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Review of  The Language of Work

Reviewer: Giampaolo Poletto
Book Title: The Language of Work
Book Author: Almut Koester
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 16.1332

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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

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.


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.

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