Playing the corporate language game

An investigation of the genres and discourse strategies in English used by Dutch writers working in multinational corporations


An increasing number of business people are regularly required to communicate effectively and efficiently in a language that is not their own. The tasks that international business writers carry out, have therefore become a recent focus of attention for communication researchers and language practitioners, particularly within multinational corporations where the majority of the workforce needs to communicate both in English and the local language. Playing the Corporate Language Game explores the relationship between context and text and presents a comprehensive framework for the investigation of the communication practices that are currently in use in international business. It includes an extensive survey of multinational corporations in the Netherlands, and it goes on to present a detailed analysis of the genres and discourse strategies that could be identified in a large corpus of authentic documents written by Dutch and British writers, consisting of letters, reports and e-mail messages. There is detailed discussion throughout, of those aspects of national and corporate culture that impact the evolution and linguistic realisation of business genres in multinational, multilingual settings. This volume will be of interest to students and researchers of applied linguistics and business communication, and all those concerned with Language for Specific Purposes, and the interface between local languages and International Business English.

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Catherine Nickerson worked for five years as a language trainer for the Dutch business community before joining the Business Communication Studies department at the University of Nijmegen in 1993. Her research interests include the use of written genres in multinational corporate contexts and the interface between local languages and International Business English.
”Scholars and researchers interested in genre analysis, intercultural business communication, and e-mail communication will find Catherine Nickerson’s book fascinating and rewarding. An astonishing amount of data has been analyzed … [Nickerson] is correct in her assessment that “there has been little or no previous research on the nature of authentic e-mail communication produced by corporate writers who do not speak or write English as a first language”(p. 139). I, for one, am exited to have work like Nickerson’s available.” – Mark. F. Schaub, in: The Journal of Business Communication 37:4, October 2000
“Ground-breaking … readable … Stimulating … [a] decisive step forward for further genre-based research in business communication” in: Tijdschrift voor Taalbeheersing Vol. 23, No. 1, March 2001
“ presents a comprehensive framework for the investigation of the communication practices that are currently in use in international business.” in: Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts
1 Introduction 1.1 The use of English in the Netherlands 1.2 Previous studies 1.2.1 Needs analysis surveys 1.2.2 Ethnographic accounts 1.2.3 Genre studies of organisational communication 1.2.4 Cross-cultural and intercultural discourse 1.3 The study 1.3.1 Research aims 1.3.2 Analytical framework 1.3.3 Research methods and respondents 1.4 Overview of the study 2 Literature review 2.1 Social constructionism 2.2 Genre 2.3 Structuration 2.4 Conclusion 3 Analytical framework 3.1 Context and situation 3.2 Genre characteristics 3.3 The analysis of discourse 3.4 Conclusion 4 Contextual factors affecting the use of written English within British subsidiaries in the Netherlands 4.1 The relevance of corporate culture 4.2 The relevance of corporate activity 4.3 Operationalisation of contextual factors 4.3.1 Factors related to corporate culture 4.3.2 Factors related to corporate activity 4.3.3 Additional communication patterns 4.4 The survey 4.4.1 The respondents 4.4.2 Results and discussion 4.5 Summary and conclusions 5 Genres used by Dutch writers at British subsidiary companies 5.1 The corpus of documents 5.1.1 General characteristics 5.1.2 Participants 5.1.3 Communicative goals, substance and structure 5.2 Recurrent situations, exigences and rhetorical action 5.2.1 Communication with Head Office and internally 5.2.2 Communication with other subsidiaries, service providers and customers 5.2.3 Summary of findings 5.3 Conclusion 6 Discourse strategies used by Dutch writers at British subsidiary companies 6.1 Detailed analysis of genre I 6.1.1 Data selection 6.1.2 Medium and layout 6.1.3 Discourse structure: moves and strategies 6.2 Rhetorical strategies 6.2.1 Intertextuality 6.2.2 Interpersonal strategies 6.3 Conclusion 7 Genres and discourse strategies used by Dutch and British writers in internal e-mail communication 7.1 Previous studies on the use of electronic media 7.1.1 The use of different media by corporations 7.1.2 E-mail as a genre of organisational communication 7.2 Data and data collection 7.3 Findings and discussion 7.3.1 Message types, participants and code 7.3.2 Situations, actions, substance and form 7.3.3 Discourse: Textualisations, organisation and strategies 7.4 Conclusion 8 Conclusion 8.1 The genres and discourse strategies used by Dutch writers in English 8.1.1 Context 8.1.2 Situation 8.1.3 Genre 8.1.4 Discourse 8.1.5 Summary of findings 8.2 Limitations of the study and suggestion for further research 8.3 The implications of the study for research into organisational discourse 8.4 The implications of the study for the teaching of business English Notes References Appendix 1: Questionnaire 1 Appendix 2: Questionnaire 2