Chapter 9      Results and Discussion

 

9.1  Introduction

 

This thesis started with two central questions - what is Business English lexis, and how does the lexis of Business English published materials compare to it?  It is the purpose of this chapter to look in more detail at both the questions themselves and at the answers found. In doing so, this chapter is divided into four distinct, but overlapping parts.

 

·    The first section will, after briefly reiterating the key hypotheses and questions involved in the study, focus on the linguistic aspects of the study of business lexis found in the BEC.

·    This will lead to the second section, where the linguistic aspects of the analysis of the PMC will be discussed.

·    In the third section, linguistic analysis of the BEC and PMC will be related to the pedagogical implications the research has for both materials design and, to a lesser extent, classroom practice.

·    The final, fourth section will present incidental findings gained, a critique of the methods used and proposals for areas of future study.

 

9.2 Hypotheses and questions

 

The hypotheses stated that a) the lexis used in Business English is significantly different from general English, and b) the lexis used in published Business English teaching materials is significantly different from the business language that is found in real-world business life. These hypotheses gave rise to two umbrella questions that cover the whole thesis: a) is there a lexis specific to Business English and, if there is, what is it? and; b) can significant lexical differences be found between the language used in published Business English materials and the language actually used in business? The methods of analysis employed in the thesis have been to a large extent quantitative, in that the description and definitions of business lexis and the lexis of business language materials have been arrived at through computer-based, corpus linguistic techniques. However, the work is also exploratory in nature and falls under the heading of descriptive linguistics. This descriptive aspect is stressed again here, as one aim of the study has been to map out the key lexical features of Business English. For this element of the research, qualitative methods have been employed. The first section of this chapter which now follows, concerns itself with the first of these umbrella questions - is there a lexis specific to Business English and if there is what is it?

 

9.2.1 Research questions relating to Business English lexis

 

This first main question, concerning just what Business English lexis is, subsumes a number of further, more detailed questions. These questions form the structure for the whole of the first section. They are therefore presented briefly here, followed by a more detailed treatment.

 

1. Is there such a thing as Business English lexis? and 2. If there is such a thing as Business English lexis, what is it made up of?  In discussing this issue the concept of key words  (Scott 1997, 1999) is utilised and the key words found for Business English are presented and discussed. Pickett (1986b) suggested that business language was ‘a linguistic world of ‘forms and frameworks’ of conventionalised transactions, governed by the courtesies and formalities of business life’ (1986b:2). Discussion here centres on the possibility of presenting a lexical ‘linguistic world’ of Business English. Scott’s (1997) paper on key words and how they can represent changes and attitudes in society is here applied to Business English with further reference to Williams’ (1978) earlier definition of key words.

 

These key words form the basis of further analysis into Business English lexis which examines how Business English lexis is defined at a variety of linguistic levels.

3. Can the concept of semantic prosody be found in Business English and if so are there business-specific prosodies?  The idea of semantic prosody is interesting, but still largely untried in terms of large-scale collocational analysis. Semantic prosody has been defined both in terms of positive/negative prosodies (Sinclair 1991, Louw 1993), and in terms of lexical/semantic sets (Stubbs 1995, Tribble 1998, Hoey 1997, 2000), and this section looks at how semantic prosody has operated in the BEC.

 

4. What colligational patterns can be found in Business English and can grammatical patterning typical to Business English be identified?  Sinclair (1991), Stubbs (1993, 1996), Hunston et al. (1997), Hunston & Francis (1998), Hoey (1997, 2000) and Hargreaves (2000), have all pointed to the link both between grammatical patterning and lexical meaning, and the fact that grammar and lexis are inseparable concepts. This view is accepted in this thesis and analysis considers what colligational/meaning patterns were discovered in the BEC. In this section the  results found are related to the discussion seen in Chapter 3 on the nature of ESP and special languages (Hutchinson & Waters 1987, St John & Dudley-Evans 1998) and sub-technical language in general (Cowan 1978, Trimble 1985, Yang 1986, King 1989).

 

5. How are words distributed across Business English macro-genres and can they be divided along the ‘knowing’-‘acting’ axis of Pickett (1988)?  Pickett (1988:91) suggested that Business English language could be divided into knowing and acting Business English. This thesis has looked at the possibility of dividing lexis into its likelihood of being used when talking about business (knowing), and when actually doing business (acting). Analysis takes advantage of the BEC, divided into macro-generic categories, and utilises the Dispersion Plot function of WordSmith 3.

 

6. What kinds of clusters can be found in Business English and do business-specific clusters exist?  A discussion on the clusters of lexis found in the BEC centres around whether larger clusters can be found to be more genre-specific and less frequent, and smaller clusters more multi-functional and more frequent. Additionally, the doing business - talking about business axes are utilised to give a categorisation of the clusters that is broader than genre.

 

7. How do words associate with each other in Business English? Here Scott’s (1997, 1999) concept of associates is briefly discussed and the associates found for a selection of key words are presented and discussed.

 

8. Business English - an overview:  Just as important as all these questions is the what of what Business English lexis is, as it has never been analysed on this level before. Thus the words found are just as important as any analysis carried out on them. This last section will summarise the answer to the question posed at the start of the chapter - what is Business English lexis?  This will lead to Section 9.4 where the words found in the corpus of Business English materials, the PMC, have been analysed in a similar way.

 

9.3 Linguistic features of Business English lexis

 

The following eight sections now address each of the questions asked above in turn.

 

9.3.1 Is there such a thing as Business English lexis? 

 

The answer to this question must be ‘yes’, but it must also be a qualified ‘yes’. Business English does not exist as a separate entity of its own using entirely its own lexis. It is, like all specialist lexes, tied to the general language that goes to form the most frequent words used in the language. In the lemmatised list of the 100 most frequent words found in the BEC, only seven words can be found that could be thought of as business-related. These are shown in Table XXXII on the next page. In total, when added together, their frequency in the BEC amounts to 14,489 instances, representing only 1.41% of the total corpus. It may look on the basis of these results that, in terms of frequency of use, there is no readily definable lexis of Business English.

 

TABLE XXXII: BUSINESS-RELATED WORDS FOUND IN THE TOP 100 MOST FREQUENT  WORDS IN THE LEMMATISED BEC

 

N

WORD

BEC Freq.

BEC %

LEMMAS

38

COMPANY

2 934

0.29

companies(1092)

41

BUSINESS

2 837

0.28

businesses(287)

54

MARKET

2 336

0.23

markets(469),marketing(469),marketed(10)

56

WORK

2 234

0.22

works(226),worked(134),working(680)

84

SERVICE

1 461

0.14

services(641),servicing(43),serviced(5)

89

PRODUCT

1 385

0.14

products(644)

94

PRICE

1 302

0.13

prices(417),pricing(69),priced(20)

 

However, whilst pure frequency of lexis can be useful in linguistic analysis (Francis & Sinclair 1994) it is not the only criterion by which a specialist variety of language can be identified. It is argued here that a more accurate picture of both specialist languages in general, and Business English lexis in particular, can be gained by analysis of words that occur significantly more often or less in a particular linguistic area, in comparison to general language usage, rather than by looking at words that have a high occurrence in terms of overall frequency. These words have been termed key words  (Scott 1997, 1999).

 

9.3.1.1 Key words

 

The notion of key words has been discussed earlier in this thesis, but a brief repetition will help clarify its use. The concept of a key word is defined as ‘a word which occurs with unusual frequency in a given text’ (Scott 1997:236). Scott’s definition here limited the definition to a single given text, but the notion of using unusual frequency is valid for the analysis of not just one, but a whole range of co-joined texts. Key words were arrived at in this thesis by using the key word function of WordSmith 3 on two large corpora. Here, briefly, is how it was done.

 

i) All the files that go to make up the BEC were placed together to form a single large computerised frequency word list.

ii) This frequency list was then lemmatised and cleaned up as described in Chapter 7, Step 1.

iii) The frequency list was then statistically compared to a corresponding lemmatised word frequency list created from a reference corpus of general English (the BNC Sampler corpus of 2 million running words). This was done by comparing each word’s frequency in the BEC and its frequency in the BNC, with account taken for the difference in size of the two corpora. The Log Likelihood statistic (Dunning 1993), was used and a very high p value was set at p = 0.000001. This value was set high in order to decrease the possibility of inclusion of erroneous key words. Moreover, by setting the p value so high, it also limited the number of key words obtained which, in turn, aided subsequent analysis of them.

iv) The result of the analysis gave words (key words) that are used in Business English statistically more frequently than in general English. The key words were then placed by the program into an order of ‘keyness’, the most key words at the top of the list. Scott explains:

 

A word will get into the listing here if it is unusually frequent (or unusually infrequent) in comparison with what one would expect on the basis of the larger wordlist.

                                                       (Scott 1999: Key Words Help File)

 

Positive and negative key words: Key words may thus also be both positive or negative. Positive key words are those described above - words that occur significantly more than in a reference corpus. Negative key words, in contrast, are words that occur significantly less in our corpus than in the reference corpus. Analysis in this thesis has used both positive and negative key words as one of the bases for a description of Business English. By this it is meant that it is possible to say as much about Business English by what is not found there - using the negative key words  - as by what is found there - using the positive. The process of gaining the key words is shown in the diagram on the next page. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Business                                                                                                          General

Language                                                                                                       Language

 

Business                                                                                                          British

English                                                                                                            National

Corpus                                                                                                                        Corpus

 


                                                Computerised Comparison

                                                       by WordSmith 3

 

 


                        Positive key words                                        Negative key words

                        Unusually high frequency                               Unusually low frequency

                        in Business English                                         in Business English

 

Fig. 31 The process by which Business English key words were arrived at

 

9.3.1.2 Positive key words in the BEC

 

Tribble (1998:7) noted that ‘The first feature you notice when comparing a keyword list with a frequency list for the same data is that they are usually very different’. This is true of the key word list gained from the BEC. The top 100 positive key word list for the BEC was shown in Chapter 8 in Section 8.2.4. It is presented again below, this time excluding the non-business lexis and showing only the 49 clearly business-related words:

 

TABLE XXXIII: TOP 100 BEC POSITIVE KEY WORD LIST - BUSINESS-RELATED WORDS ONLY

 

N

Word

BEC Freq.

BEC %

BNC Freq.

BNC %

Keyness

Log L.

