Università di Bergamo > Cerlis > English Version > Projects > Intercultural Discourse in Domain Specific English





Anno 2002 - prot . 2002104353




Project of the University of Milan


Intercultural communication in business settings: linguistic aspects


This research unit will focus on English used for communication in business, an area in which English represents a means of contact and interaction among people from different cultures, allowing concrete common goals to be negotiated and achieved. In this scenario, the recurrent use of English - while guaranteeing an international and global dimension - is necessarily culturally marked and consequently requires some kind of adaptation on the part of interactants . This can have a noticeable effect on linguistic choices, or else it can lead to situations where the apparent understanding between members of different cultures conceals actual differences or confusion related to the identity and discourse practices of the speaker or writer, possibly having a negative impact.

These issues are present both in the case of negotiations and in face-to-face communication in general. They can also be found in written texts, which, beyond the apparent surface uniformity tied to the specific field, are influenced at the rhetorical and textual level by the cognitive patterns and discourse conventions of the ethnolinguistic community of the speakers or writers. These issues concern not only the language used, but also the different way of managing communication in different cultures and the patterns of interpersonal behavior in general.

In the first stage, the project will focus mainly on collecting authentic materials, not always easy to obtain in the business setting because companies’ permission is required to collect data and use them for research purposes.

For spoken interactions in business settings, the recording and transcription of several “cases” in which Italians interact in English with members of other cultures (both native and non-native speakers) is planned. It is hoped that some of the researchers can personally attend the communicative events (meetings, negotiations, etc.). Should the quantity of naturally occurring data be considered insufficient, or if areas worthy of more in-depth investigation are identified, ad hoc simulated sessions will be organized. Data transcription will follow TEI guidelines to guarantee the machine readability of the transcribed oral texts. In addition, a text-only untagged version will be made available to allow computer queries by means of software programmes such as Wordsmith Tools. Ideally the corpus of transcriptions should be accompanied by audio recordings and, if possible, video recordings.

In addition, a corpus of authentic written texts will be collected (standard business correspondence, reports, memoranda and bulletins, written records, financial statements, planning and budgeting documents of various types). These texts will have been written in English respectively by Italians, by native speakers of English (British, American or of other nationalities) and by native speakers of other European languages.

In the second stage, these materials will be analysed to find variations in the general use of language, which is often marked in the case of non native speakers, as well as differences due to cultural background and to discourse conventions prevailing in the particular business or corporate cultures. Particular attention will be given to structural differences in the various textual genres, examining the configuration and rhetorical organization, recurrent stylistic features as well as the particular characteristics of the different discourse types within each genre.

The theoretical approaches to be used will mainly draw on contrastive rhetoric, textual linguistics, pragmatics and Critical Discourse Analysis, in addition to corpus linguistics. For oral interactions, discourse analytic approaches will also be used.

As concerns the results, this research will hopefully give a significant contribution to the study of the use of English in international business communication, thus integrating the results obtained by the other research Units for other domains. The investigation will also result in major benefits in the field of business communication training in English. A selection of the materials collected, accompanied by appropriate commentaries and exercises, will be developed and made available both in printed form and in CD-ROM format for pedagogical use in academic as well as in professional settings.