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Review of  Negotiating Moves

Reviewer: Justin Boffemmyer
Book Title: Negotiating Moves
Book Author: Lindsay Amthor Yotsukura
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): Japanese
Issue Number: 15.1744

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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.

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.

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 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

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

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.

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 study.

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

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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