Pragmatics of business communication

Effective strategies appear to encompass certain critical success factors. Locutionary speech act. The specificity of business context. Successful business communication. Аcquire specific manners of communication. Business pragmalinguistic competence.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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УДК 81.27:811.111

N. O. Gulivets

Pragmatics of business communication

The word `communication' comes from Latin `to share' and means the activity of transferring information by means of exchanging thoughts or messages by speech, behavior, visuals, or signals. The process of economic globalization has brought the necessity of a language being used in economic and social interactions concerning trade, commerce, management, marketing, investment, finance, etc. In business, communication is carried out to inform and persuade. “Business discourse is all about how people communicate using talk or writing in commercial organizations in order to get their work done” [1, p. 3].

The general aim of the present paper is to reveal how a pragmatic approach is employed in research of business communication in context and how it deals with not only textual issues but also with extra-textual (business) context bringing into focus the complexities of the professional situation in which the communicative process occurs.

The more definite goal of the paper corresponds to the urgent specifics of the modern economic development which requires an up-to-date analysis of the business contexts and communication activities being present in them. The new approach to business communication implies formulating central concepts essential to business pragmatics which, in turn, is usually evaluative. Thus, it is important to identify contextual parameters that determine successful business interactions and to estimate the strategic behaviors that are associated with success. Successful business communication depends on business people who are pragmatically competent in business contexts. Therefore, the central concepts of business pragmatics are business context and business pragmatic competence.

As a result of global economic instability, managers have to identify and implement appropriate strategies to ensure survival of their businesses in response to market and contextual uncertainties. The proposed paper analyzes and discusses these issues with the emphasis on the pragmatic competence.

In business communication, business interactions are related to critical notions such as success, reaching business and interpersonal goals, or building and maintaining fruitful relationships.

Effective strategies appear to encompass certain critical success factors such as:

- clear, decisive objectives;

- maintaining the initiative;

- concentration;

- flexibility;

- coordinated and committed leadership;

- surprise;

- security [2, p. 4].

Thus, it clearly reveals that within the framework of contemporary research on business communication, the linguistic aspect is frequently intertwined with the non-linguistic one.

In cultural and intercultural research [3; 4], the language of the interaction plays a role. The European multilingualism and multiculturalism as integral substitutes of European research of business communication have been a part of international research of business communication [1, p. 26 - 28; 5; 6]; Asian business discourse studies are reflected in [7]; in North America, business communication research is strongly rooted in rhetoric [8, p. 27] and other concerns for research are disciplinary identities and boundaries [1, p. 28; 9].

Pragmatics is an integral part of linguistics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [10] describes the facts which pragmatics deals with:

- Facts about the objective facts of the utterance, including: who the speaker is, when the utterance occurred, and where.

- Facts about the speaker's intentions. On the near side, what language the speaker intends to be using, what meaning he intends to be using, whom he intends to refer to with various shared names.

- Facts about beliefs of the speaker and those to whom he speaks, and the conversation they are engaged in; what beliefs they share; what the focus of the conversation is, what they are talking about, etc.

- Facts about relevant social institutions, such as promising, marriage ceremonies, courtroom procedures, and the like, which affect what a person accomplishes in or by saying what he does.

While interpreting and using utterances depending on the shared knowledge of the real world, it is necessary to use and understand the speech acts, i.e. utterances as functional units in communication:

Locutionary speech act (the literal / conceptual meaning conveyed by the particular words and structures which the utterance contains): As costs in central and eastern Europe inch up, Ukraine is starting to see new investment, particularly in information technology outsourcing, exploiting the country's strong tradition of technical education. Last year, the sector employed about 25,000people [11]. Here, performing a locutionary act, the speaker intends to give information (Ukraine is starting to see new investment) and description (Last year, the sector employed about 25,000 people).

Illocutionary meaning, or force: Brazil, which has high forex reserves relative to its short-term foreign debt, is not listed as at risk. India, Turkey and South Africa - countries with among the highest current account deficits - are more at risk. Ukraine rings alarm bells for any investor. It flags up all three warning signals: a big foreign debt, a large current account deficit and low levels of forex reserves. This may explain why the country now seems nervous about signing a trade deal with the EU and straining its ties with Russia, its main source of imports and exports [12]. The illocutionary force identifies the effect the utterance has on the hearer / reader. Here, saying is doing and doing is warning (Ukraine rings alarm bells for any investor. It flags up all three warning signals...). Understanding the illocutionary force of an utterance means achieving pragmatic competence which is a key concept of business communication.