1

BUSINESS

2 837

0.28

542

0.03

3 557.7

2

COMPANY

2 934

0.29

782

0.04

3 118.6

3

MARKET

2 336

0.23

831

0.04

2 056.1

4

CUSTOMER

1 199

0.12

147

 

1 763.0

6

PRODUCT

1 385

0.14

412

0.02

1 377.2

7

SALE

1 210

0.12

343

0.02

1 239.4

9

MANAGEMENT

973

0.10

279

0.01

989.6

10

PRICE

1 302

0.13

586

0.03

941.5

11

FINANCIAL

780

0.08

237

0.01

765.0

12

BANK

940

0.09

379

0.02

749.0

14

SERVICE

1 461

0.14

916

0.05

728.7

15

STOCK

889

0.09

350

0.02

722.5

16

ORDER

1 224

0.12

681

0.03

709.0

17

EXECUTIVE

529

0.05

86

 

707.3

18

CONTRACT

656

0.06

183

 

678.3

19

CLIENT

535

0.05

126

 

607.4

21

CONTRACTOR

326

0.03

16

 

582.3

23

MANAGER

742

0.07

317

0.02

562.4

25

SELLER

298

0.03

12

 

546.6

26

INVESTMENT

577

0.06

185

 

546.2

27

SHARE

1 148

0.11

762

0.04

528.8

29

COST

1 127

0.11

747

0.04

520.2

33

PROFIT

799

0.08

429

0.02

482.0

34

SELL

789

0.08

419

0.02

481.8

42

CORPORATE

277

0.03

33

 

410.6

44

BUYER

292

0.03

42

 

407.9

45

CREDIT

392

0.04

110

 

403.8

46

INDUSTRY

712

0.07

404

0.02

402.8

47

SUPPLIER

288

0.03

44

 

393.9

49

BUDGET

437

0.04

152

 

390.7

52

ACCOUNT

859

0.08

593

0.03

373.4

54

DISTRIBUTOR

218

0.02

16

 

363.5

55

DELIVERY

291

0.03

56

 

363.4

56

CASH

384

0.04

124

 

361.7

58

COMPANY'S

263

0.03

45

 

344.7

63

DIRECTOR

541

0.05

289

0.01

328.2

68

SHAREHOLDER

286

0.03

73

 

311.1

72

INVESTOR

248

0.02

51

 

300.7

74

EMPLOYEE

307

0.03

94

 

299.5

78

INVOICE

182

0.02

17

 

287.8

82

PAYMENT

321

0.03

115

 

280.8

83

TAX

629

0.06

427

0.02

280.3

84

TRADE

696

0.07

509

0.03

276.3

86

OFFICE

651

0.06

461

0.02

272.1

88

ENGINEER

368

0.04

163

 

269.9

89

MEETING

739

0.07

575

0.03

264.1

90

FIRM

466

0.05

265

0.01

262.9

91

FINANCE

298

0.03

117

 

242.7

96

PURCHASE

289

0.03

117

 

229.4

97

EXPENSE

236

0.02

73

 

228.7

 

Key: Log Likelihood statistics shown in ‘keyness’ column  p=0.000001

 

There are at least two striking differences between the BEC frequency list and the key word list - number and content. In the top 100 frequency list only seven words were found that were clearly business-related. In the key word list, 49 words were found to be business-related. The content of the lists also differs: the frequency list is full of function words (e.g. the, and, but, because) and delexicalised verbs (e.g. get, go, know) with only a very small number (nine) of lexical, meaning-carrying words (company, year, business, market, people, service, product, price, system). The key word list, in contrast, displays almost totally lexical, meaning-carrying words. In addition to these words with a high business-related meaning, a group of words - sub-business words[158] -  excluded from the list as being not pure business words, are words that could be intuitively expected to be found in a business environment, for example,  fax, billion, global, project, performance, year, rate, agreement, group, offer and growth. The difference between the frequency and key word lists is summarised in the table below:

 

TABLE XXXIV: DIFFERENCES IN THE TOP 100 FREQUENCY/KEY WORD LISTS OF THE BEC

 

 

Top 100 frequent words in the BEC

Top 100 key words in the BEC

7 pure business-related words

49 pure business-related words

virtually no sub-business lexis

some sub-business lexis

higher number of function words

lower number of function words

abundant delexicalised language

little delexicalised language

 

 

Key words thus sit on top of, and are supported by, general language. They can be seen as a separate, but not independent, set of lexis bound to the situations and activities of business. The position they hold in comparison to general English is represented in Fig. 32 on the next page. It will be noticed that this diagram is reminiscent of Pickett’s (1986a:4) diagram (p.63) representing the specialised language of a particular business. The main difference here is that Pickett’s work was based purely on intuition: this time the key word concept statistically indicates that Pickett’s notion of the relationship of specialist language to general language is probably correct.

 

St John (1996) noted the lack of a core lexis of Business English and it is proposed here that the key words generated from the BEC represent lexis that is core to Business English. They are words used in business, by business people, to an unusual level of frequency in comparison to general English. However, it must be stressed that whilst these words can be seen as core, they should not be seen as the only possible core words of Business English - the BEC presents one picture of Business English and another Business English corpus may show a slightly different picture. This warning aside, the overall semantic homogeneity of the key words computed from the BEC suggests that this core lexis is accurate and reflects the lexical world of business with a good degree of accuracy.

 

 


                                                         Business Key Words

                                                        unusually high frequency

                                                      lexical meaning-carrying words

 

 


                                                            General English

                                                     non-business function words

                                                   increased delexicalised language

 

 

Fig. 32 The relationship of Business English key words and general English

 

The next section: Thus far it has been shown that key words for business exist and that they tend to be lexical and meaning-carrying in content. It has been argued that these key words represent lexis that is central to Business English. The next stage further analyses both positive and negative key words in order to semantically define the ‘world of business’ and also lay the groundwork for later pedagogical application.

 

9.3.2 If there is such a thing as Business English lexis what is it made up of? 

 

Initially, it was planned to analyse only the most ‘key’ key words found in the BEC, i.e. those words that are presented above as being the most ‘key’ words of Business English. However, a superficial analysis was enough to see that the words could be categorised into semantic sets - that is, the words seemed to fall mainly into a limited number of semantic categories.[159] It was therefore decided to assign all the key words gained into these semantic sets.[160] There were in total 1,611 key words remaining after the clean-up process. Of these, 925 were positive key words and 686 were negative. Whilst this was a manageable number for manual analysis it was felt that the semantic groups the words could be assigned to would become too large to handle easily, so the positive, and then negative key word sets were first assigned to their appropriate word classes. This categorisation followed the model of Ljung (1990), who used the following word class categories: noun, verb, adjective, noun/verb, noun/adjective, verb/adjective, noun/verb/adjective  and -ly adverbs. These categories are not ideal, but owing to the automatic nature of the lemmatisation process it was not possible to assign all the words to completely separate word classes. Ljung noted that  ‘In the absence of...manual editing, the resulting lemmatized lists are naturally a halfway house between a simple list of word types and real lemmatization’ (Ljung 1990:5).  For example, in the BEC, fax  can act as both a noun and a verb, executive as both a noun and an adjective. The categories represent, therefore, a compromise between time, accuracy and the resources available.

 

9.3.2.1  Positive key word analysis

 

This section of the discussion analyses the semantic sets found for the four largest word class categories found - as seen in the table below: nouns, verbs, adjectives and noun/verbs.

 

 

 

 

 

TABLE XXXV  POSITIVE KEY WORDS GRAMMATICAL CATEGORISATION

 

 

 

 

a) Nouns

 

As can be seen from the table, there were 440 positive key nouns, and it was possible to divide them into ten semantic groups. The semantic categories identified are shown in the diagram below (for a full picture of the word class groups and the semantic categorisation of positive BEC key words, please turn to Appendices 2 and 3 in Vol. II).

 

                                                            companies &

people                         events              institutions      activities         

technology/computers                        Nouns                                     places

 


money/finance        things           states & qualities                measures & amounts

 

Fig. 33  Semantic noun categories of BEC key words

                                   

 

Four initial points can be made about these key nouns: they displayed a remarkable business focus; they were tangible as opposed to abstract;  they tended to be impersonal rather than personal; and they were positive in connotation as opposed to negative. Now each category is discussed in detail.

1. People: The most key examples from this category included customer, management, executive, contractor, manager, seller, buyer, supplier, distributor, director and shareholder, and the homogeneity of the group was quite remarkable. Out of the 67 people or groups of people referred to in the key word list, only nine (13% of people found) could be considered as not being directly involved with the business world: allies, attendees, loser, guy, cavalry, prosecutors, chef, neighbours, maker, and some of these would not be seen as particularly out of place in business (chef, loser, attendees and perhaps, unfortunately, prosecutors).  It must be stressed here that all the people found in the key word list were categorised here, not just the business-related people. The list thus quite clearly delineates the people, or groups of people, involved in business from those not.[161] This will become more apparent when analysis of the negative key words is completed.

 

2. Companies & institutions: There were 36 references (8%) amongst the key word nouns to companies/institutions representing a distinctly recognisable semantic group. Key examples from this category were company, industry, organisation, airline, telecom, plc, EU, subsidiary, Inc and consultancy. Two points need to be raised here. Firstly, the significance of this category being found at all - it is clearly indicative of the business bias of the key words and, secondly, the relative homogeneity of the institutions found - the institutions computed are mostly business-related. The only totally non-business word found in the list was faculty, and that was one of the least ‘key’ key words in the set. The abbreviation EU could also be considered to be non-business, but it has been at least partially mentioned in the corpus in relation to business in Europe. A sample can be seen below, showing EU surrounded by business-related language:

 

3. Activities: There were 28 words assigned (6% of nouns) to this category and the most key activities found included business, delivery, transmission, development, production and communication. In this category there were few purely business activities - business, administration and takeover being the only clear examples (10% of the sample) - but the remainder (25 words - 90%) were words referring to activities that could be thought of as being in the background of running a business, for example, delivery, development, competition, administration.

 

4. Things: This was a large category (151 words - 34%) and displayed a very strong emphasis on tangible items. The number of tangibles was by far the largest (127 words - 84% of the category sample) and included words such as product, auto, vehicle. The more abstract words were much fewer (24 instances - 16% of the category sample), and included opportunity, culture, scope, solution and basis.[162] This is an interesting category in that it can be seen as a category that shows the what of what can be found in the business world, both in concrete and abstract senses. It included words that could intuitively be expected to be in the background of running a business, e.g. opportunity, segment, sector, information, unit and capability, whilst words found here that could not be related to the business world in any reasonable way were pets, membrane (actually used in the corpus when describing a product) and souvenir.

 

5. States & qualities: The states and qualities found here were overwhelmingly positive, including examples such as growth, skill, leadership, competence, excellence, commitment, improvement, stability, success, strength and efficiency. This was contrasted by a much smaller number of negatives - the only overtly negative words were debt, loss, liability, inflation, slowdown, downside and insolvency. Thus, out of 43 nouns in the category, only seven were negative in meaning (16% of the group), whilst 36 (84% of the group) were either overtly positive, or at least neutral. Once again, the relative homogeneity of the words found is striking - they are all words that could be expected to be found used in a business environment.

 

6. Measures & amounts: The words in this category are words that refer to quantities and measurement, for example, of money - billion, million, trillion - and time - year, month and week. It is a small category, only 12 instances (2% of key nouns). The category indicates a focus in business on large numbers, for example, in terms of money, only the very high-end numbers are included as being key (million, billion, trillion).

 

It could be deduced from this, that lower-end numbers - the tens and hundreds - are used equally in both the business and non-business world, and the business world deals more with very large numbers. Examples of these high-end numbers in relation to money, taken from the BEC, are shown below:

 

 

7. Places: Sixteen ‘places’ (3% of key nouns) were included in this category, showing the key places where business takes place. The majority of the words  (9 instances - 56% of category) refer to places belonging to the business world, e.g. office, premises, department, division, boardroom, depot, marketplace, and the remainder point to more general aspects, e.g. street’s, country, world’s, but need not be considered out of place in a business context.  The word hotel is also featured here.

 

8. Events: In all, 23 events[163] (5% of nouns) were included in this category showing events that are central to business life. They included a high number of purely business or work events: sale, merger, bankruptcy, transaction, arbitration, demerger, promotion, privatisation, deregulation and several less directly business-related events, e.g. appraisal, valuation, termination, retention. This group is notable for the positive/neutral aspects of its lexis, with only one overtly negative word - bankruptcy - identified.

 

9. Money/finance: This was a relatively large category[164] (40 words - 9% of the key noun sample) and was notable for the impersonal quality of the lexis found. The words were centrally concerned with the financial aspects of running a business, e.g. expense, earnings, revenue, margin, salary and equity. There is, therefore, little in this group relating to the individual person, with words being largely descriptions of financial aspects of companies, for example,  payroll, cashflow, turnover and maturities.

 

10. Technology/computers: Words found here (21 words - 4% of key nouns) reflect the importance of computers and technology in modern business life - Internet, PC, software, browser, web - and also that fact that there are many high profile businesses that deal in these areas.

