Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
Date: Mon, 7 Jun 2004 12:05:56 -0400 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.
Justin Boffemmyer, Department of Linguistics, SUNY University at Buffalo.
OVERVIEW 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 text.
SYNOPSIS 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.
CHAPTER 1 - 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 exchanges
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
CHAPTER 2 - 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).
CHAPTER 3 - 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).
CHAPTER 4 - 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 calls.
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 asynchrony.
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.
CHAPTER 6 - 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.
CHAPTER 7 - 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 study.
EVALUATION: 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.