantness that is not matched by real-world experience.

4. There is a concentration on the explicit forms of language use to the detriment of implicit forms.

5. The language, both structure and lexis, found in Business English materials, is entirely based on the intuition and experience of their authors.[57]


It should be stressed here that the intention of the previous section was to highlight shortcomings in the materials. Thus, the negative aspects of the materials have been stressed. Recent writers, it should be noted, however, have been less critical of Business English materials. The materials under examination in the previous section are from the 1960s to 1980s (with the exception of Louhiala-Salminen 1996), and it is clear that both ESP and Business English materials have had time to develop and grow since then. Dudley-Evans & St John go so far as to say that


We would suggest that the discrepancy between the textbooks and actual data is much less than it was at the time of Williams’ original investigation ... and that published textbooks are now based on a good mix of sound teaching experience and informed understanding of how different texts work in business communication.[58] 

                                                         (Dudley-Evans & St John 1996:40)


Dow (1999) concurs with this idea in the conclusion to his article on negotiating and non-native speakers and presents a picture of Business English materials that is, if not entirely rosy, certainly a positive one. He believes that ‘Discourse, genre and lexico-grammatical research does genuinely appear to be informing best classroom practice’ (1999:98) and this is also being reflected in some materials. Business English materials thus have certain faults and limitations in terms of their accuracy and their oversimplification of the complex language of business. Conversely, it can be said that they are considerably better than they were ten years ago. In order to improve further, Business English materials need to receive more information directly from language research - sidelining the use of intuition. The final section of this chapter will now summarise all the key themes presented so far and suggest where Business English might benefit most from further research.


3.9 The review of the literature: summary and conclusions


This review of the literature of Business English has ranged from early register analysis studies, through discourse and genre to needs analysis and the evaluation of Business English materials. It has presented a picture of an area that is at present at an important stage of its development. By this it is meant that for too long, development in Business English product and practice has been at the whim of the intuition of its practitioners. This is now changing, and empirical work in this field has slowly been accumulating and at time of writing is starting to gather momentum. Being materials-driven has had certain benefits for its practitioners, such as the practicality and teacher-friendliness of its materials (Dudley-Evans & St John 1996:40), but it has been seen that intuition alone can never be enough. Intuition is a valuable servant but a dangerous master. This last section uses four distinct but overlapping dichotomies to summarise this review of the literature: micro- vs macro-level knowledge, single vs multi-disciplinary knowledge, intuitive vs empirical knowledge and research knowledge vs classroom practice. It will show what has been achieved and what still needs to be achieved in a search for knowledge of what Business English is. It will note that although much work has been done, one vital area of Business English research has been neglected - Business English lexis. Finally, an introduction to a possible methodology for research into Business English lexis will be set out, leading to a full exposition in the following chapters.


3.9.1 Macro- vs micro-level knowledge


It is perhaps the nature of all good research that the target of its study is examined in minute detail so as to incrementally add to our knowledge of the world. This approach to research has underpinned most of the literature reviewed here. Early register analysis work concentrated on certain grammatical items or lexis in a given register, mathematics  (Kirkham 1978), or medical (Wingard 1981), for example. Under the heading of discourse analysis, research was carried out into, for example, cohesion in business letters (Johns 1980), or conjuncts in business news stories (Morrow 1989). Turn-taking rules in technical (Lenz 1987) and business meetings (Micheau & Billmyer 1987) were also studied. Continuing further into the review, work can be found on the use of meta-text (Mauranen 1993), politeness (Yli-Jokipii 1992), requests (Yli-Jokipii 1994) and power (Charles 1996). Each of these works has therefore focused on a small area and studied it with great care. It must be stated that no criticism of this neither should be, nor is offered here. Yet at the same time the overall effect of this state of affairs has led to limitations. In terms of Business English teachers and work in the classroom, the studies have come in such small ‘units’ that it has been difficult to gain an overall view of the state of Business English as it stands. The field is littered in a sense with ‘gems’ of micro-level information, but these gems seem to be strewn at random waiting to be found, rather than arranged in any systematic or easily accessible manner. It has been shown that even the major banners under which research has been done, for example genre analysis, are confusing. Furthermore, it requires a vast accumulation of micro-level knowledge before it can start affecting the classroom on the macro-level.


