LINGUIST List 32.2843

Tue Sep 07 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis; Sociolinguistics: Kong (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 01-Aug-2021
From: Md Mijanur Rahman <>
Subject: Professional Discourse
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Kenneth Kong
TITLE: Professional Discourse
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Md Mijanur Rahman, California State University, Los Angeles, USA


The book, “Professional Discourse” by Kenneth Kong (2019), is an advanced scholarly applied linguistics text for those interested in analyzing discourse, especially written ones, in professional settings. In 10 chapters, the book not only provides a theory-rich description of what various professional discourse analysis frameworks could look like but also incorporates these frameworks in actual analysis of written professional discourse. Structurally speaking, on top of an introduction (Chapter 1), the book’s remaining 9 chapters are organized into three distinct parts: Part 1 – “Conceptual issues” (Chapter 2), Part II – “Linguistic realizations” (Chapters 3-5), and Part III – “Functions and global patterns” (Chapters 6-10).

Chapter 1, “Introduction”, theorizes the concept of professional discourse as a set of variable communication (mainly writing) practices across domains, seeing them as a historical construct, a tool for socializing into different (often overlapping) professional communities, and an instrument for performing ones’ professional selves. A big chunk of the chapter is devoted to identifying seven key characteristics shared by all professional discourses: reflection of some professional training, complex negotiation of social relationships, use of “logical-semantic devices” (p. 15), articulation of complex goals/purposes, intertextuality and interdiscursivity, a predictable pattern, and multimodality. The chapter also addresses the factors responsible for variation in professional discourse, which range from specific professional domains and their unique histories, complex goals, impacts of the communication channel (whether speech or writing), to cultural factors like institutional affiliation, gender identity, and ethnic backgrounds. The chapter ends with an articulation of the book’s intended audience and the chapter organization.

Chapter 2, entitled “Profession as a symbolic community: the different dimensions of professional discourse”, constitutes Part I of the book – “Conceptual issues”. The chapter establishes the book’s conceptual basis through a review of the relevant literature (e.g., Swales, 1990; Wenger, 1998) to propose an alternative model for conceptualizing a professional community. The review mainly problematizes John Swales’s view of a discourse community (1990), for example, by arguing for a replacement of Swales’s implicit ideals of a unified community with a notion of professional struggles for hegemony, also substituting Swales’s notion of a “broadly agreed upon public goals” (1990, p. 24) with shared functions to represent the social and variable nature of what people do in a professional community. Seeing language as a means towards an end rather than an end in itself, the chapter further proposes a sociocultural view of professional communities by highlighting its activities (“motives, actions, conditions and means”) rather than language conventions (p. 46), while also adding knowledge as a key criterion in such a description. The chapter also encapsulates the entire theoretical discussion by defining a symbolic community as “a meaningful group or social network with shared membership, knowledge, ideology, values, interpersonal positions, activities and resources” that are mediated by symbolic resources like language (p. 49). In the end, the chapter provides a four-dimensional checklist of questions: ideological, social, cognitive, and logistic, in order to help researchers analyze a profession’s contextual and socially-situated nature.

Part II – “Linguistic realizations” contains three chapters (Chapters 3, 4, and 5), each focusing, in a unique way, on how local level lexico-grammatical choices can be shown to represent a professional’s ideologies and identities.

For example, Chapter 3, entitled “Ideology in professional discourse”, defines ideology in its non-pejorative sense as a profession’s unique beliefs and concepts with three overlapping dimensions: cognitive, social, and representational. The chapter argues for locating these ideological issues in the sentence-level lexical choices of a profession’s representative genres of writing by using a systemic functional linguistic approach to discourse analysis. The author also examines three main devices of professional discourse: 1. participants (representation of human and non-human discourse subjects using strategies like (im)personalization, inclusion and exclusion, passivization, and nominalization), 2. circumstantial adjuncts (adverbials expressing notions like time, place, manner, and condition), and 3. process analysis (a semantic analysis of action, mental, relational, and verbal processes). The discussion also involves a focused case study for each category: legal and medical case reports for participants, legal ordinances in the U.S. and China for circumstantial adjuncts, and two fund commentaries for process analysis, all showing a profession’s realization of its ideology in their lexical and syntactic preferences.

