Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: 24 Apr 2005 22:36:34 -0000 From: Giampaolo Poletto Subject: The Language of Work
AUTHOR: Koester, Almut TITLE: The Language of Work SERIES: The Intertext series PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2004
Giampaolo Poletto, doctoral student, Doctoral School in Linguistics, University of Pécs, Hungary
Koester's methodological approach to the object and reader of his study is displayed in the layout of each of the six units of this work. A short introduction stating the purpose and briefing on the content is followed, in a mixed order, by situational samples to work on, a commentary on the most relevant discursive features, specific monitoring activities, with given answers when required, a summary, activities for further discussion. The main issues are presented in the first unit and gradually examined in the next interwoven units, where some of their specific features are comparatively pointed out and exemplified. Recurring graphical devices contribute to visually frame the different stages and single out some guiding concepts. Workplace discourse is therefore examined moving from the general to the particular, in the context of a practical textbook accessible to students and useful for scholars, who are directly involved in the making of the study and can separately draw inspiration from its parts for their own purposes. References and an index of terms are provided in the end.
The analytical perspective unfolds as follows. The first unit (1-13), along with the concept of 'institutional talk' of Drew and Heritage (1992), points out the relevant features and differences between casual and workplace conversation, as to goal orientation, turn- taking rules or restrictions, allowable contributions, professional lexis, structure, symmetry. Samples are two live conversational exchanges: Students Chatting Round the Tea Table (see Carter and MacCarthy, 1997:86); Editorial Office. Further extracts shift to and focus on the relevance of professional contexts, which vary as to the registers used and the genres occurring.
The second unit (15-28) proceeds from and develops the previous closing issue: how language dynamically perspectivizes the values and attitudes related to the workplace and specific professions. The focus is on the role of work, the concept of 'career', the place of the individual. The context of the discourse community is viewed from within and from without. In this sense stereotypes, highly influencing on our perceptions, play an important role. Samples include: three written texts, from a careers magazine and a job advertisement from a guide; one live report on a worker's productivity.
The third unit (29-52) sheds light on the features of some basic written genres common to different professions. The emphasis is on conventions and structures of genres, which are as stabilized as flexible and subject to variation. Again, samples cover communications within and without the professional community. Exchanges between co-workers are referred to through the analysis of a letter and three email messages, which are examined as to their distinctive traits, partly owing to Louhiala- Salminen's (1999) observations on the informality of fax and email. Sales promotion letters addressing customers are then viewed along with the concept of 'move' (see Swales, 1990; Bhatia, 1993), in a general and specific perspective. The unit conclusively focuses on the business meeting and shifts to the relationship between written and spoken workplace interactions, through the analysis of a draft and the transcript of an excerpt from a conversation, both on the same topic.
The fourth unit (53-75) specifically details on spoken workplace genres. They can be as highly structured and conform to a pre-set agenda, as the transcript of a meeting shows, as unplanned and spontaneously arising out of a particular situation, as emphasized through the exam of a negotiation prompting between co-workers. The relevant interactions are affected by both the work situation and the role of the speakers. The former appears to be more incident than the latter, given its mutability at different times. Negotiation is finally tied to problem-solving conversations, which follow a definite problem-solution textual pattern, as defined by Hoey (2001). The sample is a conversation between colleagues, which highlights the collaborative aspect of workplace talk and its belonging to the category of procedural discourse, here exemplified through extracts from a training session.
The fifth unit (77-100) is on relationships at work, where mostly asymmetrical talk - namely between co-workers, subordinates and managers, suppliers and service providers with customers - infers people pay attention to task goals and relational goals. Such conversations do not necessarily focus on an ongoing task, thus discursive differences from ordinary conversations may not be so clear-cut, as they show transcripts of three variably task-focused workplace conversations, a nominal printout, a report of a lost order, a meeting with a supplier, two telephone service encounters. Along with what previously said about instructions and explanations in procedural discourse, now the focus shifts to the role of the subordinate 'listener', in particular to a minimal or non-minimal response. This form of back channelling guarantees that the message is being received and reflects the way the speakers administer their specific hierarchical relationship. With reference to the situational context, it implies the enactment of politeness strategies, which directly tie to the notion of face as illustrated by Brown and Levinson (1987), even in the case of telephone interactions, more thoroughly examined by Cameroon (2000) and Cheepen (2000).
The sixth unit (101-116) conclusively covers texts - such as career advisers, job fairs, books and manuals on applying for a job, on the one side, articles in newspapers and magazines, on the other side - on the topic of entering the job market. The first three samples are careers advisers taken from newspapers. They show how they provide instructions and explanations of procedures of some kind. Their specific discursive traits are then compared looking back at spoken procedural genres. The following exam of a set of two job advertisements from a newspaper allows to draw a parallel with sales promotion letters, since they are persuasive genres and have a characteristic move structure.
Almut Koester's book synoptically focuses on the language of work, in different, autonomous and interdependent stages, which shape an investigation based on workplace oral and written conversations or communications. The study provides a first discursive insight. It is an exploration quite sharply opening and closing, where an analytical operative path is plainly outlined and unfolded. Theoretical approaches are not meant to be under scrutiny or construction. Unresolved problems are not meant to be emphasized or discussed. The reader is actively and factually called to examine transcripts and commentaries, to then concentrate on the suggested activities. The whole leads one to experience a widening in multiple directions that is practicable and forthcoming.
Bhatia, V .K. (1993) Analysing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings. London: Longman.
Brown, P. & S. Levinson (1987) Politeness: Some Universal in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cameroon, D. (2000) Good to Talk? Living and Working in a Communication Culture. London: Sage.
Carter, R. & M. MacCarthy (1997) Exploring Spoken Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cheepen, C. (2000) Small talk in service dialogues: the conversational aspects of transactional telephone talk. In J. Coupland (ed.) Small Talk. Harlow: Pearson Education, 288-311.
Drew, P. & J. Heritage (1992) Talk at Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hoey, M. (2001) Textual Interaction: An Introduction to Written Discourse Analysis. London: Routledge.
Louhiala-Salminen, L. (1999) From business correspondence to message exchange: What is left?. In M. Hewings & C. Nickerson (eds.) Business English: Research into Practice. Harlow: Longman, 100-114.
Swales, J. M. (1990) Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Giampaolo Poletto is a doctoral student at the Doctoral School in Linguistics of the University of Pécs, in Hungary. His linguistic fields of interest are discourse analysis, pragmatics, and applied linguistics. His research focuses on humor as a discursive strategy for young learners of Italian, in a cross-sectional and cross-cultural context.