 

b) Verbs

 

 The verbs found in the positive key words were quite few in number (93), and so can be reproduced (in Table XXXVI on the next page).

 

 

 

 

TABLE XXXVI: SEMANTIC CATEGORISATION OF POSITIVE KEY VERBS IN THE BEC

 

Negative

Personal & Inter-personal

Neutral

Work/

Business

Money

Running a business

complicates

please*

include

sell

liquidate

receive

incur

advise

regard

manage

 

provide

frustrate

agree

continue

deliver

 

operate

 

discuss

underlie

confirm

Technology

send

 

expect

combine

enclose

 

require

Positive

announce

tend

invest

automates

develop

 

relate

follow

restructure

 

generate

excite

motivate

identify

underwrite

 

consolidate

achieve

inform

compare

compete

 

certify

improve

propose

alleges

merge

 

notify

 

 

exist

advertise

 

maintain

 

 

accelerate

customize

 

integrate

 

 

totaled

employ

 

establish

 

 

await

publish

 

involve

 

 

 

despatch

 

implement

 

 

 

earn

 

enhance

 

 

 

buy

 

consult

 

 

 

shelve

 

ensure

 

 

 

promote

 

expand

 

 

 

decentralize

 

specify

 

 

 

downgrade

 

attach

 

 

 

designate

 

authorize

 

 

 

negotiate

 

create

 

 

 

 

 

perform

 

 

 

 

 

acquire

 

 

 

 

 

submit

 

 

 

 

 

revise

 

 

 

 

 

transmit

 

 

 

 

 

approve

 

 

 

 

 

recycle

 

 

 

 

 

participate

 

 

 

 

 

locate

 

 

 

 

 

strive

 

 

 

 

 

allot

 

 

 

 

 

inquire

 

 

 

 

 

orientate

 

 

 

 

 

tighten

 

 

 

 

 

comply

* Included as a verb in this study despite its more common adverbial/pragmatic function.

As can be seen from the table above, the verbs have been divided into eight categories, with the three largest being neutral, work/business and running a business. In the work/business section the verbs included were verbs intuitively closely associated to business life, e.g. sell, manage, manufacture and invest. Those verbs included in the running a business section were those that could intuitively be expected to be found in a business environment, e.g. receive, provide and operate. When these latter, business-related categories, were added together, they amounted to almost 66% of the verbs, showing their strong business focus.

 

Further, it will be seen later that verbs such as receive, though not directly ‘business’ verbs, are in fact lexically integrated into the business world and imbued with a business sense by collocational and semantic prosodic relations. The verb receive, for example, has strong prosody with money, stocks and shares (32.29% of all instances) - a brief example from the BEC showing how receive collocates with money-related lexis is given below:

 

 

Thus a network of meaning is created by not only the verbs themselves, but by the strong business-related collocative environment in which they are found and in which they operate. A further feature of note with regard to these verbs is the fact that they are to a large degree lexical verbs, that is, they carry meaning. This points to the fact that all language use includes a limited number of extremely frequent delexicalised verbs (Sinclair 1991) such as get and have that are equally common to both business and non-business language use. Delexicalised verbs, therefore, are not found as key words because their usage is similar in both.

 

This imbalance of lexical and delexical verbs in the BEC is illustrated by examining the 100 most frequent words in the BEC. It was found that there were only four business-related, meaning-carrying verbs in this group of words[165] (market, work, service, price), with a total frequency of 7,333 occurrences. Conversely, there were 23 de-lexicalised verbs, totalling 92,032 occurrences. This relationship of lexical and delexicalised business verbs in the BEC is summarised in the diagram below:

 

                                    

                                     

 

 

Fig. 34 Relationship of business to delexicalised verbs in the 100 most frequent words of the BEC

 

 

c) Adjectives

 

Based on the results of analysing the adjectives found amongst the key words of the BEC, the business world seems to describe itself in overtly positive but impersonal terms. It was possible to divide the adjectives into nine groups: size/speed, places, positive, negative, neutral, work/business, money, technology and time. Of these, the largest was that of positive adjectives and the list is given in full here:

 

Positive adjectives found in the BEC Key Word list:

new, mobile,[166] best, successful, available, independent, relevant, appropriate, responsible, outstanding, systematic, effective, exclusive, flexible, important, sustainable, strong, comprehensive, consistent, exceptional, kind, favorite,[167] efficient, innovative, dynamic, accurate

 

 

By contrast, only three openly negative adjectives could be found: defective, critical and aggressive and, as West (2000, personal communication) pointed out, aggressive has taken on positive connotations in business. This comment is borne out by some examples from the BEC:

 

The adjectives noted here, though distinctly positive in content, are also largely impersonal and non-emotive in essence, e.g. independent, relevant, appropriate, systematic and comprehensive.

 

Work/business adjectives: The second largest group of adjectives was that related to work or business life: corporate, strategic, competitive. This group was made up of a high percentage (8 instances) of -al ending adjectives (47% of the group), e.g. internal, organizational, promotional, industrial, operational, managerial, confidential, entrepreneurial.

 

Size/Speed adjectives: This semantic group emphasised a feature of the business lexical environment already seen with the nouns - a focus on the fast or high-end of description: high, big, large, rapid, multi, fast, broad, mega, unlimited. Conversely, there was much less slow or low-end description with low and slow being the only examples. The group included words that can also act as nouns (high, low) but are almost always used as adjectives in the BEC.

 

Places adjectives: This group contrasted the near with the far in business terms: domestic, local versus overseas, continental and stressed the geographical reach of business: global, international, worldwide.

 

The remaining three groups of interest were concerned with money, e.g. financial, monetary, fiscal, leveraged; technology, e.g. digital, technical, electronic; and time, e.g.  monthly, quarterly and daily.

 

 

 

d) Noun/verbs

 

Ten categories of differing sizes were arrived at for the noun/verbs and are presented in the diagram below:

 

places & people           communication            positive           negative              neutral

 


time                                              Noun/Verbs                      running a business

 

 


                        work/business             money             technology      

 

 

Fig. 35 Semantic noun/verb categories of BEC key words

 

The categories represent a compromise - when a word is used as a noun or a verb it takes on, of course, different meanings and functions within the language. For example, in the case of the noun/verb defect - there is no semantic link between to defect and a defect.  Often, however, a semantic link between the word classes does survive, for example, to dispute and a dispute, to fax and a fax. This being said, the accuracy of assignation of words into semantic sets in this category suffered as a result of this duality of word class. However, as the category was the second largest, after nouns, some categorisation was essential. Therefore, the words have been placed intuitively into groups using a principle of ‘most likely to belong’ to a group. If one uses the examples given earlier of defect, in the context of a Business English corpus, it is more likely to refer to a defect in, for example, a product, rather than to a person defecting to another country. Along these lines, the words were allotted the following groups:

 

Places & people: These were all either directly or indirectly business-related including examples such as  partner,[168] board, staff, boss and rep.

 

Communication: This was an interesting group in that the words concerned with communication found amongst the positive key words of the BEC seem to have both a verbal and nominal function, and stood out here as a clear semantic set - fax, mail, telephone, meeting, report, telefax, email, cable, phone and telex. The instruments used for communication seemingly generate the verbs by which the act of communication becomes known, in the same manner that biro and hoover have become embedded in the English language.

 

Positive & negative: These were very few in number - four positive: experience, increase, gain, progress and three negative: dispute, defect and risk. Thus, whereas the pure nouns displayed a large number of positive attributes in business, the noun/verb class did not.

 

Work/business & running a business: These two categories were virtually equal in size (work/business 37 words and running a business 34) and there must be a certain degree of overlap between these two groups as they have been separated intuitively. At the pure business end there are words such as outsourcing, retail, market, export, franchise, wholesale, and at the other end business-related words such as plan, value and test, which can equally be used in non-business life as in business. There is then a middle ground with words such as offer and guarantee which could perhaps be placed in either category, i.e. a noun/verb connected to work/business or a noun/verb commonly used in the running of a business. This is shown in the figure below:

 

 

Running a business                          >>>                                       Pure business

 

plan                             <<<                 offer                >>>                 outsourcing

value                                                    guarantee                                 export

 

Fig. 36  The sliding scale of business-related key noun/verbs in the BEC

 

 

The two categories combined represent a large portion (35%) of the noun/verb category, indicating once again the business emphasis of the key words.

Money: As with the communication category, words connected in some way to money and finance have both a nominal and verbal function, for example,  price, bank, cost, profit, budget, cash, invoice, tax and finance. This category also included items that have separate meanings dependent on word class, e.g. interest, stock and bond.

 

The remainder of the noun/verb category was made up of neutral noun/verbs, six related to technology and a small section related to time, e.g. date, schedule, due and delay.

 

As a result of the above analysis it can be seen that the positive key words found in the BEC fall, to large degree, into a limited number of recurring semantic groups. These semantic groups span grammatical word classes, and though distinct in their extremes, are fluid at their boundaries with words sometimes being able to appear in one group or the other. In all, the lexis of Business English found here presents a clear picture of the world of business - its people, its institutions, its activities and events. At the same time, however, ‘neutral’ lexis is also used, pointing to the fact that Business English should not be considered only in these limited terms, but also as being linked to non-business language. Thus Business English lexis can be seen as one of a number of pools of specific lexes, fed by the broad river of general English, but also possessing a diversity and eco-system unique to itself. These ideas can be seen in Fig.37 on the next page.

 

It is also possible at this stage to relate the findings on Business English to previous work carried out on specific language. Biber (1988), working on the linguistic variation across genres, identified six factors by which they could be distinguished from each other in terms of their textual characteristics. Biber stated that

 

The interpretation of the factors is based on the theoretical assumption that these co-occurrence patterns indicate an underlying communicative function shared by the features; that is, it is assumed that linguistic features co-occur frequently in texts because they are used for a shared set of communicative functions in those texts.                                                                                         (Biber 1988:101)

 

 

 


People                                    Communication                    Positives                    

customer                                    phone                                        successful

manager                                     fax                                            available

supplier                                     email                                         outstanding

shareholder                                 report                                        effective

 

 


Money                                                Technology                            Business

interest                                      digital                                       market

price                                          electronic                                   service

budget                                       graphical                                    corporate

invoice                                                                                      multinational

 

 


Things                                                Business English                           Places

product                                                                                                  office

agreement                                                                                               premises

property                                                                                                 department

equipment                                                                                              boardroom

 

 


Running a business              Time                                       Events

plan                                          monthly                                     sale

forecast                                      quarterly                        merger

handle                                       daily                                         bankruptcy

book                                                                                         transaction

 

 


Institutions                            Activities                                Measures

company                                    business                                     million

subsidiary                                  delivery                                     billion

corporation                                 development                               trillion

conglomerate                              production

 

 


                                                                       

 

                                        GENERAL ENGLISH

 

Fig. 37 The main semantic groups that go to form key Business English lexis

 

Biber’s work was, therefore, concerned with genre, and it is not suggested here that Business English is a genre per se,[169] yet the factors identified by Biber can be of use in analysing the results of the BEC. The first of Biber’s factors - informational versus involved production - noted essential differences between texts that are information-bearing (a stress on nouns, longer words) and texts that are representative of involved production, i.e. with ‘affective, interactional, and generalized content’ (Biber 1988:107) - examples of the latter feature being high relative use of first and second personal pronouns, contractions and private verbs. For the time being, the only observation necessary to make is that the Business English positive key words under examination displayed a distinct lack of the features relating to involved production. Thus, whilst Biber’s factors are only briefly mentioned at this point, they will be returned to in relation to both negative key words and the key words of the PMC.

