LINGUIST List 15.1744

Tue Jun 8 2004

Review: Discourse Analysis: Yotsukura (2003)

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  1. Justin Boffemmyer, Negotiating Moves: ... in Japanese Business Discourse

Message 1: Negotiating Moves: ... in Japanese Business Discourse

Date: Mon, 7 Jun 2004 14:07:58 -0400 (EDT)
From: Justin Boffemmyer <>
Subject: Negotiating Moves: ... in Japanese Business Discourse

Yotsukura, Lindsay Amthor (2003) Negotiating Moves: Problem
Presentation and Resolution in Japanese Business Discourse, Elsevier
Science Ltd.

Announced at

Justin Boffemmyer, Department of Linguistics, SUNY University at


The aim of this book is to explore the pragmatics of Japanese as
pertains to business contexts, particularly with regard to telephone
calls. This exploration is conducted through the application of
Bakhtinean genres, as well as through the use of various
conversational analysis techniques. The study involves a corpus of
recorded telephone conversation, sampled from two different companies
in Japan, one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto. The author also provides some
analyses for a few constructions in Japanese which are highly
contextualized in nature (for example, the ''no da''
construction). Finally, there is the over-arching goal of the author
to provide some means of instructing foreign learners of the Japanese
language in the discourse rules of the language through the use of the


The book is divided into 7 chapters, which are fairly cohesive and
progress from more generalized, background information to more
specific information oriented towards the title of the book itself:
problem presentation and resolution. The real thrust of the book is in
chapters 3-5, especially 3 and 5, however.

This chapter outlines the purposes of the book, in addition to
providing the reader with some theoretical and literature background
on the major works previously done, as well as on the theories the
author employs throughout the book in her analysis. These theories
include: conversation analysis, Bakhtinian genres, discourse analysis,
and others. There is also some use made of Brown and Levinson's face
theory for politeness. The author states that her intent with the book
is for the following:

1. To determine how the service recipient conveys information
regarding the problem in question to the service provider

2. To describe the function and distribution of the linguistics forms
used by service recipients in and associated with these interactional

3. To determine how related, and if a relation exists to explain
explicitly what that relationship is, the forms mentioned in intention
(2) above to the notion of speech genres, as well as to general
cultural norms and values

4. Present the analysis given in the book as a resource for linguists,
business professionals, and teachers of the Japanese language

This chapter describes the data and methodology used to collect the
data. The author recorded a total of approximately 50 hours of
telephone conversations from various companies in Japan. The author
also gives a more in-depth explanation of speech genres, showing the
difference between other theories of genre and Bakhtin's, as well as
doing similarly for conversation analysis techniques. She does this
using examples from her corpus, as well as making use of some English
examples. Finally, the author also provides some information on
previous research involving offers in Japanese (the background
information provided in Chapter 1 focuses on Japanese business
conversations and negotiation within discourse).

In this chapter, the author lays out the general structures of
Japanese business calls. This structure progresses from the call
opening, which can include self-identifications, business salutations,
personal greetings, and possibly switchboard requests (requests to be
re-directed to another department/employee/etc.). Typically, if these
elements are present in the call opening section, they occur in the
order given in the previous sentence. The next section identified is
that of the transition section. This is where the major portions of
the call take place. It begins with a first-topic initiation, and is
followed with what is called a ''maeoki'' (lit. put before). A maeoki
is essentially a conversational unit that serves to create a bridge
between the initial topic and the real reason-for-call, thus being
similar to pre-sequences such as pre-questions, pre-requests, and so
forth. A (translated) typical example of a maeoki would be something
to the effect of the following:

''I'd like to check on something, but...''

This can easily be seen as a lead-in to a request or question of some
kind, and quite plausibly a face-threatening one. The author also
provides examples for various types of maeoki in this portion of the
chapter, so that she can develop a foundation about which to talk
about the specific types of call in later chapters with respect to
conversational units.

Following the maeoki, the actual business matter about which the
caller is really placing the call to the company is presented in the
phone conversation, and consequently discussed by the parties
involved. Upon completion of this discussion, there can be usage of
pre-closing devices to mark the discussion as having been completed,
and to mark the conversation as ready to progress in one of two
directions: a shift to a new, additional topic of discussion or the
closing of the conversation. If the conversation shifts to a new
discussion, it will progress in a like manner to the presentation and
discussion of the original, real reason-for-call topic (in that after
the new topic is presented and discussed, there will likely be usage
of pre-closing devices, and the conversation can either shift to yet
another topic or close).