What is needed, it is argued here, is research that can present a picture of Business English both at micro- and macro-level. Ljung (1990) went part of the way there in his

study of TEFL textbooks in comparison to the ‘real-life’ language found in various corpora. Ljung was able to present an overall picture of the lexis found in over thirty textbooks and draw conclusions from this about the books at a macro-level. Yet Ljung concentrated only on the differences between the textbooks and real-life language and only at the single word unit level. Therefore, similar methodology will be used in this thesis not only to look at materials, but also to study how Business English differs from general English, thus defining it at a macro-level. However, the literature has also shown us that language should not be seen in isolation of its context. These contexts represent the micro-level genres of which Business English is composed. Thus, macro-level knowledge of Business English will be gained in this work by collation of large amounts of micro-level knowledge. In doing this, this thesis will take advantage of previous methodologies from register to genre analysis and take a multi-disciplinary, rather than single-discipline approach.


3.9.2 Single vs multi-disciplinary knowledge


The various methodologies discussed in the review of the literature were all found to be both useful and to possess shortcomings. Register analysis in its early state divorced linguistic features from their context and studied language only at the level of the sentence - the approach was unable to say why language occurred where and when it did. There was also an almost total concentration on written language. Discourse analysis shifted attention away from the sentence level and studies on discourse strategies also took spoken language into account - but language was still to a large extent seen away from its social context. Genre analysis has been able to join language, social context and communicative purpose together but has run into problems of definition and prescriptiveness. Again it has focused mainly on written language. It is argued here that any linguistic study of Business English should draw from the positive aspects of all these previous approaches. The study of lexis proposed in this thesis will thus utilise aspects of register and discourse analysis and use the concept of genre to orchestrate and give order to the work. Additionally it will take into account both written and spoken language.  In this way language can be studied in detail whilst still being firmly placed in its social and communicative context.


3.9.3 Intuitive vs empirical knowledge


This dynamic has been noted throughout this review of the literature, though it has been especially prevalent in needs analysis and materials development. The dichotomy has two implications. Firstly, empirical research is needed to replace the intuitive approach of most Business English practitioners. Secondly, the empirical data collected must be large enough to offer a representative picture of the language it is studying. The small size of research data and inability of the results of these works to be generalised have been noted throughout this review.  In order to create a data bank of sufficient size, the use of computer-based technology and corpus linguistic methodology is necessitated. It has been noted during the review that many writers have suggested the need for this approach, for example, Cowan (1974), Pickett (1986b) and Yang (1986). It is, however, not suggested that intuition be done away with entirely, nor would it necessarily lead to a better study if it were. However, the validity of informed choices made on the interpretation of empirical data is of much greater value than when choice of language is made entirely intuitively. One further positive aspect in regard to the use of corpora and computer technology is that they can facilitate work discussed in the final dichotomy, that of research knowledge and classroom practice. 


3.9.4 Research knowledge vs classroom practice


The final theme discussed in this chapter has been that of transferral of research ideas into the classroom. It was noted that Dow (1999), for example, believed that this transfer is taking place and that Business English, as a result of this, has improved. However, the transfer has been slow in coming and the research design of most of the studies looked at here leave no room for transfer of results into the classroom. Most studies end with a comment or paragraph by the author saying that the results are important and should be of use to teachers. Yet little in concrete terms is done in order for this to happen. The field of Business English is one where the crossover of research to materials needs to happen much more than it does at present. This entails firstly more studies being undertaken, and secondly, at the same time these studies having an in-built element that takes the results into the classroom.


3.10 Afterword: towards a methodology


The above discussion, it is hoped, has synthesised the key issues raised in the literature reviewed in this chapter. It has shown that much work has been done and much is still left to do. Many aspects of business language have been studied with regard to a variety of important factors. Yet, despite all the research, a simple question remains: what is Business English? The diversity and richness of Business English has been noted many times, making any answer to this question a complex one. When one thinks of what makes up a language, business or otherwise, it is easy to think of it in terms of its words - the very building blocks of communication. Indeed, in terms of Business English, Pickett suggested that it was largely based around its lexis. Early work in register analysis also suggested that ‘special’ languages are very difficult to demarcate grammatically. Thus the lexis of Business English must be of vital importance to our understanding of it. But what then is the lexis of Business English? At this point in time it is largely unknown. The ‘common core’ of Business English lexis (St John 1996) is still missing. Despite all the research covered here, it has not been able to indicate on a macro-level what lexis is used by business people. The purpose of the rest of this thesis will be to lexically examine what is known as Business English. This will be done in a way that, rather than rejecting previous methodologies, takes advantage of them. This thesis, therefore, rests on the following assumptions:


1. It is important to gain a macro-level picture of Business English lexis and this can be achieved by taking account of the contexts and genre from which it is formed. In this way micro-level pictures can also be formed.