 

Analysis of Business English, therefore, does not stop here. The positive key words gained from the BEC have allowed us the opportunity of seeing what Business English lexis is. The negative key words further mark out the lexical territory of Business English by showing what it is not.

 

9.3.2.2  Negative key word analysis

 

Negative key words represent those words that were found to occur with an unusual infrequency in the BEC. They were, as with the positive key words, first divided into word class groups along the lines of Ljung (1990). The results are shown in Table XXXVII on the next page.

 

Each category was then further divided into semantic and lexical sets. These will now be discussed in more detail. It is important to remember here that the term negative key word does not mean that a key word has negative connotations, but rather that it occurred in the BEC significantly less than would be expected (to a pre-set statistical requirement) when compared to general English. A full list of all negative key words and their semantic groupings can be found in Appendices 4 and 5 in Vol. II.

 

TABLE XXXVII: NEGATIVE KEY WORDS GRAMMATICAL CATEGORISATION

 

 

a) Negative nouns

 

The differences between the lexical groups found in the positive key nouns and the negative were stark. In all, eleven semantic categories were identified, and despite the fact that several of these eleven categories found were the same as those for the positive - people, institutions, activities & events, things, states & qualities, and places - the content of the categories was radically different. Additionally, five new categories were identified - food & drink, house & home, time, earth & nature and parts of the body. The semantic groups are shown below, with the new groups in italics:

 

people                         institutions        activities & events                things

 


states & qualities                                                                                places

                                                Key Negative Nouns

parts of the body                                                                                 earth & nature

 

food & drink                                  house & home                              time               

 

 

Fig. 38  Semantic noun categories of BEC negative key words

Each of the categories will now be discussed and compared to lexis found in the positive key words.

 

People: In this category - the largest - a clear divide between the business and the non-business world is statistically marked out by the key word analysis. Forty words were found that were related to people (20% of all negative key nouns)[170] and of these, certain sub-semantic sets could be distinguished. Firstly, there are many words concerned with family - mum, mother, child, dad, son, brother, daughter, sister, daddy, husband, wife, aunt - and there was a smaller set linked to people - man, child, boy, girl, lady, baby, lad. Other groups focused on royalty/aristocracy: lord, king, queen; on religion: god, christian, soul; and on professions: soldier, artist, officer, student, waiter, MP, secretary. Whereas the positive group of people was virtually all business-related, this group had no obvious business connections except, perhaps, secretary. Even the professions that were included here were non-business, e.g. soldier, artist, officer, MP. The semantic divide is shown the diagram below:

 

Negative Key Words: People                          Positive Key Words: People

 

man                 God                                         executive         contractor        shareholder     

 

            mum                mother                         management                customer

 

child                dad                  daddy              supplier           distributor       director

 

baby                Queen              wife                  manager           seller                buyer

 

Fig. 39  People featured in positive and negative key words

 

Institutions: There were only seven instances here (3% of negative key nouns) church, army, hospital, council, EC and also business-related institutions union and FT.[171] The abbreviation EC is now less used than EU, which was a positive key word, and thus appeared more in the older BNC (i.e. the BEC is more modern than the BNC Sampler corpus and so uses the abbreviation EU more frequently than the older EC).

 

Food & drink: A small (10 instances - 5% of negative key nouns) but distinct semantic set - fig, egg, chocolate, tea, bread and dinner are some examples.

 

Activities & events: The activities and events found here (10 instances - 5% of negative key nouns) mostly relate to everyday life - birthday, Christmas, marriage,  election and prayer being examples. Intuitively they feel like those events and activities that affect people personally, and occur outside their work. Again, they contrast with the strong business focus of the positive key words such as business, delivery, sale and production.

 

House & home: Continuing with the personal theme is this group (15 instances - 7% of negative key nouns), in which the words are all related to the house, and things found in the home: curtain, bed, door, garden, home, bedroom, toilet, bathroom and kitchen being prime examples.

 

Things: This contained the most diverse group of nouns (29 instances - 14% of negative key nouns) and there were no business-related words. The group included abstract nouns such as expression, intelligence, behaviour, character and preference and concrete nouns such as ball, sprinkler and railway.

 

States & qualities: In the positive key word section, this category contained words mostly positive in connotation such as growth, skill, leadership and competence. The words found here (only 11 in all - 5% of negative key nouns) in the negative key words seem to mostly connect to important ethical questions - those in some way relating to the meaning of life - death, life, war, peace, truth,[172] age and faith. The other words found here were motion, length, unity and joy.

Earth & nature: This category further lexically divides the non-business and business worlds with a stress on substances, e.g. diamond, ash and mercury, on animals, horse and cat, and on nature, e.g. tree, river and leaf.

 

Two further small categories included were time (8 instances) and parts of the body (11 instances). In the time category, which included words such as night, morning, century and summer, the most interesting find was that only two days were mentioned - Saturday and Sunday - the two days of the week when the business world traditionally rests. Thus the key word function statistically confirms what would ordinarily be only intuitively assumed. The parts of the body category had 11 words including leg, mouth, blood, skin, nose, tooth and heart. The final category - places - contrasts with the corresponding category in the positive key words as can be seen in Fig. 40 below. The negative key words are linked to town: library, ward, district; countryside: bay, forest, cottage, hill, sea; and even above: heaven.

 

Negative Key Words: Places                                       Positive Key Words: Places

 

town    county              village                         office               premises          department

                                                                       

ward    palace              library                         division       boardroom           depot

                                                                                               

opera   prison              castle                                               marketplace

 

Fig. 40  Places featured in positive and negative key words

 

It can be seen from the comparison of the positive and negative key word nouns that a firm divide is established between the business and the non-business world, in terms of the lexis and related concepts that are found there and the lexis that is not. In the next section, verbs, the contrast is equally marked.

 

 

 

 

b) Verbs

 

There were very few negative key verbs so they can be presented in full below:

 

TABLE XXXVIII: SEMANTIC CATEGORISATION OF NEGATIVE KEY VERBS IN THE BEC

 

Negatives & Modals

Neutral

Personal

Interpersonal

didn’t

get

know

say

can’t

gonna[173]

see

tell

couldn’t

do

eat

hear

haven’t

come

remember

lie

wasn’t

put

die

marry

could

read

pray

elect

won’t

wear

sit

listen

weren’t

hang

think

ask

wouldn’t

burn

wanna

pretend

isn’t

fetch

feel

 

hasn’t

have

suppose

 

 

seem

born

 

 

 

tire

 

 

 

forget

 

 

 

condemn

 

 

 

reckon

 

 

 

observe

 

 

It can  be seen immediately that they differ in both form and content from the verbs found amongst the positive key words. Four groups were identified: negatives & modals, neutral, personal and interpersonal.  The negatives and modals group contained just that, e.g.  didn’t, can’t, couldn’t and haven’t. The two other categories of interest - personal and interpersonal - consisted of verbs referring to things that people can do or have either individually - know, see eat, remember, die, pray - or with other people - say, tell, hear, lie, marry, elect, listen.  Included were verbs of negative connotation - die, tire, condemn, lie and pretend. Additionally, the negative key word verbs are indicative of Biber’s factor of involved production discussed briefly at the end of the positive key word section. Features of involved production - i.e. interactive and affective situations - are use of private verbs (Biber gives think and feel as examples of private verbs) and contractions. Biber noted that these verbs are used for ‘the overt expression of private attitudes, thoughts, and emotions’(Biber 1988:105). In the BEC negative key words this is seen in words such as know, see, say and tell.

 

This emphasis on the personal and the interpersonal activities of people suggests that the lexis of business is divorced from the emotion that these negative key words display. It may be slightly surprising to see verbs such as say, tell, hear and ask less used in business lexis, but many of the other verbs have an emotive quality that is seemingly out of place in business life, e.g. hang, burn, die, pray, marry and born.

 

The positive key word verbs are in contrast with the negative key verbs for at least two reasons. Firstly, the grammatical composition of the words - the negative contracted verb forms found here were missing in the positive key word category - the verbs in the positive category were all positive and uncontracted. Secondly, when considering the verbs from a semantic aspect, it can be seen that the majority of the positive key word verbs were practical, business and action-related verbs, for example, sell, manage, manufacture, deliver, confirm, enclose, invest, restructure, underwrite and compete. These contrast with the negative: can’t, won’t, couldn’t; the emotive: hang, burn, die; and the personal; marry, born and pray, found in the negative key word verbs.

 

c) Adjectives

 

Once again, these are relatively few in number and so are presented in full below. As can be seen, six sets were used to categorise the negative key word adjectives. The largest group (17 instances) is that of adjectives with a negative connotation. There is even a sub-group of these adjectives that refers to an extreme of unpleasantness - terrible, horrible, awful. This contrasts with a group of adjectives of positive connotation which  refer to a positive extreme - beautiful, wonderful and great. 

 

TABLE XXXIX: SEMANTIC CATEGORISATION OF NEGATIVE KEY ADJECTIVES IN THE BEC

 

Size

Positive

Negative

Neutral

Age

Colour

little

nice

bloody

rural

old

green

thin

lovely

dead

political

young

white

tall

beautiful

dark

wet

ancient

red

tiny

funny

cold

loud

elderly

black

 

bright

blind

northern

 

pink

 

wonderful

terrible

east

 

yellow

 

true

strange

asleep

 

grey

 

calm

horrible

soft

 

blue

 

great

sorry

alive

 

silver

 

 

sad

quiet

 

 

 

 

awful

agricultural

 

 

 

 

fat

religious

 

 

 

 

boring

heavy

 

 

 

 

guilty

 

 

 

 

 

stupid

 

 

 

 

 

mad

 

 

 

 

 

angry

 

 

 

 

 

These adjectives are, as with the other word classes seen so far, in marked contrast to the corresponding category in the positive key words.  In the positive key word list, the largest group of adjectives was adjectives of positive connotation, and these tended to refer to positive, non-emotive, and often non-personal attributes, for example,  new, available, relevant, appropriate, systematic and effective. The adjectives of positive connotation found amongst the negative key words are firstly much fewer in number, and secondly, are words which tend to be used to describe people, for example, nice, lovely, beautiful, funny, bright and wonderful. It could be suggested, therefore, that the two sets of adjectives are essentially being used to describe different things: the positive key word adjectives are used to describe business, products and the business world, and the negative key word adjectives to describe people and emotions. They can be seen on the cline shown in Fig. 41 below.

 

It must be stressed here that this representation is very fluid - the positions of the words on the scale are not absolute, but simply attempt to represent the essential differences and partial convergence of the two groups of adjectives.      

 

Positive Key Words                             >>>>>>                                Negative Key Words

BUSINESS/   >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>     PERSONAL

PRODUCT

available                      successful                                bright                           nice

relevant                       outstanding                             true                              lovely

systematic                                           flexible                                     beautiful

effective                                              exceptional                                          funny 

efficient                                                                                                           calm

comprehensive                                                                                   

innovative                                                                                                      

 >                     >                      >                      >                      >                      >

           

Fig. 41  The sliding scale of  key word adjectives

 

d) Noun/verbs[174]

 

In all, nine semantic categories of key negative noun/verbs were determined, the largest of which was that of neutral words. However, several interesting categories were recognised: people, war, food & drink, body, negative, animals, places and personal. The category of noun/verbs is represented in the diagram below:

 

 

                        people                           war                            food & drink              

 

 


personal                                  Negative Key Words                                     body

                                                     noun/verbs

 

 


                        negative                       neutral             animals            places             

 

Fig. 42 Semantic noun/verb categories of BEC negative key words

People: This semantic category continued the trend shown amongst pure nouns in the negative key words by being totally non-business: police, father, doctor, captain, minister and  kid  being examples (9 words - 4% of negative noun/verbs).     