Chapter 4, entitled “Communicative competence in the professional workplace: an identity-based perspective”, builds on the applied linguistics tradition on a second language learner’s communicative competence in the target language to come up with a theory of communicative practices in professional settings, which highlights the strategic nature of communicative competence and the dominant role played by the professionals’ identities. Focusing on identity’s constructed and performative natures mediated by language, the author foregrounds two aspects of professional identities: identity roles and identity virtues, in which the roles refer to the relatively stable aspects of a professional’s multiple selves whereas the identity virtues represent an individual’s more dynamic and negotiable positionalities in workplace settings. The chapter also illustrates the analytical categories by focusing on the multiple roles of a single legal professional through an analysis of a lawyer’s letters of advice. The analysis looks at the local level linguistic realizations, like those of lexico-grammatical choices, as a device to construct the lawyer’s roles as representing an institution, advising with expert knowledge, advocating for a client, and interpreting the relevant laws for a specific setting.

Chapter 5, entitled “A model of interpersonal negotiation in professional discourse”, continues the discussion of identity virtues started in Chapter 4 to show how people construct their professional identities and how discourse analysts can locate these practices linguistically. The major part of the chapter reviews, problematizes, and proposes revisions to the literature on language functions (e.g., by saying that the interactional function is inextricable from the transactional function), on (im)politeness (starting from Brown and Levinson’s strategic politeness theories to Culpeper’s notions of impoliteness), on stances and their relationship to professional socializations, and on the complexity of linguistic indexicality. The chapter ends with an analysis of academic confrontational discourse in a chain of three journal articles in applied linguistics to illustrate the performance of professional identity virtues in local level linguistic realizations.

Part III, entitled “Functions and global patterns”, comprises five chapters (Chapters 6-10) and brings up analytical issues that often go beyond the immediate text.

The author utilizes Chapter 6, entitled “Speech functions”, to relate two key pragmatic theories (i.e., speech acts and the cooperative principle) to show how professional discourse has been and can be analyzed. Distinguishing pragmatics from semantics through the pragmaticists’ focus on the meanings of utterances influenced by contextual factors, the chapter first reviews the theories of speech acts, both Austin’s tri-partite description of utterances as locution, illocution, and perlocution (1975) and Searle’s classification of speech act types in representatives, directives, commissives, expressives, and declarations (1975). Then the chapter presents Grice’s cooperative principle and its attendant four maxims of conversations: quantity, quality, relation, and manner (1975). These theoretical descriptions are followed by an examination of, first, some studies that analyzed the professional discourse by using different types of speech acts as a unit of analysis along the lines of Searle, and then some other studies based on the Gricean cooperative principle. The chapter also addresses some of Grice’s critics, especially those seeking to revise his theories to accommodate cross-cultural variation in performing professional discourse and identities.

Chapter 7, entitled “Intertextuality”, highlights the complexities of different types of discourses: professional, institutional, and business, by bringing to the fore the concept of intertextuality. Seeing intertextuality as a kind of recontextualization that incorporates materials (textual elements, discourses, and conversations) from one context into another, the chapter identities three types of recontextualization: intratextual (occurring within the same text), intertextual (occurring among multiple texts), and interdiscursive (the taking over of one genre by another). The chapter offers a model for studying different types of recontextualization through the lenses of explicit and implicit, modalized and unmodalized assertions, and assumptions. The chapter also illustrates the analytical concepts of recontextualization by tracing voices of academics in performance-appraisal discourses in universities, depersonalization and indirectness in a journal’s notes to contributors, and the discourses of business in a university’s promotion of an academic program.

Chapter 8, entitled “Genre and text patterning”, first engages with and builds on the four traditions of genre studies (i.e., The New Rhetoric School, The English for Specific Purpose School, The Sydney School, and the Cultural-Anthropological Tradition), with a focus on professional contexts. The review emphasizes genres’ contextually-situated and dynamic natures and their roles in society and culture, while also pointing out the pedagogical applications of the move analysis in written genres. The second part of the chapter illustrates the theoretical discussion by analyzing four distinct but often overlapping genre categories: promotional, regulatory, negotiation, and reporting, with case studies of professional written genres across cultures.

Chapter 9 entitled “Multimodality”, focuses on the presence of visual elements in written discourse, reviewing the literature on visual signs and their varying relationships with the verbal content in a text. The author also develops a taxonomy of linguistic functions that one could look for in analyzing texts with visuals in it. The taxonomy further specifies and adds to the systemic functional linguistics classification of ideational, interpersonal, and textual functions to capture the complexity of visually rich professional discourse. The chapter ends with an application of the taxonomy in analyzing an image heavy travel brochure for a tourist spot in India.

