LINGUIST List 25.3044

Thu Jul 24 2014

Review: Discourse Analysis: Nickerson, Planken & Bargiela-Chiappini (2013)

Editor for this issue: Malgorzata Cavar <>

Date: 22-Nov-2013
From: Brad Miller <>
Subject: Business Discourse
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Dr Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini
AUTHOR: Catherine Nickerson
AUTHOR: Brigitte Planken
TITLE: Business Discourse
SERIES TITLE: Research and Practice in Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Brad B Miller, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Business Discourse (2nd Edition), by Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini, Catherine Nickerson, and Brigitte Planken is designed to offer a background of applied linguistics and business communication to the student, researcher, and practitioner. This edition offers a more updated insight into the realm of business discourse research, providing analyses of more recent studies in an effort to provide the reader with a more up-to-date survey of the state of the art. It is designed to bring into focus the benefits of discourse analysis and other forms of linguistic research by showing how they may apply to and be of benefit for other research areas - namely the business focused research of Organizational Behavior as well as Institutional Communication along with their focus on the dependent variable in language variation. This book is intended to help readers establish a flexible mindset where multidisciplinarity is a strength and varied approach-taking is essential for a good result. It provides readers with a vast collection of previous studies along with analyses of each as a background in the realm of business discourse. It is geared towards linguists who are interested in, but have a limited working knowledge of the field of business communication studies.

Part I is centered around ‘The Field of Business Discourse.’ It carries the reader through the potentially complicated maze of the history of business discourse as a research area, emphasizing different types of research approaches that have been employed by others, and giving a brief overview of how business discourse has evolved around the world. The first chapter in particular offers a strong definition of what business discourse is - namely “social action in business contexts” - considering various types of discourse that can be analyzed emphasizing the ability to focus on communication through various media. This first chapter highlights the background of various types of research that can fall under the real of business discourse research: from analyzing talk within any organizational context (Sarangi & Roberts 1999), from studies on code-switching in a business context (Lavic 2009) to analyses of written correspondence between companies and share holders (Prasad & Mir 2002), as well as a corpus analysis of application letters for a specific position (Mahommed Al-Ali 2004) and analyses of gender and power in corporations (Peck 2000; Tannen 1995).
It is important to note that throughout the book, though most particularly in the first section, the authors offer specific highlights of various researchers around the world who have made particular contributions to the field of business discourse. Those profiled include Marjaliisa Charles, Karen Lee Ashcraft, Gina Poncini, and Judith Baxter, among many others. Each profile gives a brief background of the researcher, their educational background, and a biography of their discourse related research. Further information includes a series of quotations from the researcher and a list of the highlighted researchers pros and cons of doing research in business discourse. Some also include various elements of business discourse research (research ideas, foci, or approaches) they oppose or support.

Chapter 2 discusses the idea of rapport management as one aspect of business discourse that is perceived as the future of intercultural business discourse research. This idea in particular is offered as one solution to the perceived western-centric approaches of most past models of discourse and interaction. The authors also consider other potential factors that may affect the future of business discourse research, allowing for multimodality and the influences from various sources of communication within the business field. Furthermore, they highlight the need for researchers to be multidisciplinary in their approaches, allowing for multiple approaches and the benefits that come from open-minded and multi-method research styles.

Part II looks into how one may apply business discourse research in real world settings. Chapter 3 deals with using business discourse research as a way to teach and/or train. This chapter focuses on several real-life instances of learning materials that were produced as a result of discourse research in businesses such as those produced in the Hong Kong English for Business Education Project (Bhatia & Candlin 2001), as well as Language of Work (Koester 2004) and the Corpus of International Business Writing Teaching Project (Connor et al. 1997). These examples provide a sampling of potential applicability for such research in terms of business improvement, government education, and teaching materials designed to teach and inform students (most specifically within the field of business). It shows how the use of corpora may also benefit the researcher.

Chapter 4 considers the industrial application of business discourse research through consultancy work. The authors provide examples of different types of research-based consultancy work that have occurred in the past around the world such as the REFLECT (Review of Foreign Language and Cultural Training Needs) project or linguistic audits (Charles & Marschan-Piekkari 2002). As a part of this, they consider the methodologies that were used in such work and the implications of the findings. This chapter also attempts to show how consultancy projects effectively reflect developments in business communication research.
The focus of Chapter 5 is mainly a review of teaching materials that have been produced with business communication and language for specific business purposes in mind. It profiles six sets of such materials and discusses the approaches taken in producing these materials, their effectiveness and quality. This chapter is primarily a literature review of such materials with a focus on what went into their production, and as a result what would need to go into any other similar production.