 

Food & drink: A distinct group (13 words - 6.7% of negative noun/verbs) was found that referred to food or drink, to the act of eating/drinking or the utensils/crockery used to eat/drink, for example, water, cup, milk, bowl, drink, cook, cream, salt and sugar.                                                                                     

Negative: This category was very small (5 words - 2% of negative noun/verbs), but very negative - murder, rubbish, sick, fear and hurt.

 

Three further small categories were found: animals (e.g. dog and fish), places (e.g. house, school, plan, park, jail) and war (e.g. kill, gun, fight, troop, bomb, shoot). The final category, personal, was larger (25 members), and consisted of noun/verbs that relate to people and what they do, for example, like, love, look, watch, walk, laugh, shout, cry and smile.

 

The negative key word noun/verbs follow the same pattern as the other negative key word categories in their non-business focus and a preoccupation with personal and societal attributes. The analysis so far has, to a large extent, been practical and descriptive in nature. The next section attempts an overview of the findings in relation to the literature and takes a more theoretical approach.

 

9.3.2.3 Key words and the ‘world of business’

 

Key words - the approach used in this thesis to identify core business lexis - is based on ideas that go back to the 1930s and J.R. Firth. Stubbs (1996) refers to Firth’s (1935/57) notion of focal or pivotal words, and both Stubbs (1995) and Scott (1997) refer to later work on key words and the meaning of vocabulary done by Williams (1976). Williams’ interest in vocabulary had been aroused by his experience of returning to Cambridge University after a prolonged spell in the army, serving in World War 2. On his return he found it difficult to fit in, and when discussing this situation with an old colleague who was in a similar position, both men commented that the new people at the university ‘don’t speak the same language’.[175] This was not meant literally, of course, but that, as Williams noted, ‘we have different immediate values or different kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often intangibly, of different formations and distributions of energy and interest. In such a case, each group is speaking its native language, but its uses are significantly different’ (Williams 1976:9). Williams was, therefore, interested in the meanings of words and how they have changed over time and the differing connotations they have. He believed that these keywords helped to define culture - the changes in their meanings embodied the changes in society. Williams’ starting point was his own intuition and he did not have available the computerised corpora now in use to back up his ideas. His belief was that the keywords pointed to social attitudes - these keywords illuminated and shed light on the cultural world. In this thesis, the key words, albeit arrived at by different means, point not to culture in general, but to the semantic environments of business - they are indicative of and embody the ‘culture’ of business.

 

This idea of a ‘world of business’ is not a new one. Pickett (1986b), noted earlier, had suggested that business language was ‘a linguistic world of ‘forms and frameworks’ of conventionalised transactions, governed by the courtesies and formalities of business life’(1986b:2). The key word analysis has found that this ‘world’ is clearly marked out in terms of the lexis used, i.e. what lexis is used and, conversely, what lexis is not used, or used to a much lesser extent. The table below shows how the world of Business English lexis is distinguished from the lexis of the everyday world:

 

TABLE XXXX: BUSINESS LEXIS VS NON-BUSINESS LEXIS: POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE KEY WORDS

 

 

Business Lexis (positive key words)

Non-Business Lexis (negative keywords)

1. People: from the business world:

customer, contractor, manager, seller, buyer

1. People: family, royalty, domestic relations:

man, mum, wife, dad, baby, Queen

2. Institutions:

Companies and business institutions:

company, industry, airline, telecom

2. Institutions:  Societal:

church, army, hospital, council

3. Things: business-related, concrete:

product, property, equipment

3. Things:

diverse: horse, cat, diamond, glass, river

abstract: expression, intelligence, preference

4. Places: Business-related:

office, department, boardroom

4. Places: House and home:

curtain, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen

Countryside: bay, hill, sea, forest

5. Days of the week: Not key

5. Days of the week: Saturday, Sunday

6. States & qualities:

business-related and positive:

growth, stability leadership, competence

6. States & qualities:

ethical questions / meaning of life

death, life, war, peace, truth, age, peace

7. Dynamic public verbs:

sell, manage, manufacture, deliver, confirm

7. Personal and interpersonal private verbs:

know, see, pray, feel, die, lie, marry

8. Positive impersonal adjectives:

new, best, successful, available, relevant

8. Positive and negative personal adjectives:

nice, lovely, beautiful

bloody, dead, dark

9. Money: focus on money/finance:

 cashflow, VAT, GDP, capital, earnings

9. Money: No/little mention of money/finance - only mentions: quid and pound

10. Activities: business-related:

investment, payment, development, production

10. Activities: personal, family related:

birthday, Christmas, marriage, prayer

 

 

It is important when viewing the demarcation of business lexis from non-business lexis, however, that the key words are seen in terms of tendencies rather than absolutes. The key word analysis shows which words occur with unusually high frequency, not that they are the only words that occur. This thesis, therefore, does not attempt to say that the lexis found amongst the positive key words is the only lexis of Business English, but rather that these words are much more likely to be used in a business environment than other words. That being said, the semantic delineation formed by the key word statistic between the business and non-business world is sharp and can, in general terms, be seen along a series of dichotomous axes: business vs society, positive and shallow states & qualities vs conflicting and more philosophical states & qualities, emotive vs non-emotive and dynamic actions vs reflection. These are presented in the chart below:

 

 

High frequency in Business lexis                  Low frequency in business lexis

 

business                      ------------------->                                society

positive                        ------------------->                                positive & negative

shallow                        ------------------->                                deep/philosophical

dynamic                       ------------------->                                reflective

non-emotive                ------------------->                                emotive

 

Fig. 43  The axes that delineate Business English lexis

 

A fuller discussion on the lexical world created here will take place later in the chapter when the implications of the next sections of analysis can be added to the discussion.

 

9.3.2.4 The next section

 

The key word analysis has presented lexis at the level of the word: it has told us which words are found with an unusually high frequency and which words appear with an unusually low frequency in Business English in comparison to general, everyday English. Further analysis now turns its attention to lexical relations beyond the single word level, to look at how words typically collocate in Business English, forming networks of meaning via the concept of semantic prosody.

 

9.3.3 Can the concept of semantic prosody be found in Business English?

 

The concept of semantic prosody, which ‘occurs when a word associates with a particular set of meanings’(Hoey 2000:232) was discussed in full in Chapter 4. Although the idea of semantic prosody is interesting, and stands up well in the few articles in which it has been mentioned, it has not so far been used in any large-scale lexical analysis. Furthermore, knowledge of semantic prosody with regard to Business English has so far been very limited.[176] This thesis has used the concept of semantic prosody to gain an overview of the lexical relations that business words habitually form.

Semantic prosody is here utilised as part of a wider analysis which makes use of some of the five questions asked by Hoey (1997:1) of any word at the centre of a concordance line. These were laid out in Chapter 7 but are repeated here. The five questions were:

 

1) What lexical patterns is the word part of? (this refers to collocation)

2) Does the word regularly associate with particular other meanings? (semantic prosody)

3) What structure(s) does it appear in? (colligation)

4) Is there any correlation between the word’s uses/meanings and the structures in which it participates?

5) Is the word associated with (any position in any) textual organisation?

 

In this study, questions 1-4 are investigated in terms of business lexis. Questions 1 and 2 are joined together, in that by using semantic prosody, a broader and more structured picture of collocations is provided.[177] The following section will now take examples of words analysed in depth for semantic prosody in the BEC and discuss the broader implications of the findings.

 

9.3.3.1 Analysis of business lexis by semantic prosody

 

With nearly one thousand key words to choose for analysis, the temptation to choose just the most ‘key’ was great. However, as was noted in the previous section, the way the key words seemed to naturally fall into semantic categories suggested a more meaningful and ultimately pedagogical approach. To this end, five semantic categories were chosen to embody the key words found: people in business, business activities, business actions, business description and business events and entities.  For each of these categories, ten words were chosen for analysis. This choice was based on frequency - those words that occurred more frequently would offer more fruitful examples for analysis - and on intuition - those words that seemed to be interesting in themselves. Thus the criteria were both statistical and intuitive.

 

A further point worthy of mention was that the words chosen were, in fact, lemmas. The words chosen came from a lemmatised corpus and so they each actually also represent same-class grammatical inflection, e.g. business > businesses, customer > customers.  In the analysis carried out, only the head-words have been analysed, that is, business has been analysed but not businesses; customer, but not customers. It is acknowledged that a full lemmatised analysis would have been better, but to do that would have at least doubled the amount of data to be analysed, if not tripled it. This was not felt a reasonable task for a single researcher to carry out. The resulting analysis is a compromise, but a compromise that has still yielded a significant amount of new data concerning business lexis.

 

Once the words had been chosen, they were concordanced using WordSmith 3 and all concordances for each word were printed out and stored. Then, the concordance lines for each word were manually analysed one by one, semantic categories for each word were identified, and then each instance for each category was counted and further given as a percentage of the total amount of instances. It was decided that rather than simply present semantic sets that associated overall with the word in question, they would be sub-divided into ‘left of the node word’ and ‘right of the node word’ groups. An example of the left of the node word prosodies can be seen below in Table XXXXI, using the word customer. The table shows the semantic prosodies attached to customer, the frequency of each prosody, that frequency expressed as a percentage of the total number of occurrences of customer, and examples of the prosodies. The prosodies, in fact, could easily be divided into left and right prosodies, i.e. different prosodies were found on either side of the head word, though sometimes they transcended position. The analysis carried out for each of the five main groups is now discussed and further linguistic implications are noted.

 

 

TABLE XXXXI: LEFT OF NODE WORD SEMANTIC PROSODIC ANALYSIS OF THE WORD CUSTOMER

 

 

semantic prosody

frequency/613 & %

example

positive

23 - 3.75%

the dream customer

a really good customer

size / number of customers

15 - 2.44%

second largest customer

type of customer

(characteristics or line of business)

42 - 6.85%

focus on the business customer

the professional-type customer

negative

4 - 0.65%

a really bad customer

 

 

a) People in business

 

As with each of the five sections designated for analysis, ten words were chosen. In this case they were customer, manager, supplier, distributor, shareholder, employee, staff, partner, boss and management. Each word was analysed in the way described above, and prosodies were gained for all of them. Significantly, it was found that whilst several of the words each had their own unique semantic prosodies, they also had prosodic categories that were common to several of them. For example, the word customer had a unique prosody concerning company-customer relations, whilst the words manager, staff, and partner all shared the same semantic prosody related to company hierarchy and status. Additionally, some of the prosodies that were common to several words  were more in evidence in relation to one word rather than another - manager displayed the semantic prosody to company hierarchy and status in only 3% of its occurrences, whereas a very similar prosody accounted for 25% of the instances of the word partner. Thus even common prosodies varied in their strength from word to word. A full and detailed analysis of all the words can be found in Appendix 6 in Volume II, and so a straight repetition of this is neither appropriate nor necessary here. However, several points of interest can be presented to show how the concept of semantic prosody was found to operate, and a selective sample of words is now discussed.

 

Customer: Customer displayed a unique prosody - the division of collocating lexis into words concerned either with company to customer relations, or customer to company relations. These consisted of relatively large groups, 34% of the sample for company-customer relationships and just over 12% of the sample for the customer-company relationship. Below, an example of the company-customer group is shown using customer-driven - the company is attempting to look after its customers, and the lexis refers to the company:

 

 

The second group - customer-company - describes what a customer has, does or is and the lexis refers to the customer:

 

 

Manager: Manager had a very strong semantic prosody with titles which made up 70.6% of left of the node collocates:

 

 

The prosody itself is not surprising, but perhaps its dominance is. Additionally, there were three small groups found (totalling together just over 7% of the sample) one of which was positive adjectives, e.g.  forthright, excellent and good manager, confirming the findings of the key words that business lexis stresses the positive over the negative.

