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Review of  Language at Work


Reviewer: Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky
Book Title: Language at Work
Book Author: Helen de Silva Joyce
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 27.4202

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote

SUMMARY

The volume “Language at Work: Analysing Language Use in Work, Education, Medical and Museum Contexts” by Helen de Silva Joyce brings together 13 chapters that reflect recent linguistic and broader multimodal research in a cross-section of institutions – museums, schools, defence, non-government organisations, universities, hospitals and corporations, as well as Asian-based call centres.

The book is divided into four parts, the titles of which indicate the broad context that the chapters explore in various ways. Part 1, “Language at Work in Workplace Contexts” is concerned with how language within the workplace is used to build customer relations, group solidarity, and partnerships between organisations. Part 2, “Language at Work in Education Contexts” ranges from broader perspectives on how institutional policy documents position teachers to implement curriculum change and how school-based professional development impacts on student outcomes to analysis of the day-to-day work of teachers and university lecturers. Part 3, “Language at Work in Medical Contexts’”focuses on how language in the routine processes of the hospital can put patients at risk, reinterprets the subjective experiences of medical and mental health patients and on how senior clinicians integrate their teaching role into discussions about patients. The final section, Part 4, “Language at Work in Museum Contexts” deals with the role of language in relation to museum visitors, how the visitor is constructed, informed and educated through museum texts, and what this means for social groups who are seen as “traditional museum patrons.”

Part I, “Language at Work in Workplace Contexts” opens with Chapter 1, “Innovations in Workplace Communications Assessment: Measuring Performance in Asian Call Centres” by Jane Lookwood, who demonstrates how subject matter experts and linguists worked together to develop ‘a quality assurance scorecard’ – incorporating pronunciation, lexico-grammatical choice, interactional and strategic language use and discourse − to use for ‘communication skills appraisal and diagnostic coaching feedback’. In Chapter 2, “Making it on the Team: Achieving Team Membership through Banter in Defence Work Context”, Elizabeth A. Thomson shifts the language focus to the role of everyday talk in aligning people around shared norms and building team membership. The analysis focuses on banter using a casual conversation network (Eggins and Slade, 1997) to identify turn-taking choices for player and non-player moves. Chapter 3, “The Language of Collaboration: NGOs and Corporations Working Together” by Theo Van Leeuwen, Ken Tann and Suzanne Benn considers the language of environmental partnerships between World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and two commercial organisations. Linguistic and recontextualisation analyses relate the micro-analysis of texts systematically to the macro-analysis of their contexts and provide an approach to evaluating what partnerships achieve.

Part II, “Language at Work in Education Contexts” begins with Chapter 4, “Developing Teachers’ Professional Knowledge for Discipline Literacy Instruction” by Sally Humphry and Lucy Macnaught. Drawing on surveys, linguistic analysis of teacher feedback to students and examples of classroom texts from the subject area of Technology and Applied Sciences, the authors investigate how literacy instruction can be integrated with what teachers recognise as core business content learning. Continuing the focus on education in Chapter 5, “Negotiating the Australian Curriculum: Exploring Institutional Policy through Textual Analysis”, Lesley Farrell and Ken Tann tackle the social effects of education policy. The authors map the ruling relations surrounding the curriculum documentation and apply the tools of Systemic Functional Linguistics to examine how the documentation positions stakeholders at various levels, and what this implies for teachers’ knowledge and practices. Chapter 6, “The Lecturer at Work: Language, the Body and Space in the Structuring of Disciplinary Knowledge in Law” by Susan Hood and Patricia Maggiora shifts to a particular university context (a law lecture) in which they explore how a lecturer’s verbal language and body language cooperate in the pedagogic task of building disciplinary knowledge. The study reveals that the lecturer’s position and movement can offer a meaningful potential to be exploited in scaffolding students in acquiring knowledge of their discipline and open space for the design and critique of renovations to teaching and learning in higher education. In Chapter 7, “The Literacy Demands of the Teaching Workplace”, Susan Feez shows teachers how to unpack for students the meanings made by language in order to help them learn the literacy practices of each subject area. For this purpose four teachers kept a literacy diary, noting the reading and writing they undertook in four categories: curriculum and teaching, student welfare, administration and other areas such as professional learning and accreditation. The participants’ responses imply that there are certain features of the teaching workplace that pose barriers to both teachers and students developing their literacy skills.

Part III, “Language at Work in Medical Contexts” highlights ineffective communication between clinicians and patients in hospitals, which is considered to be a well-recognized contribution to patient harm undergoing hospital care. In Chapter 8, “Potential Risk Points in Doctor-Patient Communication: An Analysis of Hong Kong Emergency Department Medical Consultations”, Diana Slade, Jack Pun, Graham Lock and Suzanne Eggins describe a research project that draws on tools of Social Functional Linguistics (SFL) to explore the links between risk, satisfaction, and communication in interactions (admission, diagnosis, examinations and consultation) between Hong Kong emergency department doctors and patients. The analysis of these interactions provides a useful first step in locating points of vulnerability or risk that may impact on patient safety and satisfaction. In Chapter 9, “As a Doctor, You’re Always Learning: Discourse Strategies Senior Clinicians Use to Teach Junior Clinicians on the Job”, Suzanne Eggins presents the ways in which senior doctors mentor junior doctors in Australian public hospitals through routine interactions, which are recorded and then analysed. The clinicians are seen to model key medical activities by thinking out loud with junior doctors, to interpose ad hoc teaching into interactions and to instruct through dialogic insertions sequences and shared completion of discourse. In the final medical chapter, Chapter 10, “Disciplinary Discourses: Contrasting Representations of the Patient in Medical and Mental Health Handover Interactions”, Suzanne Eggins, Nayia Cominos and John Walsh use critical social-functional linguistic analyses (e.g., the multi-voiced dissection of the patient, technicality and clinical nominalisations) to contrast how patients are represented in medical and mental health hospital handovers. The results indicate that in medical interactions the patient’s account is swamped by attributions from medical artefacts and experts, while in mental health handovers, the patient’s account is juxtaposed with conflicting accounts.

In the final part of the book, Part IV, “Language at Work in Museum Contexts”, three chapters deal with museums and museum visitors from different perspectives. In Chapter 11, “Designing in/Designing out: Literacies and the Construction of the Museum Visitor”, Jacqueline Widin and Keiko Yasukawa examine the literacy practices of traditional and non-traditional museum visitors and museum staff. The multi-layered research approach peeled back the layers of power relations the imbue museum practices and suggested literacy is a key design consideration for museums that are serious about transforming their visitor demographics. Jennifer Blunden in Chapter 12, “Boundary Riders: Museums, Language and the In-between”, focuses on spoken and written museum texts and describes how she worked with museum staff to make them aware of the impact of language in museum texts on the communication with the visitors.

The volume concludes with Chapter 13, “Family Matters in Museums” by Helen Whitty, who is concerned with non-mainstream museum visitors, not in terms of deficits but how these visitors engaged with what the museums offer. The author argues that museums can be performative spaces where assemblages of families, objects and texts are simultaneously demonstrating literacies and where researchers, like families, can creatively engage.

EVALUATION

Over recent decades, linguists have used various theoretical frameworks to investigate the language of workplace and public institutions, and this volume continues to expand into new social contexts by fulfilling various applied purposes, e.g., to improve communication within organisations and with external clients, and to develop communication and language training programmes.

One of the merits of the book is that although four different fields (workplace, education, hospital and museum) of organisational communication comprise the volume, the relationship among contributions is maintained. Also, the bibliographies at the end of each paper offer the reader ample opportunities to further explore the topic. Not only is the book an interesting read for scholars, teachers, and students of linguistics, but it is also very beneficial to business professionals and readers who are interested in organisational communication.

It is always invaluable to have authentic documents (e.g., student response to a Year 7 Industrial Arts worksheet (p. 75) or a teacher’s literacy diary (p. 136) incorporated in a research article, however, the scanning process of Figure 4. 2. (Chapter 4) has made the document fairly illegible. Perhaps a sample self-reflection sheet accompanied with the answers to the specific questions would have been a better solution to display the student’s feedback.

“A lecturer at work” (Chapter 6) might be of particular interest for university lecturers as it provides an exceptionally interesting approach to conveying knowledge through verbal and non-verbal communications in live lectures, which the majority of lecturers might not be aware of.

The discourse practices of hospitals and museums raise the question whether it is the language that is an issue or there might be some other problems for which language is to be blamed. The book makes us understand the language in these settings, which can also help both teachers and people working within the context.

All in all, the volume edited by Helen de Silva Joyce is a worthwhile read and welcome contribution to the fast-evolving field of organisational communication. The chapters will be of interest to students and scholars of linguistics, language teachers, museum curators, trainers and educators, in addition to the general reader interested in organisational communication. The book is of manageable size, well-organised and referenced, clearly worded, useful and opens new avenues for future research and study.

REFERENCES

Eggins, S. & Slade, D. (1997). Analysing casual conversation. London: Equinox.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky is Associate Professor in the English Department at Budapest Business School, College of International Management and Business. Her research interests include discourse analysis, intercultural communication, digital communication and English for Specific Purposes. She has published on business communication, intercultural communication and politeness issues in business emails.

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Format: Hardback
ISBN: 1443887110
ISBN-13: 9781443887113
Pages: 296
Prices: U.K. £ 47.99
U.S. $ 81.95