In the book’s final chapter (i.e., Chapter 10), entitled “Conclusion”, the author wraps up the book by outlining some real and potential changes affecting the studies of professional discourse in recent times, which include the overemphasis on discrete professional contexts, the need for incorporating the practitioner’s expertise in discourse analysis projects, and the shift in analytical focus from texts to activities. The chapter ends with thought-provoking questions about the linguistic impacts of the changes in professional practices, such as the emphasis on the professional “own” self, the development of home offices, the pervasive nature of promotional language, and the shifts in professional ideologies and technologies.


“Professional Discourse” provides an insightful description of what professional discourse, especially in its written medium, looks like across a variety of professional domains and how one can analyze it.

A major strength of the book is that it exhibits how discourse analysis, professional or not, is not a monolithic or uniform act of meaning making. It is rather a variable practice that can take many forms, as analysts may ask a variety of questions befitting their projects. The focus on specific sub-topics of discourse analysis in each chapter (e.g., professional ideologies in Chapter 3, professional identity performance in Chapters 4 and 5, linguistic functions in Chapter 6, intertextuality in Chapter 7, genre features in Chapter 8, and multimodality in Chapter 9) covers a wide array of perspectives from which one can analyze professional written discourse.

Moreover, most of the chapters maintain a similarly structured progression of ideas, starting from a review of the relevant theoretical developments in a specific content area, problematizing some key aspects of those theories to accommodate a more complex and sophisticated understanding of discourse, using the theoretical discussion to develop a model analytical framework, to then actually applying that model in written discourse analysis. This consistent combination of theory and practice, especially the hands-on approach, as reflected in a series of case studies in multiple chapters, makes this text stand out.

Interestingly, the book also poses some thought-provoking questions for future research at the end (in Chapter 10), which relate, somewhat prophetically, to recent developments in the professions. These questions surround the development of home offices, an increasing emphasis on the autonomous growth of professionals (one cannot help thinking about the dominant work-from-home trends in recent times due to the coronavirus pandemic), and how these new developments could affect people’s performance of their professional selves in language. Future discourse researchers can build on these questions.

That being said, the book is theory-heavy. There are actual analyses in most chapters, but they involve a plethora of new terms being introduced each time, which may make it rather inaccessible to readers who may not have had any prior linguistic training. The reviews in each chapter are also extensive in terms of coverage, meaning that scores of authors have been put in the mix to develop the theoretical arguments. Each chapter presents almost all major works done in different areas of linguistics, especially discourse analysis, pragmatics, and genre studies. But this coverage comes at the cost of creating an extra cognitive burden on the reader, who will have to make sense of a large body of work and terms in such a brief space. The author, however, did explicitly mention early on that advanced teachers and scholars are the book’s intended audience and that anyone interested in further understanding can follow up with the references at the end of each chapter.

Furthermore, professional discourse can be seen as an interdisciplinary area of studies. People from rhetoric and composition or technical and professional writing can equally claim expertise in how professional discourse could be conceptualized and analyzed. But the target audience for this book remains those in the applied linguistics tradition, as the theories consulted come overwhelmingly from the scholarship of language teaching. This orientation becomes especially clear in Chapter 4, where professional competence is defined in terms of communicative competence in English language teaching.

Finally, the book can be used as a key text in any advanced course or graduate level seminar in discourse analysis or as a special topic in applied linguistics, especially for those interested in the English for Specific Purpose tradition of learning about and examining professional written discourse.


Austin, John L. 1975. “How to do things with words”. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Brown, Penelope and Stephen C. Levinson. 1987. “Politeness: Some universals in language use”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Culpeper, Jonathan. 1996. Toward an anatomy of impoliteness. “Journal of Pragmatics” 25. 349-367.

Grice, H. Paul. 1975. Logic and conversation. In Peter Cole & Jerry L. Morgan (eds.), “Syntax and semantics, Volume III: Speech acts”, 41-58. New York: Academic Press.

Searle, John R. 1975. A taxonomy of illocutionary acts. In Keith Gunderson (ed.), “Language, mind, and knowledge”, 344-369. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Swales, John M. 1990. “Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, Etienne. 1998. “Communities of practice”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Dr. Md Mijanur Rahman is an Assistant Professor of Writing Studies (Multilingualism/Translingualism) in the Department of English at California State University, Los Angeles. He completed his Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University. A teacher-scholar, he brings in interdisciplinary expertise in Applied Linguistics and Writing Studies, teaching courses in both these areas. His research primarily addresses the issues of language differences in writing classrooms and the social justice implications of language diversity in the workplace, the school system, and the public life. He also holds Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in English from the University of Rajshahi.

Page Updated: 07-Sep-2021