Part III of the book considers the actual practice of researching business discourse. Chapter 6 profiles various studies like studies of corporate communicative practices in Brazil (Barbara, Celani, Collins & Scott 1996) to show basic themes as well as research strategies employed in order to focus the attention of the reader on future research possibilities. Chapter 7 considers replicable studies from key research areas such as quantitative approaches to studying discourse practices (van Hest & Oud-de Glas 1991; Hagen 1993; 1999; ELAN 2006; etc.) as well as more qualitative approaches (Nickerson & Planken 2009; Sarangi & Candlin 2003; Akar 2002; etc.), presenting the theoretical frameworks and methodologies employed in these types of studies and providing examples for future potential project ideas in fields such as researching spoken business discourse, social semiotics, genre analysis, or written business communication.

The longest chapter in the book, Chapter 8, looks at ten research studies “that showcase the work of business discourse researchers from around the world” (p. 244). This chapter provides a summary of several research projects, considers their goals and the methodology employed, and then discusses their findings. Some examples include a study of Dutch and American companies and how they deal with customers’ email inquiries (van Mulken & van der Meer 2005), a study of audience reaction to advertisements (Hoeken et al. 2003), an analysis of English use in a Hong Kong merchandiser workplace (Li So-mui & Mead 2000), or English as used as a lingua franca in corporate mergers (Louhiala-Salminen et al. 2005). Each illustration is a brief review of the study being considered and gives the reader a concise, yet useful view into real work on business discourse. The commentary provided for each case also helps the reader to informally apply the research to their own interests while considering potential variations and modifications that might be useful.

The final section of the book, Part IV, is a list of resources that would be useful for a business discourse research to consider in any future project. Chapter 9 gives a list of books, edited collections, journals, professional associations, conferences and workshops that in some way or another are relevant to the field.


The book, Business Discourse (2nd Edition), is an excellent resource for students attempting to better understand the applicability of discourse analysis as well as for professionals hoping to better improve their consideration of communication in the business field. It is a large collection of information regarding past studies, helping the reader best understand how questions have been resolved in the past in addition to helping him/her develop potential future research projects. The background research and consideration given is extensive to say the least, fully covering nearly the entire field from its early inception. As such, this book is a must-have for potential and current practitioners of business discourse research.

Throughout the book, the authors give summaries and reviews of the work they highlight. These summaries act as a wonderful literature review for the reader, helping her/him to fully understand the various aspects that go into any type of discourse analysis. Perhaps most importantly, this book helps the reader understand the basics necessary to consider performing research in the business realm. The way in which the book is written provides readers with a condensed review of many of these studies, helping them in turn decide on an approach for their own studies. What is good about this is the nearly non-biased way in which the authors review each study, allowing the individual to formulate personal opinions rather than be swayed by the biases of the authors.

Mini-biographies of prominent names in the field are also offered. For many students, the names of individuals are often mentioned ‘behind’ the studies, as subsidiary to the studies being discussed. It is often the case that students learn the last name of authors and year when a paper was published, but fail to recognize the physical human effort behind each study. In providing mini-biographies of the scholars, the authors have given readers a glimpse in the life of current practitioners, and as such have given a human face to the studies being considered. It makes business discourse that much more applicable and accessible for students, and as such truly opens the doors for future generations.

While this book obviously considers the studies being examined as discourse analysis in its many forms and shapes, it does little by way of description of how to perform discourse analysis. Students of discourse analysis would do well to use this as subsidiary to their study of analyses and focus their attention on the methodology employed in discourse analysis. This book provides no such methodological base, and as such provides little more than a bridge between discourse analysis and its application in business. One should have some previous exposure to discourse analysis in order to fully grasp the intentions and potential of this book.

Tasks given at the end of each chapter recommend ways in which a student may further their education and understanding of business discourse analysis. They are useful and, for the most part, well thought out. It would be recommended that students employ these in their reading of the book. Ignoring the tasks may seem to be time-saving, however the novice would be ill-prepared to begin any sort of business discourse analysis without such practice and learning-based application.

