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2003 - prot. no. 2003103478


Diachronic and diatypical variation in the discourse of business and economics: forms and functions of evaluation

National Coordination: prof. Marina Bondi (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia)



Project of the University of Bergamo




Consistently with the plan agreed with the other research units, this project aims to follow a multidisciplinary and multi-methodological approach. The primary objective is to collect a series of authentic and previously unpublished texts relating to business correspondence in English (letters, notes, contracts, memoranda, etc.), in order to create a representative corpus whose encoders and recipients may be native or non-native speakers. The time span to which these texts belong goes from the early nineteenth century to the present day, so as to allow a subsequent investigation of the changes that have taken place in the textual organization of business discourse. This corpus, for the creation of which it will also be necessary to acquire texts on microfilm available in foreign libraries, will be analysed in the second part of the project, in order to identify what pragmatic strategies are employed to negotiate meaning and create solidarity between the interlocutors, so that the encoder may achieve its perlocutionary intent.

In all its phases, the project aims to establish links with the initiatives promoted by CERLIS, the research centre on LSP created at the University of Bergamo, so as to obtain results that may subsequently be compared with the results of previous studies relating to different linguistic contexts. Our study will thus be coordinated and methodologically homogeneous with the strategies developed within the Bergamo research unit and with the work carried out by the other research units involved in the national project.

The computerised corpus created by the research unit will have a modular structure, in order to facilitate the comparison between data collected by the different research units, and to allow their mutual integration. A particularly important stage of the diachronic investigation of the corpus will involve the comparison between the ‘model’ texts analysed by the Florence research unit and the authentic texts studied by the Bergamo research unit. One of the products of our research will certainly be a CD-ROM on which the corpus itself will be made available – this will be a new research tool of great importance, related to other tools already available or in preparation at other European research centres for the study of private correspondence (e.g. the Corpus of Scottish Correspondence and the Corpus of Early English Correspondence, both in preparation at the University of Helsinki, and the Innsbruck Corpus of Correspondence). An important difference, however, will be the diatypic specificity of our object of investigation. On the other hand, especially as far as historical documents are concerned, private correspondence will not be totally neglected; in fact, it will have to be discussed in relation to the specific cultural value that it had in the Victorian age, as nineteenth -century business correspondence could comprise personal annotations, depending on the relationship that existed between the interlocutors. The study of the changes that have taken place on the macro- and micro-textual levels will first of all concentrate on the strategies that convey positive and negative politeness.

From the point of view of social and geographical variation, as far as 19th-century documents are concerned, special attention will be given to the Scottish cultural area, in the context of which the processes of linguistic standardization have often been influenced by remarkable normative pressures. As for present-day texts, the research will focus on documents encoded within small and medium enterprises, so as to study the impact of English as a lingua franca in a socio-economic context within which it is more likely to witness the possible tension existing between a tendency to the internationalisation of discourse and, at the same time, the wish to safeguard the specificity of the cultural context within which encoders and recipients find themselves to operate.

In the second stage of the project the corpus will be analysed contrastively (19th-century vs. present-day texts) and multi-dimensionally (discourse functions, lexis, syntax, semantic and pragmatic values). Our investigation will include the distribution of information, inclusiveness and semantic transparency. We shall also analyse the macrostructure of the texts under investigation, which is articulated in sub-genres and other diatypic elements.

The results of our research will be discussed at the international conferences in which the components of the research unit will take part, and will be published in the proceedings of the above-mentioned conferences or in international scientific journals. More specifically, in 2004 members of the Bergamo research unit participated in the following events:

  1. 25th ICAME Conference (Verona 19-23 May 2004), Marina Dossena, ‘MILK and COCOA: how many tags for a diachronic ESP corpus?’
  2. 6th European Convention of the Association for Business Communication (Milan 20-22 May 2004), panel led by Maurizio Gotti (with Paul Gillaerts) on ‘Genre Variation in Business Letters’;
  3. 13th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL, Vienna 23-28 August 2004), workshop led by Marina Dossena (with Susan Fitzmaurice) on ‘Diachronic Perspectives on ESP – The case of business and official correspondence from ME to LModE’; the workshop included the following papers:
    1. Marina Dossena: ‘Stance and Authority in Nineteenth-century Bank Correspondence – a case study’;
    2. Richard Dury: ‘A Corpus of Nineteenth-Century Business Correspondence: Methodology of Transcription’;
    3. Maurizio Gotti: ‘Communal correspondence in Early Modern English’.

The workshop proceedings will include other scholars’ contributions and will be published by Peter Lang (Bern) in 2005.

In addition, methods and data will be discussed at the LSP Conference 2005 (Bergamo, 29 Aug. – 2 Sept. 2005) within which another workshop will be held, led by Marina Dossena and Irma Taavitsainen.



Project results:

Linguistic Insights Vol. 15

Linguistic Insights Vol. 32