LINGUIST List 24.2738

Sun Jul 07 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis: Schnurr (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 04-Apr-2013
From: Pankaj Dwivedi <>
Subject: Exploring Professional Communication
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Stephanie SchnurrTITLE: Exploring Professional CommunicationSERIES TITLE: Series: Routledge Introductions to Applied LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Pankaj Dwivedi, Indian Institute of Technology Ropar

SUMMARYThis is the sixth book in Routledge's Introductions to Applied LinguisticsSeries. The book consists of eight chapters and each except the eighth isdivided into three sections, A, B and C. Each deals with a specific area ofprofessional communication. In contrast to the usual theory-to-practiceapproach, the chapters start by explaining problems (Section A), go throughpossible interventions (Section B), and end with theoretical accounts andimplications (Section C).

The first chapter, “What is professional communication?,” explores the term‘professional communication’ in its diverse and dynamic nature by illustratingvarious authentic spoken and text samples. It shows how transactional andrelational accounts of professional communication occur and overlap during‘frontstage’ and backstage encounters. Drawing on some previous works theauthor strives to mark the similarities and differences between some similarsounding words like institutional talk, professional discourse, workplace orbusiness discourse.

The second chapter, “Genres of Professional Communication”, deals withcategorization of different communicative events under the genre of what isreferred as professional communication. The chapter analyses the similaritiesand differences found both in the forms and functions of discourses occurringin the diverse professional contexts. It shows how the genres that aretypically used to perform specific functions may not only vary acrossdifferent workplaces but also across departments, working groups, age andhierarchical layers. It is further said that over the long and natural courseof development, a genre can be modified or die, giving way to new genres. Or,a new genre comes into being due to some innovation in the field ofcommunication technology or when a particular style becomes popular for someunknown reason.

The third chapter, “Workplace culture”, explores the relationship betweenprofessional communication and workplace culture, i.e., how languagecontributes to shaping of a workplace culture. Emphasis is placed upondistinctive ways that members of different workplaces adopt to communicate.For example, use of slang can strictly be avoided at one workplace whereaspeople think nothing unusual about it at another. These differences incommunicative practices are reflected not only in the ways people write emailsand faxes, speak with their super- and sub- ordinates or group members, butalso in the ways people lead, direct, intervene, dress, etc. The chaptercritically introduces main three approaches to workplace culture: Schein’smodel of different levels of cultural; Greet Hofstede and his colleagues’‘collective programming of the mind’ approach and Lave and Wenger’s communityof practice (CofP) concept.

The fourth chapter, “culture and politeness at work”, is about the role ofnational and workplace culture in professional encounters, though the mainfocus is on the relationship between national culture and politeness. Thechapter starts by exploring whether culture is really an issue at work. Inmultilingual and multicultural workplaces the concept of culture does notcarry so much weight as to influence the overall professional communicativerealities. Culture, of course, may well be a reason for miscommunication amongpeople, however. The chapter also draws attention to the fact that attempts toexplain differences in people’s behavior in a workplace solely by reference toculture run the risk of overgeneralizing and stereotyping. Two maintheoretical frameworks, politeness theory and rapport management, have beenused to analyze the ways in which culture and politeness interrelate withprofessional discourse.

The fifth chapter, “Identities at work”, discusses the ways and processesthrough which identities are enacted, created and reflected in and throughprofessional communication. Language is one of the most crucial means on whichpeople draw on in order to construct and perform various identities. Conceptof identity, in general, in itself, is very fluid and relative in nature andis established only against other identities. Therefore, individuals’ as wellorganizations’ idea of self-perception and self-representation affect theirown and another’s respective identities in many ways. The author also brieflydiscusses the social constructionism framework in exploring processes ofidentity constructions in communicative interactions, followed by anintroduction to Bucholtz and Hall’s (2005) five principles of identityconstruction in interaction. It is argued that identity should not beconsidered a static attribute assigned to an individual or organization,rather it should be conceptualized as performance which is dynamicallyconstructed by interlocutors in specific contexts.

The sixth chapter, “Gender”, shows that gender, apart from influencing otherworkplace issues such as identity construction, leadership, negotiation,decision making, etc., affects professional communicative behaviors in varietyof different ways. Its role, however, may be relatively hidden in thebackground and hence not so obvious on first glance. Two specific ways inwhich gender is enacted in the workplace are gendered speech styles and theexistence of certain gendered discourses.

Gender stereotypes may often be reflected in workplace discourse and couldhave serious implications for the perception and treatment of both men andwomen, though women are the most likely victims. The chapter also discussesthe role of critical discourse analysis (CDA) in investigating the relationshipbetween language, gender and workplace.

The seventh chapter, “Leadership”, focuses on the role that professionalcommunication plays in leadership performance. Communication makes indeed aninevitable aspect of what is called doing leadership and most of the tasksthat leaders engage themselves in during their normal working are achievedthrough it. From the applied linguistics framework, acts of leadership canroughly be divided into two types of constellations: (1) asymmetricalconstellation where leader is in hierarchically higher position (2)distributed, shared or co-leadership where everyone contributes like a memberof a group. The author opines that leadership should be defined as performancewhich takes both transactional and relational behaviors into account. In theend, the author argues for a discursive approach to the leadership, as itplaces communication at the heart of leadership.

The eighth chapter, “Conclusion”, presents the book’s overall argument andbriefly overviews the entire content of the book for its usefulness in finding newavenues for future research -- in particular for student projects. The chapteraims to establish that research in the area of professional communication isfruitful yet challenging and demands in-depth knowledge from other disciplines.

EVALUATIONThis book is intended for more advanced students and scholars new to orgenerally interested in the field of professional communication. It presentsan informative introduction to prominent theories, methodologies and researchfields within applied research in professional communication. It bringstogether a number of useful chapters on a range of aspects of professionalcommunication. But most of the chapters focus on spoken professionaldiscourse. Since writing makes up an important part of workplace discourse,it therefore should not be ignored (Gerson & Gerson, 2009). Similarly, theimpact of computer and other digital technologies on workplace communicationis apparent, though it is still less clearly understood. A chapter on this wouldhave made the book more useful.

All chapters are well-written and organized using a practice-to-theoryapproach. Each chapter provides appropriate workplace communication samplesand other data that help readers develop a better understanding of the issuesand problems. For example, each chapter contains sample tasks for readers tocheck whether they have developed a clear understanding of the theme or theidea discussed. Answers and explanations to these tasks are available in the‘Task commentaries’ section. The book contains a well-developed glossary oftechnical terms, a list of references and some important notes on all of thechapters. The book also provides a comprehensive list of readings that may behelpful for readers working in the area of the professional communication.

This book can be utilized either as a means of keeping up to date on theresearch or as a way of becoming more knowledgeable on a topic. It, in otherwords, will appeal not only to those who already are familiar with ongoingresearch in the area but also to those who are new to the subject. Overall thebook provides scholars working in the fields of communication studies,technical and professional discourse, and other related organizationalprocesses with rich insights.

REFERENCESBucholtz, M. and Hall, K. (2005) Identity and Interaction: A SocioculturalLinguistic Approach. Dicourse studies, 7(4-5), 585-614

Gerson, S.J. and Gerson, S.M. (2009) Technical Writing: Process and Product,3rd ed. New Delhi: Pearson Publication.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERPankaj Dwivedi is a PhD scholar in the department of Humanities and SocialSciences, IIT Ropar (India). His research interests lie in the areas oftechnical communication and phonology.

Page Updated: 07-Jul-2013