In conclusion, Business Discourse is a wonderful book in terms of its scope, however, in the end it is little more than a large literature review. Of course, such a review is necessary and useful to say the least, but it should be noted that students and practitioners must have a basic understanding of broad linguistic theories and basic discourse analysis in order to fully implement its recommendations. Especially considering the extreme lack of instructional material available to a student of business discourse, this book is unique and highly effective in its display of business discourse as a field of study. The book would not be recommended to the novice researcher with little linguistic background, but should be directed towards those intending to apply the field of discourse analysis within the realm of institutions, whatever that institution may be.


Akar, D. (2002). The macro contextual factors shaping business discourse: The Turkish case. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching 40: 305-322.

Al-Ali, M. N. (2004). How to get yourself on the door of a job: A cross-cultural contrastive study of Arabic and English job application letters. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 25(1): 1-23.

Barbara, L. M., Celani, A. A., Collins, H., & Scott, M. (1996). A survey of communication patterns in the Brazilian business context. English for Specific Purposes 15(1): 57-71.

Bhatia, V. K., & Candlin, C. N. (Eds.) (2001). Teaching English to meet the needs of business education in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong.

Charles, M., & Marschan-Piekkari, R. (2002). Language training for enhanced horizontal communication: A challenge for MNCs. Business Communication Quarterly 65(2): 9-29.

Connor, U., Davis, K., De Rycker, T., Phillips, E. M., & Verkens, J. P. (1997). An international course in international business writing: Belgium, Finland, the United States. Business Communication Quarterly 60(4): 63-74.

ELAN (2006). Effects on the European Economy of Shortages of Foreign Language Skills in Enterprise. A Report prepared by CILT, the National Centre for Languages, for the European Commission. Principal Investigator: Stephen Hagen.
Hagen, S. (1993). Language in European business: A regional survey of small and medium-sized companies. London: Centre for Information on Languages Teaching and Research: City Technology Colleges Trust Ltd.

Hagen, S. (Ed.) (1999). Communication across borders The ELUCIDATE study. London: CILT.

Hoeken, H., van Brandt, C., Crijns, R., Domingues, N., Hendriks, B., Planken, B., & Starren, M. (2003). International advertising in Western Europose: Should differences in unvertainty avoidance be considered when advertising in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain? The Journal of Business Communication 40(3): 195-218.

Koester, A. (2004). The language of work. London & New York: Routledge.
Lavric, E. (Ed.) (2009). Sprachwahl in Unternehmen: Tiroler Fallstudien. Ergebnisse eines Projektseminars an der Leopold-Franzens-Universita?t Innsbruck. Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press.

Li So-mui, F. & Mead, K. (2000). An analysis of English in the workplace: The communication needs of textile and clothing merchandisers. English for Specific Purposes 19: 351-368.

Louhiala-Salminen, L., Charles, M., & Kankaanranta, A. (2005). English as a lingua franca in Nordic corporate mergers: Two case companies. English for Specific Purposes 24(4): 401-421.

Nickerson, C. & Planken, B. (2009). Europe: the state of the field. In: F. Bargiela-Chiappini (Ed.), The Handbook of Business Discourse (pp. 18-29). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Peck, J. J. (2000). The cost of corporate culture: Linguistic obstacles to gender equity in Australian business. In J. Holmes (Ed.), Gendered speech in social context: Perspectives from gown and town (pp. 211-230). Auckland: Victoria University Press.

Prasad, A., & Mir, R. (2002). Digging deep for meaning: A critical hermeneutic analysis of CEO letters to shareholders in the oil industry. Journal of Business Communication 39(1): 92-116.

Sarangi, S., & Candlin, C. N. (2003). Editorial. Trading between reflexivity and relevance: new challenges for applied linguistics. Applied Linguistics 24(3): 271-285.

Sarangi, S. & Roberts, C. (Eds.) (1999). Talk, work and institutional order: Discourse in medical, mediation and management settings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tannen, D. (1995). Talking from 9 to 5: Men and women at work. New York: Harper Paperbacks.

van Hest, E., & Oud-de Glas, M. (1991). A survey of the techniques used in the diagnosis and analysis of foreign language needs in trade and industry. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

van Mulken, M., & van der Meer, W. (2005). Are you being served? A genre analysis of American and Dutch company replies to customer enquiries. English for Specific Purposes 24: 93-109.


Brad B. Miller is a graduate student in the MA/PhD program in Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received an MA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University in 2013. His primary research focus deals with issues of social hierarchy and discourse in India, mainly dealing with issues of caste and language variation. Other areas of research include discourse in social and institutional hierarchies as well as language documentation and socio-neuroscience.

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