Supplier: One of the problems of using corpus-based analysis surfaced with this word.

Its inclusion as a key word was partly due to high occurrence of the word in manuals and legal contracts, thus skewing the data to a certain extent. However, this allowed the chance to look at a genre-specific semantic prosody. This was a prosody of obligation, expressed through high use of modality[178] and came from both the legal agreements and manuals sections of the corpus:

 

 

Other semantic prosodic groups found for supplier not linked to a specific genre included size and significance, e.g. leading supplier, the world’s second largest supplier and what is supplied and to whom, e.g. supplier of business solutions, supplier to this segment. Similar findings in terms of genre-specific prosodies were also noted for the word distributor, which again was found in high occurrence in legal agreements in the corpus. Here modality was used to specify distributor rights, e.g. distributor may terminate.

 

Shareholder: Shareholder displayed a genre-specific prosody related to financial and annual company reports - value and returns - with examples being total shareholder return and improving shareholder value.

 

Employee: Analysis of this word showed the potential usefulness of semantic prosody in both linguistic analysis and, potentially, in the language classroom - less common collocates can be subsumed into a larger semantic set and thus become more readily recognised/categorised. A clear group of ‘right of the node’ collocates all concerned with employee benefits was noted, e.g. in lines 75, 76 and 78 in the example shown below:

 

Collocations such as employee’s holiday entitlement may not be common, yet when added together with examples such as employee benefits and employee restaurants, a clear semantic association can be seen between the employee and benefits they get from the company. It is argued here that this kind of relationship would have been impossible to establish without the use of computerised corpus linguistic techniques.

 

Boss: Boss displayed only very small semantic prosodies with companies and institutions on both sides of the node. However, it was interesting to note that no positive adjectives were used with boss, but three negative adjectives were noted - America’s meanest boss, old-fashioned boss and idealistic boss (used negatively). A larger sample size would be needed for safe conclusions, but it seems that in the BEC, bosses are referred to more in negative than positive terms.

 

Shared prosodies: In addition to these word-specific prosodies, a number of semantic sets in a common associative relationship to a number of different words was found. These associations are summarised in Table XXXXII below - where a word associates with a semantic group it is noted with an asterisk and where there are no associations to any semantic prosodic group the word is shaded. Page references for where each word can be found in Vol. II are given.

 

The table shows, for example, that customer, manager, staff and management all displayed a positive prosody, and that five semantic prosodic categories - shown on the horizontal axis - recurred throughout nine of the ten words. This finding is significant as it extends the definition of Business English lexis beyond the information already gained from the key words. The key words showed that business lexis is largely formed from a limited number of semantic groups. The analysis by semantic prosody not only shows the fact that these semantic groups connect and co-occur with each other, but it also shows how they connect and more specifically, which words are attracted to which semantic sets. Analysis will now continue showing that the same was found for the four other groups of words.

 

TABLE XXXXII: PEOPLE IN BUSINESS: TABLE OF SEMANTIC PROSODIC RELATIONS

 

WORD

ê

          SP è

Page

Ref.

positive

size/

number

/significance

titles

company/

institution

company hierarchy

/status

customer

665

*

 

 

 

 

manager

668

*

 

*

 

*

supplier

671

 

*

 

 

 

distributor

674

 

 

 

 

 

shareholder

677

 

*

 

 

 

employee

679

 

 

 

*

 

staff

681

*

*

*

 

*

partner

684

 

 

 

 

*

boss

687

 

 

 

*

 

management

690

*

 

 

*

*

 

 

b) Business activities

 

The words chosen for this section were: business, investment, delivery, payment, development, production, communication, competition, takeover and distribution. Six recurring semantic groups were found, covering eight out of the ten words in the group. This group then, was less homogenous than the previous one, where nine words shared at least two semantic groups, but here the diverse activities can still be seen to co-associate with recurring semantic groups quite widely. The table on the next page shows the co-associations.

 

Business: Business collocated with a wide variety of semantic groups, the largest of which (9.86%) was concerned with the line of business. An example is shown below:

 

Notable also about the word business was its positive prosody. There were only 50 positive adjectives referring to business found, e.g. successful, sound, strong making 1.96% of the sample. However, when compared to the fact that only seven negative adjectives were found (e.g. unviable, boring) it could be considered significant. Business typifies the comment made earlier regarding smaller prosodic groups - clear semantic prosody is displayed, but the groups found are relatively small.

 

TABLE XXXXIII: BUSINESS ACTIVITIES: TABLE OF SEMANTIC PROSODIC RELATIONS

 

WORD

ê

        SP è

Page

Ref.

prod/

serv

positive

size/

number

/significance

company/

institution

time/

timing

money/

value

people

business

694

 

*

*

*

 

*

*

investment

707

 

(*)

*

*

*

 

*

delivery

711

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

payment

714

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

development

717

 

*

 

*

 

 

*

production

721

*

*

 

 

 

 

 

commun-

ication

724

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

competition

727

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

takeover

730

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

distribution

732

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A positive semantic prosody was also noted with the words investment and development.  In the case of investment, one semantic set - results of investment - though relatively small (9% of the sample), consisted of virtually only positive results (95% of the semantic set). Similarly, with development, the category nature of development showed 30 positive instances, e.g. value-enhancing development (5.8% of the sample), to only one negative instance (slow development). The positive stress in business indicated in the key word analysis earlier, is therefore further confirmed by the proliferation of positive semantic prosodies found in the BEC.

 

One word did not associate with any of the semantic categories shown in the table: competition, where a vaguely negative prosody was found to a group of words denoting the toughness of the competition - unbridled, fierce and aggressive competition being examples.

 

Distribution had prosodies with four semantic groups shown in the diagram below:

 

product/service                                                                                              place

indoor TV aerial                                                                                             UK

controlled air                                                                                                  global

                                                            Distribution

 

 

nature of distribution (how)                                                            infrastructure

automated                                                                                                       channel

electronic                                                                                                         system

                                                                                                                        network

 

Fig. 44 Semantic prosody for ‘Distribution’. All show left collocation except for ‘infrastructure’

 

Production had a notable prosody (7.98%) with products, i.e. what is produced, and examples are shown here:

 

 

c) Business actions

 

This section consisted of ten verbs: sell, manage, receive, confirm, provide, send, develop, discuss, achieve and improve. Of the five sets of lexis chosen for analysis in the thesis, this group displayed both the lowest level of semantic prosody and the most diverse prosodic groups with which the words associated themselves. The overt semantic relations between the words, however, were replaced by strong colligational links that will be discussed in the next part of the chapter. Despite the above, three recurring semantic groups were identified, though it must be stated that the links were not as strong as in the other 4 semantic groups under study. The recurring groups are shown in the table below:

 

TABLE XXXXIV: BUSINESS ACTIONS: TABLE OF SEMANTIC PROSODIC RELATIONS

 

WORD

ê

        SP è

Page

Ref.

positive

money

 

products

sell

734

 

 

*

manage

738

 

 

 

receive

741

 

*

 

confirm

743

 

 

 

provide

746

*

 

*

send

749

 

 

 

develop

753

 

 

 

discuss

756

 

 

 

achieve

759

*

*

 

improve

761

 

 

 

 

It can be seen that six words were found to have none of the recurring themes of the others. Additionally, two words (confirm and develop) were found to have no specific prosodies at all. Develop, however, did collocate with a wide range of words that had a general business theme, as the examples below show:

 

Provide: This word had four clear semantic groups with which it collocated: business services, products, information and the most notable aspect of the word: a very strong positive connotation (35.82% of instances):

 

 

Send: Send had very predictable collocates: on the left of the node requests and on the right documents: 

 

 

Later in this section, the prosodies gained from these words in the BEC are compared to prosodies found for the same words in the BNC. It will be seen that send forms both similar and additional categories of prosody in general English.

 

Discuss: The only prosodic group found here was a group of expressions referring to future contact or further discussion (12% of instances of discuss):

 

 

It will also be noted that these examples come from the category of correspondence from which the majority of examples for this prosodic group comes. This once again points to the possibility of a genre-specific prosody.

Achieve: Achieve had an overwhelmingly positive semantic prosody related to business outcomes, amounting to 100% of the sample. The collocates are concerned in some way with the positive outcome of business goals and targets:

 

 

A further semantic prosody was found for achieve, referring to money, costs or prices (17% of the sample). Examples can be seen below:

 

 

d) Business descriptions

 

Ten adjectives were chosen for this group: those concerned with size or speed: high, big, low; those concerned with place: global, international, local; and those related to the

business world: competitive, corporate, strategic and financial.  In contrast to the verbs of the previous group, the adjectives[179] chosen here, quite predictably, had a high number of semantic prosodies. Two aspects of special interest can be noted with this group. Firstly, the semantic prosodies found for a number of words - high, low, competitive, corporate - are concerned with high-level and extremes. Secondly, and more importantly, is the fact that those adjectives that can be considered the most general in meaning, or more specifically, those adjectives that are very open-ended collocationally, such as big, high and low, all actually demonstrated clear semantic prosodies related to business. This is, of course, not surprising in itself. When discussing business matters one’s use of the word big, for example, could be expected to relate back to the business world. However, it is important to note that in the business environment words that are normally very open in their collocative potential become at least partially fixed. This must have consequences for both teaching and teaching materials and these aspects will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter. In the table below, the recurring semantic prosodic groups are shown for the ten words. As can be seen, eight recurring semantic prosodies were identified and, in addition, several semantic prosodies unique to individual words were noted. These are now briefly discussed.

 

TABLE XXXXV: BUSINESS DESCRIPTIONS: TABLE OF SEMANTIC PROSODIC RELATIONS

 

WORD

ê

        SP è

Page

Ref.

bus

activ

extremes

comp/

inst.

economic/

financial

indicators

money

products/

services

size/

signif-

icance

people

high

764

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

 

big

769

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

*

low

773

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

 

global

777

*

 

*

*

 

*

 

*

international

780

*

 

*

 

 

 

*

*

local

784

 

 

*

 

 

*

 

*

competitive

787

 

*

 

 

*

 

 

 

corporate

790

*

*

 

 

*

 

 

*

strategic

793

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

financial

795

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

High: This had a neutral prosody in that the amount of positive and negative collocations were more or less equal. High was one of the words that associated with semantic prosody of extremes[180] and examples using the word extremely itself can be seen below:

 

The largest prosodic group of high was a group of words/phrases relating in some way to money (11.36% of the sample):

 

 

 

Big: Three semantic prosodies were found for big: companies & institutions, money and people. Of these, by far the largest was that of companies & institutions (23.85% of the sample). These prosodies combined, amounted to 31% of the sample and it will be seen later in this section that big used in general English (i.e. in the BNC) was much more open in its collocates, with semantic prosody only accounting for 12% of instances.

 

The words global and international both displayed a very strong tendency to be used as the names of companies, with international being more popular than global. The words also shared three semantic prosodies in common shown here:

 

 

 

 

TABLE XXXXVI: COMPARATIVE PROSODIES OF ‘GLOBAL’ AND ‘INTERNATIONAL’

 

WORD

ê

        SP è

business

activities

company/

institution

people

global

 17.59%

 16.66%

5.55%

international

  9.39%

 34.76%

4.94%

 

 

Despite the similarities, there were clear differences. Global collocated more with business activities than international, and international more with companies & institutions than global. Both these words were in contrast to local. The words collocating with local included a large number of non-business-related words and this can be seen most clearly in the companies/institutions category. All three words, global, international and local shared this semantic prosody with companies/institutions, but the institutions collocating with local were noticeably more often of a distinctly non-business nature:

 

 

Of the four business-related adjectives - competitive, corporate, strategic and financial - the findings were both expected and unexpected. The word corporate was found to be in association with five semantic groups, the largest of which was money/finance, e.g. corporate bonds, corporate earnings and corporate insolvency. Corporate also associated with extremes (8% of the sample), e.g. almost $8 billion worth of corporate debt.