In the closing section, the participants will typically restate what
the was needed/requested and what will be done to the end of
fulfilling this, which may include a promise of one of the
participants to contact the other again at a later time (or perhaps to
have someone else contact the other, such is if a caller requested to
speak to an employee who was not present at the time of the call, the
call answerer can promise for the absent employee to call the caller
back when the employee returns). If any of the parties involved in the
call did not provide identification information up to this point, or
if further information is required in order to fulfill any of the
needs/requests mentioned above, it can be requested or voluntarily
provided at this point in the call. Also, it is possible that
identification information will simply be re-iterated to ensure that
the other party has the correct information/remembers correctly/does
not need additional information/etc. Finally, once all this has been
accomplished to the satisfaction of the participants, they undergo a
terminal exchange, and the call is ended.

The author also provides some summary tables of the basic layout of
Japanese business calls, along with linguistic forms prototypically
occurring within the particular conversational segments of such
calls. For example, in the transition section, there is infrequently
an attention focuser (such as ''ano desu ne''), followed by a maeoki
(frequently) linguistically framed using the extended predicate
construction (''... no desu''), and also possibly a clausal particle
such as ''keredomo'' which signals a juncture in the conversation,
commonly referred to as a Transition Relevance Place (TRP).

The various types of Japanese business calls that are dealt with in
the book are covered in this chapter. These types include: general
inquiries, placing orders for merchandise, confirmation of shipments,
and (what was of most interest to the author) problem reports. The
largest portion of the chapter is devoted to describing general
inquiries (which are called ''toiawase'' inquiries), whilst problem
reports are only briefly described, since the author goes into much
detail regarding problem reports in Chapter 5.

Chapter 5 -
In-depth analyses of two Japanese business calls in which a problem is
overtly presented and a solution is negotiated are given in this
chapter. The author also provides comparisons of the two calls to
problem reporting in English phone calls, in addition to comparing the
two calls to each other. The author also discusses the notion of
asynchrony as applies to Japanese business calls. The author also
compares the asynchrony in the Japanese calls to asynchrony in English

In addition to whole-call analysis, there is also a substantial amount
of attention devoted to the linguistics formulations which are highly
associated with problem presentation and resolution in Japanese
calls. These expressions include the usage of the extended predicate
(EP), the ''-no desu'' form, the use of the suggestive ''-masyoo
ka?'', and the use of ''-masu no de''. The author provides a further
analysis that these forms can be used to construct synchrony out of

The author also draws some rather strong connections between
Bakhtinian genres and the amount which is said between the
participants in the interaction. She notes that the more a participant
is accustomed to a particular speech genre, and the more experience
that participant has actually enacting that genre, the less that
participant will need to say in order to accomplish the goal or task
of that genre. For instance, if the caller and the call recipient are
both highly experienced in the genre of problem
presentation/resolution business calls, then it is possible for both
participants to understand the nature of the problem and undertake an
appropriate course of resolution without actually overtly stating what
the problem was. This level of sensitivity can only come about as a
result of repeated exposure and enactment of the speech genre. This
ties in with the notion of synchrony, and leads in to the author's
analysis of such synchrony and asynchrony.

This is perhaps the loosest of the chapters, in that the author more
or less tries to throw in everything in Japanese culture that would
enforce/reinforce the reasons why Japanese business calls are
conducted in the manner that they are. The author covers such topics
as ''ki'', ''sassi'', ''omoiyari'', ''kikubari'', ''ma'', and
''enryo-sassi''. These are Japanese native vocabulary to express
cultural values that could cause or at least influence the conduction
of a business call. In addition to the Japanese native expressions to
define their culture (and consequently business calls which are
carried out in their culture), the author also describes the
occurrence of ellipsis in Japanese, the (perhaps exclusively) Japanese
distinction of inside/outside deixis (commonly referred to as
''uchi/soto'', and is referred to as so in the book as well), and the
high context dependency of the Japanese language. All of these factors
could easily be seen as contributing to the manner in which Japanese
conduct themselves during business calls. In addition to the
afore-mentioned notions, there is also further discussion of the
extended predicate to be found within this chapter.