2. The emphasis of the work must be on empirical and statistical means rather than intuitive. Computer technology and corpus linguistic methodology will help facilitate this approach.

3. The research design must have an inbuilt aspect that enables easy crossover of research results into the Business English classroom.


The next chapter takes a detailed look at aspects of the methodology proposed, covering studies of lexis, collocations, the notions of semantic prosody and colligation, and an overview of research into multi-word items. 



[1] Pickett probably got this reference from Howatt (1984:7) though he does not actually mention his sources on this matter.

[2] Corbluth (1975:277) noted that the ESP approach had come to the fore ‘under pressure of certain acute needs in the developing world’.

[3] The Commonwealth Conference on the Teaching of English as a Second Language, 1-13 January 1961.

[4] This table is not intended to be exhaustive, but gives an overview of the trends as they have been viewed by major writers in the field over the last twenty years.

[5] Lee Kok Cheong (1975:3) explained how important EST research was at this time, saying that EST

‘ represents the current interest of linguists in the nature of language as communication’.

[6] Corbluth, in an article critical of ESP approaches, stated that whilst there were no discernible grammatical, phonetic or phonological differences, lexis in fact was different from general English (Corbluth 1975:280). This is significant for a thesis that is studying the special lexis of Business English.

[7] It is important here to distinguish between this ‘original’ idea of register and that developed later by Halliday (1978) where register, defined through field, tenor and mode is classed as ‘a semantic meaning potential within which linguistic choices are made’ (Yunick 1997:327). See Yunick (1997) for a more detailed explanation.

[8] In this thesis, although it is not purely focused on genre, the concept of genre is used give structure to later sections of the work. This will be discussed later in more detail.

[9] A much more detailed discussion on this is found later in this review of the literature.

[10] See Munby (1978:217).

[11] Lynch, Stevens & Sands (1993) provide a handbook which gives detailed instructions on how to carry out a language audit.

[12] For a list of these skills’ based Business English books see Brieger (1997:157).

[13] The question of the specificity of language in relation to both this thesis and Business English materials is discussed in Section later in this chapter.

[14] For more on this see Nelson (2000).

[15] St John acknowledges that her (1996) state-of-the-art article is a re-worked version of the 1996 article with Dudley-Evans. The article written together with Dudley-Evans is able to go into more detail so both are presented here as separate but overlapping articles.

[16] For example, see articles in Hewings & Nickerson (eds) (1999).

[17] SM = Sales Manager, Int = Interviewer.

[18] Business English: Falling Between Two Styles (1986a), English in Business: Knowing and Acting (1988) and The Sleeping Giant: Investigations in  Business English (1989). For full references see the bibliography.

[19] International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language.

[20] Business English Special Interest Group - one of the ‘SIGs’ of IATEFL.

[21] Pickett uses the term ‘poetics’ to describe this phenomenon as he sees it as a similar process to creating poetry.

[22] The middle section of this diagram, headed ‘ergolect’, is adapted from an original OHT used by Pickett himself and sent to the author.

[23] ESPMENA Newsletter 10 - see bibliography for full details.

[24] Interestingly, Lyne’s notion of registral value is very similar to Scott’s (1997) notion of keyness. Registral value did not indicate only relative frequency of the words in the two corpora in question, but was also ‘a measure of the degree of certainty that the item in question really is more frequent (has a higher probability of occurrence) in one underlying population than in the other’ (Lyne 1985:166).

[25] The word ‘technical’ here is used in the sense  described by Martin (1976:91) as ‘ the specific vocabulary related to a particular discipline’  - in this case the discipline of business.