 

Strategic had three prosodies, perhaps the most interesting of which was a group of words relating to aiming for the future (18% of sample). Examples are shown here:

 

 

These findings could well be expected. An unexpected finding was the slight negative prosody of the word financial. Examples could be found in both pre-nodal and post-nodal position. Together they made only approximately 9% of the sample, but there was no real corresponding positive prosody to balance it. Below are some examples of the negative collocates of financial - crisis and trouble:

 

 

 

The largest prosody for financial was macro-level demarcation, which constituted on its own just under 10% of the sample. An example is shown here with the collocate sector:

 

 

e) Business events and entities

 

The lexis referring to events and entities chosen for this section was sale, merger, trade, package, export, service, market, earnings, performance and product. As with the other groups of words, they displayed both common and unique prosodies. In this case, eight semantic categories were found to collocate with the words:

 

TABLE XXXXVII: BUSINESS EVENTS AND ENTITIES: TABLE OF SEMANTIC PROSODIC RELATIONS

 

WORD

ê

        SP è

Page

Ref.

time

comps/ inst.

Posi-

tive

macro-

level

demarcation

money/

finance

products/

services

size/

signif-

icance

people

sale

802

 

*

 

 

*

*

 

 

merger

805

*

*

 

 

*

 

*

 

trade

808

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

*

package

812

 

 

*

 

*

 

*

 

export

815

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

service

818

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

*

market

823

 

 

*

*

*

*

 

 

earnings

832

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

performance

834

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

*

product

837

 

 

 

*

 

*

 

 

 

 

It can be seen that the most frequent semantic prosodies are concerned with people, money & finance and positive attributes. In addition to these broader categories, several unique prosodies of interest were found.

 

Sale: A unique prosody was found for this word, that of availability - attached to 26.82% of all examples of sale in the corpus. Examples are shown below:

 

 

The link between collocation and colligation can also seen to be at work here with availability often denoted by phrasal verbs, e.g.  put up for sale, put on sale.

 

The distinct positivity of business lexis has been pointed to throughout this chapter. Examples in this section of positive semantic prosodies included service, which was found to have slight positive prosody with right of the node collocates such as attentive, superior and innovative. Similarly, market displayed 53 overtly positive collocates, e.g. good, strong and bull (3.79% of the sample) but only 19 negative, e.g. bear, cut-throat (1.36%). Market also had prosodies related to products and services (17.47%), and a company’s position in relation to other companies or the market (10.45%). Examples of this latter unique prosody are shown below. Whilst these collocations (shown below) are common, the semantic umbrella under which they fit would not have been possible to detect without the use of the concept of semantic prosody and the process of computerised concordancing.

 

 

 

 

Performance also had a slight positive prosody, e.g. world-beating, perfect (8% of the sample) and only two examples of negativity: dire and poor (0.4% of the sample).

 

This is not to suggest, however, that no negative prosodies were found. The word trade, for example, was found to have a slight negative prosody (admittedly only just under 5% of the sample), collocating with words such as deficit, dispute and sanctions. The word export had a semantic prosody with limitations and control (6% of the sample) that could be considered partially negative. Example collocates included export controls, export restrictions and export regulations.

 

The final word in the group, product, surprisingly showed very limited prosodic potential. It had half the number of prosodies of market, for example, and those prosodic groups it did display were relatively small. Product, however, displayed a grammatical and semantic sense in Business English not found in COBUILD and only marginally represented in  teaching materials contained in the PMC. This will be dealt with in detail in the next section which considers the question of semantico-grammatical patterning in Business English.

 

9.3.3.2 Semantic prosody: conclusions

 

Can semantic prosody be found in Business English? It was noted at the beginning of the section on semantic prosody that it is a largely untried concept in terms of lexical analysis. The question was asked as to whether semantic prosody could be found in Business English or not. In answer, the following points can be made.

 

·    Of the 50 words examined here, 48 displayed from one to eight semantic prosodies of varying sizes.

·    It was found that business lexis displays a tendency to collocate with recurring semantic prosodic sets but also retains the potential of collocating with prosodic sets unique to individual words.

·    The prosodic categories found, however, should be seen in terms of tendency rather than absoluteness. Words had a tendency to associate with a certain semantic set or sets, but the tendency often represented only a small percentage of the overall uses of the word. There were only a limited number of words where semantic prosodic coverage was high, e.g. achieve. In the diagram below, the most frequent semantic prosodic sets occurring with the 50 words under analysis are shown, along with the number of words that associated with them in semantic prosodic relations:

 

positive 14                  company/institutions  15                    money 13                    size

                                                                                                                                    11

hierarchy 4                                          Business Lexis                                  extremes 4

 


products/services 10               people 15        business activities 5                time/timing 8

                                                                                                                                   

 

Fig. 45 The most frequent semantic sets collocating with business lexis and the number of words found to associate with them in semantic prosodic relations /50

 

The findings of this analysis are significant as they closely match the findings of the key word analysis. The key word analysis showed that the business world revolves around recurring semantic sets: people, institutions, places and money, for example. The analysis in terms of semantic prosody found that business words are not only members of these, largely similar, semantic sets, but also these words, as members of these semantic sets, interacted and regularly collocated with the other sets. There is, therefore, a loosely integrated and interlocking lexical world orchestrated by meaning.

 

The diagram above shows the most common recurring prosodies that business lexis is attached to, but it is important to repeat the point that this cannot be seen in absolute terms. Business lexis in general displays a distinct tendency to collocate with these semantic groups, but it would be a mistake to think that business lexis is bounded by them. Individual words have their own unique prosodies and, moreover, a large amount of language does not fall into any significant semantic boundary and indicates the openness of business language to the world outside. For example, taking the first five positive key verbs of the BEC, semantic prosody accounted for a varying amount of the total collocational occurrences of words:

 

 

 

TABLE XXXXVIII: PERCENTAGE OF COVERAGE BY SEMANTIC PROSODY

 

Word

% of  total instances covered by semantic prosody

sell

62%

manage

69%

require

92%

confirm

0%

provide

64%

 

Thus semantic prosodic groups, added together, totalled 92% of all occurrences of require, but there were none found with confirm. This shows a range of semantic prosodic potential in the words and the fact that semantic prosodies often form only a  limited part of the collocating lexis of a given word.

 

Business-specific semantic prosody? This section on semantic prosody has concentrated on the types and relations of these prosodies found in Business English. The fact that the phenomenon exists can be in no doubt. However, it is a much greater step to say that Business English has semantic prosodies unique to itself. Tribble (1998:11) distinguished between what he called global and local semantic prosody. This means that a word may have a general semantic prosody in ‘everyday’ language, but a particular semantic prosody in a given language environment. Tribble gave the example of experience, noted earlier, which was found to be imbued with a prosody typical to his corpus of EU Phare project proposals, where experience took on the sense of professional capital. 

 

In order to see if the same could be found in the BEC, five words already analysed in the BEC were chosen: send, manage, big, global and package. The same words were then analysed in the BNC and the results compared to the same words in the BEC (for the full analysis see Appendix 9 in Vol II). The words were chosen for their generality - send, big and global - and for possible business connections - manage and package. They also come from separate word-class categories used in the analysis, verb, adjective and noun/verb. None of the words is a hard-core business word with the exception, perhaps, of manage, but that too has several senses. This choice of words was made in order to see if quite general words would behave differently in terms of their semantic prosodies in the Business English environment when compared to general English. The results showed small but clear differences in terms of the semantic prosodies found, and in the amount of coverage the semantic prosodic groups afford each word in the two different environments. These are seen summarised in the table below:

 

TABLE XXXXIX: COMPARATIVE OCCURRENCE OF SEMANTIC PROSODY  BEC/BNC

 

word

SP in BEC

SP% BEC

SP % BNC

SP in BNC

send

sending documents

sending requests

46.84%

34.97%

sending documents

sending people

manage

what is managed (largely business -related)

69.51%

0%

-

big

companies

money

people

31.68%

12.87%

people

companies/organisations/

institutions

global

business characteristics/qualities

business activities

products

companies

people

economic/financial indicators

56.45%

26.46%

climate

people

package

size/value

finance

positive

computers

36.4%

25.26%

size/value

computers

 

Three main points can be made:

 

1. The first point returns to one made earlier in this section - in the Business English environment, collocates become more fixed. This is true of both words that could be considered ‘business-related’ e.g. manage, and also of general words  such as big. In each word above, the percentage of coverage by semantic prosodic sets is greater in the BEC than in the BNC, indicating a wider collocative potential in the BNC.

 

2. Some words had the same semantic prosodies in both the BEC and the BNC, for example, send - documents; big - people; global - people and package - computers. This fact is partially misleading as there is a difference in size and content of the prosodic groups. In the case of send, for example, in the BNC the kind of documents sent that are referred to are different from those in the BEC. In the BEC they are business-related, whereas in the BNC the documents are much more varied and general, e.g. postcards, sae, and non-business letters. In the BEC big collocated with three clear (though in two cases small) semantic prosodic groups, companies/institutions, money and people. Of these, companies/institutions was the biggest (23.85% of BEC sample). In the BNC the largest group for big is that of people with only 38 instances of companies/ organisations/institutions (4.61% of BNC sample).

 

3. In addition to these differences in content, there were also unique business-related semantic prosodies. This can be seen, for example, with global and package.

 

Global: The sample size of global in the BNC (34 instances compared to 324 in the BEC) made any in-depth analysis very difficult, but whereas global was found to be very rich in terms of semantic prosody in the BEC, in the BNC it was limited to only two semantic sets. A larger sample size would be needed for more accuracy, but it might be found, with further investigation, that there are strong business-related prosodies for this word, e.g. products, economic indicators, whilst the more general prosodies are concerned with climate - global warming, global climate changes - and people - global consumer, global viewer.

 

Package: In the BEC package collocated with three groups, the largest of which being financially-related lexis (18.51% of the sample in the BEC). In the BNC, this group was much less evident (4 instances 5.33%). Additionally, the positive group found in the BEC e.g. competitive package, excellent package, effective package, was not evident in the BNC.

 

In answer to the question regarding business-specific semantic prosody the following can be said:

·    Analysis by semantic prosody has shown that words become more collocationally fixed in the Business English environment.

·    There is enough evidence to show that words can associate with business-specific semantic prosodies when in the Business English environment, but that they also associate with semantic prosodic groups that are the same in both Business English and general English.

·    When the words associate with semantic groups that are the same in Business English and general English, the contents of the groups can differ, as in the case of send above, to provide a business slant to the group even if the heading is the same.  Thus the concepts of global and local semantic prosody are indicated here. However, a much wider analysis would need to be carried out in order to make definite statements as to what the differences are and where they occur. 

 

The next section will now answer Hoey’s (1997) questions 3 and 4. These asked of a word being examined by concordancing: what structure does it appear in? - a reference to colligation - and is there is any correlation between the word’s uses and meanings and the structures in which it participates?

