An Analysis of English Business Letters from the Perspective of Interpersonal Function

Article excerpt


The Purpose of the present study is to find out the features of English business letters. Halliday's systemic functional linguistics is used as the theoretical framework, mainly, interpersonal fucntion. The English business letter (EBL) is an important written text used for international business communication and it has its own features of text. This paper explores the interpersonal function of EBL in terms of mood, modality, interaction and negotiation and finds that EBL has its unique interpersonal features.

Keywords: English Business Letter, interpersonal function, mood, modality

1. Introduction

Communication has always been highly regarded in commercial circles. In line with the means of communication, business communication can be generally divided into two types: oral communication and written communication. Indeed, written business communication by means of business letters plays a very vital role in establishing and maintaining business relationships both within a firm and with external contacts.

Nowadays English business letter Texts (EBLTs) are indispensible in international trade. A growing number of people use EBLTs in business transaction. Universities and colleges in China offer the course of EBLTs writing to train students' EBL writing skill. To master the interpersonal features of EBLT is very beneficial for those who learn or use EBLTs.

The Purpose of the current paper is to find out the unique features of English business letters from the perspecitve of interpersonal function. Halliday's Systemic Functional Linguistics is employed as the theoretical framework, mainly, interpersonal function (Halliday, 2000). In the paper, the qualitative analysis is the major research method adopted for the study with a quantitative analysis as a supplement.

The English business letter (EBL) is an important written text used for international business communication and it has its own features of text (Chen Dongchun, 2003). Based on the core theory of Systemic Functional Linguistics, i.e. interpersonal function, the paper makes a interpersonal function analysis of the features of English Business Letter Text (EBLT). EBLTs have the salient feature of courtesy and consideration. In this paper, only body part of EBLT is analyzed in terms of mood, modality, interaction and negotiation. The corpora of the paper are composed of nine types of English business letter which are most frequently used in business transaction (16 EBLs are omitted). The corpora of the paper are selected from EBL textbooks both at home and abroad.

2. Literature Review

Many scholars both at home and abroad have conducted researches on English business letters. In China, Wang Xinguo (1997), Li Xuansong (1997), Chen Dongchun (2003), Li Ming (2004), Xu Ju (2004) and Li Junru (2006) conduct researches on EBLTs from the perspectives of linguistic features, textual structure, stylistic characteristics and genre analysis. Liu Jianfu (2004) explores one of the most important functions of language: phatic communion. He Wei & Pang Yunlin make a study of 30 English business letters communicating bad news, in order to reveal the linguistic devices realizing the interpersonal function (He Wei & Pang Yunlin, 2008).

Gimenez (2000) investigates whether the spoken nature of e-mail messages has already started to affect business written communication. He makes an analysis in respect of the register and context of the language and at the style used in commercial electronic mail. Leila Barbara et al do a survey of how English is used for various communication purposes in the Brazilian business setting, namely, different types of business organizations (Barbara, 1996).

Carla Vergaro (2002) conducts a research on discourse strategies in Italian and English money chasing letters. Carla Vergaro (2004) describes a contrastive study on rhetorical differences between Italian and English sales promotion letters. …


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