[26] It should also be mentioned, however, that despite the fact that the concept of sub-technical vocabulary is widely attributed to Cowan, for example, King (1989) and Trimble (1985) both cite him as the ‘creator’ of the idea of sub-technical vocabulary, as early as 1965 Herbert, in his introduction to The Structure of Technical English talked about ‘semi-scientific or semi-technical words, which have a whole range of meanings and are frequently used idiomatically’ (Herbert 1965:v). Thus, perhaps, more credit should go to Herbert in this matter.

[27] How times change !

[28] For interesting work on the concept of ‘international’ Business English, see Connor (1999).

[29] ‘Gamut’ here refers to Pickett’s (1986a:2) quote that Business English is ‘a whole gamut of subtly graded conversations sensitive to the subject matter, the occasion, the shared knowledge and social relationships holding between speakers’.

[30] Both are worthwhile tasks, but this thesis has concentrated more on the latter suggestion here rejected by Dudley-Evans & St John.

[31] Language here refers to English, i.e. situations where both parties are using English and not their own native language, and how the influence of their own culture affects their use of both language and discourse strategies, leading to possible misunderstandings.

[32] For a detailed and interesting theoretical overview of cross-cultural communication see Scollon & Scollon (1995), who discuss many of the factors mentioned in this review (and many more) including power and politeness aspects of culture. 

[33] Japan is a typical high context culture, the US and France typical low context cultures.

[34] This concerns statements that had been translated from the original Finnish into English, so the comparison is between two sets of English texts and not Finnish to English.

[35] See also Firth (1995b) for a collection of papers on the language of negotiation.

[36] Mirja-Liisa Lampi née Charles are the same person

[37] This division will be discussed later on in more detail.

[38] All of these factors play a role in genre analysis.

[39] See Williams (1988) for comments on this.

[40] The technical meetings recorded for the Business English Corpus, however, do display the same features, though this will not be dealt with in detail in this study.

[41] Literacy and Education Research Network.

[42] However, it must said that this is the main function of needs analysis - it is a system for analysing needs - not, unfortunately, a system necessarily for needs fulfilment. Munby (1978) did try, but the task is enormous.

[43] This was quite a revolutionary step as some writers, e.g. Chambers (1980:29), regarded students as an actual constraint to the teaching process. Although other writers such as McDonough (1984) preferred to see pragmatic issues as ‘options’, there seems to have always been a profound mistrust by needs analysis writers of students’ ability to specify their own needs.

[44] These differences will be examined in more detail in Section 3.8.3.

[45] This finding is incidentally confirmed by Nelson (1997), who found that students reported writing skills to be the most important - ahead of socialising and meetings. Whilst Nelson’s survey cannot be considered as statistically reliable, it does add credence to Louhiala-Salminen’s study.


[46] Cook, however, concentrates on the discoursal features of advertising rather than on any interaction between advert and consumer in a linguistic sense.

[47] Materials For Teaching Business English - carried out at a BESIG workshop in London September 1997. Also see the PMC bibliography for full references of these books.

[48] Specificity, appropriateness, validity, flexibility, suitability, quality, length of production time and cost. (Pilbeam 1987:120-123).

[49] It should also be noted that as a major writer of Business English ESP material it is perhaps inevitable that Pilbeam should come down on the side of using published materials.

[50] For full bibliographical details of these books please see the PMC bibliography.

[51] The questions were identical in meaning, but the students’ questionnaires avoided all kinds of EFL jargon.

[52] This also reinforces the points made on specialist lexis as being central to ESP courses made in Section 3.8.1.

[53] Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

[54] It must be noted here that the books she chose - even for 1988 - were old, with the earliest going back to 1967. Therefore, it is likely that had she chosen more ‘up-to-date’ books she would have got different results.

[55] This is one of the closest works to this thesis previously carried out, and in part, helped inspire it.

[56] Michael Lewis, in his talk at the 1997 BESIG conference in Reutlingen, boasted that he could speak two languages - English and EFL - as the two are totally different, he said.

[57] There are exceptions - Key Words in Business  (Mascull 1996) for example, is based on the COBUILD corpus of business texts - though this is only written text. Many course books today also use authentic business texts but these are again limited and chosen for inclusion by the authors.

[58] The author of this thesis is a practising Business English teacher and agrees with this statement - materials seem to be getting better all the time, though there is still some way to go before they match the ‘real’ language found in the business world.