 

9.3.4 What colligational and grammar/meaning patterns can be found in Business English? 

 

In Chapter 4, the notion of colligation - how words typically behave grammatically - and further, how grammar and meaning interrelate, was discussed (Sinclair 1991, Hunston et al. 1997, Hunston & Francis 1998, Hoey 1997, 2000 and Hargreaves 2000). In line with these previous works, this thesis has attempted to discover the typical grammatical patterns of a selection of business-related lexis. In addition, the meanings found in this lexis were related to the grammatical forms they took. The primary reasons for both these analyses were at the same time pragmatic and pedagogical. The pragmatic aspect was driven by an desire for an applied element to the work - the results of the analysis should be directed to the language classroom via materials creation. The pedagogical aspect concerned the question of the accuracy of these materials. Firstly, Business English students need to be exposed to probable language rather than possible language, and presenting language in its most typical grammatical setting goes a long way towards achieving this. Secondly, students need to understand that the varying grammatical forms and patternings a word takes influences meaning, and they need to know what these changes and meanings are.

 

To this end, the same fifty words that were analysed for semantic prosody were also analysed for both colligation and meaning/grammatical form relationships (please turn to Appendix 6 in Vol. II to see the full analysis). This analysis was essentially descriptive in nature, but allowed several conclusions to be drawn about the behaviour of lexis in Business English - its special patternings, its restrictedness of meaning and the special, business-related meanings words display. Before discussion of the analysis, the concepts of colligation and grammar/meaning relations are both briefly re-visited in turn.

 

Colligation: Colligation was discussed in a recent article mentioned briefly earlier, by Hoey (2000), where he took a group of words relating to professions - actor, actress, architect and carpenter - from a large corpus and studied the colligational patterning they displayed. He found that despite their surface similarity, i.e. as ‘profession’ words, there were significant differences between the way the words most commonly occurred, e.g. in terms of use of articles, classifiers, apposition and parenthesis (Hoey 2000:234-235). Hoey thus stressed the grammatical context in which the words are most typically found. Hoey then examined how typical colligational patterns were represented in teaching materials and found a disparity between real-life patterning and patterning found in, for example, English Vocabulary in Use (McCarthy & O’Dell 1994) - which he regarded as the best book in its field at the moment.[181] His analysis showed the dangers of using intuition in creating language examples for materials and he concluded that ‘intuition, even the intuition of the best lexical applied linguists, is likely to be flawed’ (Hoey 2000:237). Thus it is argued here that - in line with Hoey - analysis of colligation should best come from observable corpus data.

 

The following sections present findings from the BEC with regard to colligational patterning. For each of the five semantic groups under analysis - those that were analysed for semantic prosody - colligational patterning is discussed first, followed by analysis of grammar/meaning with reference to the COBUILD (1995) dictionary. In order to assist the recognition of colligational patterning, the corpus was part-of-speech (POS) tagged, using Autasys (Fang 1998). However, it was not felt reliable enough to rely on entirely for this analysis[182] so the concordance lines of each word were printed and analysed manually, and typical patterns were identified and noted. A brief example is shown here for the word competitive showing a typical grammatical patterning in which it was found to occur:

 

i) -ly adverb + competitive + noun (group)

12 instances 6.15%                    

extremely competitive market place, highly competitive US market

 

 

Grammar/meaning relations: The relationship of meaning and grammatical form was a more difficult prospect, and previous studies had to be relied upon for the analytical process. This study utilised the COBUILD (1995) dictionary, which was chosen for several reasons.

 

First and foremost, the COBUILD dictionary is based on corpus evidence of general English, and so represents English from a corpus-based perspective. Secondly, via the work discussed by Hunston et al. (1997) and Hunston & Francis (1998), the dictionary operates on the principle of grammar/meaning assignation, whereby each entry shows the relationship of meaning to grammatical patterning. In this way COBUILD shows how the typical grammatical patternings in which words appear, also determine meaning. Additionally, COBUILD gives the most common meanings of a word in order of frequency,[183] and thus it is simple to see how the meanings gained from Business English match or differ in frequency from those of general English. This approach further facilitated the possibility of looking at sub-technical language (Trimble 1985), and a means of seeing how meaning varied from general to Business English.

 

For this thesis, each instance of the 50 words was assigned to a COBUILD meaning/sense[184] category. The instances allotted to each meaning of a word were then totalled, and a percentage value, in relation to all instances of a given word, was noted. Examples of each meaning/sense were also given (shown in italics). To clarify this process, an example is given below showing the analysis of the word competitive:

 

COMPETITIVE

 

COBUILD Sense 1 (situation or activities where people or firms compete with each other)

183 instances 93.84% of sample

Patterns: Adjective

In today’s competitive business climate

we need to be competitive in the next century

 

COBUILD Sense 2 (a competitive person)

1 instance 0.51% of sample

Patterns: Graded adjective

A formidable woman and she was and is very competitive

 

COBUILD Sense 3 (goods and services at a competitive price)

11 instances 5.64% of sample

Patterns: Graded adjective

France’s nuclear power plants generate electricity at competitive prices

Are they reliable and do they have competitive prices?

 

It can be seen that the word competitive conforms to general English in terms of its most frequent sense (Sense 1), but that Senses 3 and 2 are found in reverse order. The words under analysis will now be discussed and conclusions drawn from them.

 

9.3.4.1 Colligation and grammatical form/meaning relations in business lexis

 

a) People in business

 

i) Colligation

 

The words in this first category of people in business differed noticeably in their relationships to noun/verb phrases, compound adjectives, modality and prepositional usage.

 

Phrasal aspects: Some words commonly formed part of pre- and post-modified verb and noun phrases and compound adjectives: customer, shareholder, manager, staff, partner, and management - whilst the other words in the group - supplier, distributor, employee and boss did not display this tendency to the same extent.[185] Examples are shown below:

 

TABLE L: EXAMPLES OF NOUN/VERB  PHRASES AND COMPOUND ADJECTIVES RELATED TO ‘PEOPLE IN BUSINESS’

 

word

Three-word

pre-modified

post-modified

customer

-

-

compound nouns:

customer-base, customer-care, customer confidence, customer-consciousness,

customer needs, customer orders, customer requirements, customer satisfaction, customer service, customer support

compound adjectives:

customer-led, customer-driven, customer-focused, customer-friendly

 

shareholder

noun phrases: total shareholder return, significant shareholder value

verb phrases: increase shareholder value, create shareholder value, improving shareholder value

 

 leading shareholder minority shareholder

 

shareholder return

shareholder value

staff

-

agency staff, service staff

 

 staff discount, staff forum, staff levels, staff performance, staff recruiting, staff training

management

senior management team

total quality management

strategic management system

asset management

credit management

group management

project management

management accounts

management consulting/consultancy

management contractor

management team

 

The words management and staff are ‘outsiders’ in this group as they do not refer to a person per se, but rather to a group of people and, indeed, a function or activity of a group of people. They were chosen for this group, however, because they were both key words and relatively frequent. It is seen above that management, for example, showed a tendency to be part of 3-word noun phrases. It also was found 29 times in a 3-word noun phrase co-joined by ‘and’:

 

 

Modality: The words supplier, distributor and employee were notable for the high degree of modality used with them - for example, modality was evident in 30% of all instances of supplier.  This was mentioned in the previous section on semantic prosody, and is a result of the high frequency of the words in agreements and contracts. Thus, general conclusions about the relationship of these words to modality should not be drawn, but rather a genre-specific colligation is indicated, i.e. the obligations of the participants in the agreements are designated by modality. An example is shown below, displaying usage of shall:

 

 

Prepositional usage: Three items, manager, staff and partner, stood out for their linkage to a range of prepositions:

 

Manager:

Prepositional usage: (determining the relationship of the manager to the company or the job)  

44 instances 10.6% of sample.

at, for, in, of, with, along (with)

Group Manager at Aerosystems, must designate a manager for the project

 

Staff:

Staff + of + number:

5 instances 1.28% of sample

a staff of just 150 inspectors

prepositional use: (says where the staff works)

18 instances 4.63% of sample

staff at the Samsung Group, staff from other countries, staff in the hotel, staff of the UK ‘s top organizations

noun + of + staff:

27 instances 6.95% of sample

member of staff, number of staff, calibre of staff, development of staff, the drift of staff away

 

Partner:

Prepositional usage: (shows where the person is a partner, with whom and for what purpose)

17 instances 14.78% of sample     

a senior partner at the McKinsey firm

a marketing partner for the drug

a partner in PW

managing partner of Andersen consulting

 

ii) Grammatical form/meaning

 

All the words in this group save one, partner, followed the frequency distribution of COBUILD, that is, the meanings of a word given in order of frequency by COBUILD followed the same frequency distribution here. However, a reduced number of meanings was noted,  pointing to the specificity of language used in ‘special’ ESP type situations (West 1997, St John & Dudley Evans 1998), with a reduced variety of meanings in operation. The table below summarises the words in this group in terms of a) how limited

their use was in the BEC as compared to definitions given in COBUILD;[186] b) if the order of the most common meanings given in COBUILD was different in the BEC, and c) if there were any new meanings specific to the BEC identified:

 

TABLE LI: BUSINESS-SPECIFIC USAGE OF WORDS RELATED TO ‘PEOPLE IN BUSINESS’

 

Word

Limited use

Change of Order

New Meaning

customer

Yes: - 1/2

 

 

manager

Yes: - 2/3

 

 

supplier

 

 

 

distributor

Yes: - 1/2

 

 

shareholder

 

 

 

employee

 

 

 

staff

Yes: 3/4

 

 

partner

Yes: 3/5

Yes: 3-4-1

Yes: partner in business

boss

Yes: 2/4

 

 

management

Yes: 2/3

 

 

 

 

It can be seen that seven out of ten words displayed reduced meaning, that is, of the meanings given for each word in COBUILD, there were less meanings found in the BEC.  In terms of change of order, one word did not follow the COBUILD frequency patterning - partner - where its most usual meaning in general English of life or sexual partner, Sense 1 (here only 0.86% of the sample), was superseded by COBUILD Sense 3 - the people who share ownership of a business (56.52% of the sample). Thus, a business-specific aspect of the word is stressed.  Partner was also of interest, in that a sense not mentioned in COBUILD was detected. In the BEC sample, partner was found to be used as a verb, colligating with the preposition with, meaning a new sense can be presented:

 

ADDITIONAL sense: similar to COBUILD Sense 5 (to partner someone in a dance or game).

There are 6 instances of ‘partner’ (5.21% of sample) used as a verb in the sense of ‘partner with another company for potential mutual benefit’.

The pattern found is:

verb + with + noun: partner with us, we’re willing to partner with the administration

Examples of variation in meaning according to grammatical form was in evidence. For example, the word management, when used as an uncount noun, referred to the control and organising of a business (e.g. this style of management). When used as a variable collective noun it referred to the actual people (e.g. management shake-up, management buy-out).

 

A further grammar/meaning patterning of note, though small, was that found with the word supplier. This word was found in the following pattern:

genitive/article + positive adjective + supplier + preposition + (product/company)

This pattern occurred 24 times (13.33% of the sample of supplier) and indicated the size of the supplier in predominantly positive terms, for example, UK’s leading supplier of PC accountancy software, a leading supplier of naval radars and the biggest supplier of Twinings.

 

b) Business activities

 

i) Colligation

 

The words in this section, displaying a high level of nominalisation, were business, investment, delivery, payment, development, production, communication, competition, takeover and distribution. It was found, as with the words in the previous section, that typical grammatical patterns could be found for all of them, and that these patterns, whilst shared by several words, also varied between them.

 

Investment displayed a distinct tendency to be formed into 3-word noun phrases, e.g. realized investment gains, return on investment and chief investment officer. Development was also often found in 3-word noun phrases co-joined by and, for example, research and development, training and development. Likewise delivery:

 

 

Delivery, development, competition and distribution all showed strong colligational links to prepositions. Obviously, prepositional usage also affects meaning and this can be seen clearly in the example pattern delivery + of (17.55% of the delivery sample), where delivery is followed by of , which is followed by the ‘what is to be delivered’: