Europe: Oral Business Communication

By Charles, Mirjaliisa | Business Communication Quarterly, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Europe: Oral Business Communication


Charles, Mirjaliisa, Business Communication Quarterly


Research on oral business communication in Europe is deeply rooted in the multicultural and multilingual reality of the continent. Most European businesspeople (with the possible exception of the British) must use at least one foreign language to do business. For most, that foreign language is English - with French and German having clear significance. It is no surprise, therefore, that European business communication research is closely linked with the needs of foreign language learning and teaching. Indeed, instead of speaking about business communication, researchers, teachers, and trainers frequently use the terms Business English (BE) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP), and business communication is typically taught under those labels. (For an informative survey of the use of various umbrella terms see Johnson, 1993; Dudley-Evans & St. John, 1996; Crandall, 1984.) Within this context, European researchers study three broad areas: (1) the language and discourse of business events; (2) communication flows and systems, linguistic auditing, and needs analyses; and (3) language acquisition and language learning. This article concentrates on the first area, in which studies proliferate, and includes the addresses for pertinent Websites and contact information about conferences as well as research and teaching projects.

The Language and Discourse of Business Events

The business events drawing by far the most research attention are various forms of sales interaction, essentially negotiations and business meetings. This reflects a close link between research and teaching, as these events are particularly challenging for non-native speakers of English. This section briefly describes methods for researching sales interactions and reviews significant European literature on the topic.

Methods

Most studies use linguistic methods; three approaches are easily identified. One is conversation analysis, based on the work of Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson (e.g., 1974) and supplemented by ethnographic methodology. Such studies have greatly benefited from Drew and Heritage's recent work in applied linguistics (1992; see also Heritage, 1987). Researchers tend to focus on oral business communication as a conversation jointly created by the interactants, with the analyst aiming to reveal regularities within that process.

A second approach is discourse and genre analysis. One source of discourse analysis is the seminal work of the Birmingham linguists Sinclair and Coulthard (1975). Swales (1990; see also Johns, 1986; Dudley-Evans, 1989; Bhatia, 1993) is the leading proponent of genre analysis. Oral business communication events are seen as instances of specific business discourse, often with specific structures and generic features. A third approach is rhetorical analysis. Rhetorical studies view oral business communication events as culturally bound interactions and aim to identify cultural similarities and differences.

These approaches at times blend and overlap. In addition, many researchers incorporate methods from marketing, management, and social and organizational psychology (see, for example, Holden & Uljin, 1992; Charles & Charles, 1996). For an informative discussion of terminology and methodology, see Ehlich (1992) and Wagner (1993). The annual ENCoDe conference provides an interesting forum for researchers in this field (www.kueichstaett.de/docs/wwf/sprachren/encode.htm). The Nordic LSP Network also organizes postgraduate seminars and conferences.

Representative European Studies

European research relevant to oral business communication surged at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. The first study to use negotiation data actually recorded in a company and, indeed, the first comprehensive linguistically oriented study was Lampi (1986). This study marks an early effort to bring findings into linguistics from nonlinguistic negotiation research, especially social psychology. …

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