This is the concluding chapter of the book. Therefore, at the outset,
it serves to wrap up and summarize all the various points, claims, and
arguments made by the author throughout the book. It also serves to
make some new connections as well, however, as now all the information
and data are available to both the author and the reader for the
author to tie them all together. Thus, the author goes back over some
questions raised in the beginning of the book. These questions
include: whether callers will state what the problem they are having
is at the outset, or do they present the problem narratively using a
chronological order; if there is a particular order in which service
recipients give the details of the transaction; whether the service
recipients will overtly state what the problem is at all; and to what
extent the service recipients overtly ask for assistance. The author
then steps through each of these questions, and points out some of the
most strongly associated linguistic strategies for each aspect. This
is then followed by a more thorough presentation of the linguistic
strategies involved, particularly the ''-masu no de'' and ''-masyoo
ka?'' forms. From there, the rest of the chapter involves speech
genres, except for the final section which is about areas for further


For the most part, the book was quite good. However, there are a few
areas where I see quite a few sticking points in the application of
theories to the data in question.

Firstly, there is the issue of the comparisons between the Japanese
business calls and calls made in English. The fundamental problem here
is that none of the calls are of the same type. The overwhelming
majority of the calls in the author's corpus are between two
companies; namely between a company either calling to place a shipping
order for some form of supply (such as a bookstore placing an order
with a publishing company for a shipment of books), or a call from a
company on behalf of its customers to another company, acting as a
go-between. However, the English calls that these are compared to are
either personal telephone calls (i.e. not business calls at all), or
are business calls that take place directly between customer and
company. There are no inter-company business calls represented in the
English call examples. Thus, there is a fundamental mismatch between
the Japanese and English data, which the author also
recognizes. However, although the author recognizes this fact, she
nonetheless still argues for claims of differences between the English
calls and the Japanese calls, and makes claims about how calls
parallel to the Japanese calls (inter-company problem
presentation/resolution) would be made in an English context, even
though she does not have the data to support these claims.

Furthermore, the author states in the book that she is not too
interested in specific linguistics forms, but that she seeks to
discover the layout and structure of the Japanese business calls as a
process of discourse, and thus is more interested in the over-arching
form of the discourse as a whole. However, the author devotes a
considerable amount of the book to discussing a few specific
linguistics forms, and one in particular: the many uses of the
construction ''no desu''. This makes its appearance in several
chapters, from the beginning of the book to the end, and the author
essentially discusses four functions: intra-phrasal, intra-clausal,
inter-clausal, and inter-discourse. One deficiency, however, is that
the author presents a myriad of differing analyses of this
construction and its uses (none of which are her own), and does not
make her position clear as to which analysis she believes to be more
correct. As the author intended for this book to be useful to students
learning Japanese as a foreign language, I feel that this could be an
especially confusing point for such students, and thus countering the
goal the author wishes to accomplish.

The final issue I found to be particularly problematic was the
author's analysis of ''maeoki''. Although I do agree with many of the
claims she made on the basis of her analysis, I feel the foundation
for those claims needs to be strengthened. The problem is that it is
very unclear as to what precisely may constitute a ''maeoki'', in that
it seems to be defined entirely on the basis of what comes after it in
the discourse, rather than on what it is actually filled with
linguistically. Thus, the exact same linguistic content may in one
discourse be a ''maeoki'', while in another it would be the actual
discussion of the business matter. The author gives no clear-cut way
of determining whether a section of a Japanese business call is in
fact a ''maeoki'' or not. And in fact, it seems to me that some of
what she claims to be a ''maeoki'' could in fact be the actual problem
presentation in some cases, and that there is more to the actual
problem presentation. This would provide further problems for the
author's analysis of the differences between English and Japanese
calls, in that the author describes English business calls as more
direct and to-the-point, whereas Japanese calls are more indirect, and
first propose an intermediary ''maeoki''.

However, the author does provide some very good arguments for the
application of speech genres to Japanese business calls, and I think
the book is certainly worth a read to linguists. I feel that for
students of Japanese as a foreign language, though, that this book
would not be very well-suited to them, as there are too many confusing
points with respect to specific linguistic forms. Items like the
tables provided in chapter 3 which list step-by-step the procedure
typically followed in a Japanese business call would be well-suited to
such learners however. Thus, I feel that the book as a whole is more
appropriate to a more professional audience (professional linguists,
or perhaps businessmen with enough curiosity to endure all of the
linguistics terminology), and specific portions of the book would be
appropriate to language learners.


Justin Boffemmyer is a graduate student at the SUNY at Buffalo
pursuing a Ph.D. in Linguistics. He is focusing his studies on
Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis, as well as Japanese
Linguistics. His main interest within Japanese Linguistics is
Honorifics, and his main interests within Pragmatics and Discourse
Analysis are Politeness and Negotiation of Meaning. He hopes to become
a Professor of Linguistics in Japan.
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