Perlocutionary act (the particular effect the speaker's utterance has on the hearer, who might feel amused, persuaded, warned, etc.): Jorge Zukoski, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, says: “If the agreements are properly implemented, the required reforms are undertaken and the new legislative framework is properly enforced, the amount of investment by both domestic and international companies will be staggering ” [13]. According to Austin [14, p. 121], “...a perlocutionary act is an act performed by saying something, and not in saying something. Persuading, angering, inciting, comforting and inspiring are often perlocutionary acts.” As it may be seen, in this particular example we come across a case of persuading which further on can cause psychological changes in the audience, either in their states or behavior.

Being a study of language is use, pragmatics is characterized by the study of linguistic choices, context, and language users' intention with the purpose of making sense of language use in different types of context. In this sense, “pragmatics is a very useful tool in business discourse research because business discourse is a site of communication where language plays a subtle role in negotiating human relationships, and hence, the outcomes of a transaction” [15, p. 241]. Therefore, pragmatics is a disciplinary perspective on business discourse research.

Chen, Cramer & Kojima [16] first use the term “business pragmatics” when examining how far culture-specific traits persist or change in both American and Japanese business people who have business interactions. Later on, Shaw [17] introduces the term “prescriptive business pragmatics”, which describes how various transactions should be carried out, teaching people how to perform functions like giving presentations, negotiating, and serving customers. In general, business pragmatics can be defined as the study of language use in business interactions.

It is safe to say that previous business discourse research is mostly success-oriented. First work on business pragmatics tends to answer the following questions: 1) What pragmatic strategies can be exploited to ensure success in business interactions? 2) What contextual factors will determine success in business interactions? 3) What influences success in cross-cultural business interactions? People manage to communicate and achieve understanding often in spite of linguistic and other barriers, but “work on business pragmatics is usually evaluative and the aim is to find out which strategies or behaviors are associated with success” [18, p. 186].

A business analysis sounds more complete if a wider context is taken into account, that is the economic, social, and political pressures, the type of industry and where the industry as a whole is going [19, p. 278]. The other factors are the size of the business (a bigger size makes it less vulnerable to the decisions of others outside the organization), the riskiness of business (reliance on a smaller number of products, the degree of technological innovation, and vulnerability to competition are to be taken into account); the economic, social, and political environment; the industry trends, effects of changes in technology [ibid., p. 249 - 250].

Business context shares the same attributes as other forms of context and at the same time possesses its unique attributes. The generality of business context refers to the universal features of context. Firstly, context is dynamic. Secondly, context is cognitive in that it is a subjective representation of people's experience. Thirdly, context is selective and constitutive. For one thing, context is seen as a selector of lexical features because it activates some of these features while leaving others in the background. Meanings are specified entirely by their contexts [20]. On the other hand, context may help predict and expect conventional language use.

The specificity of business context refers to its distinguishing features. One is that business context is professional. “Just as language use is one of the most important means of fulfilling professional objectives, similarly the elements of professional practice largely determines the nature and use of linguistic behavior in professional contexts” [21, p. 113]. To put it simply, professional practice shapes discursive practice.

Pragmatic competence is the ability to use language appropriately in different social and communicative situations. Besides, we can certainly define what appropriate use of language in different circumstances is. It is possible to differentiate circumstances as the following: purposes for communicating, often referred to as functions (inviting, apologizing, etc.); relative status of those communicating; topic area about which participants are communicating, business among them; situation, which refers to a physical location, e.g., in a bank, at the airport, in a restaurant.

As Fraser puts it, pragmatic competence is “...the ability to communicate your intended message with all its nuances in any socio-cultural context and to interpret the message of your interlocutor as it was intended” [22, p. 15]. Pragmalinguistic competence comprises the knowledge and ability for use of conventions of means (such as the strategies for realizing speech acts) and conventions of form (such as the linguistic forms implementing speech act strategies).

Successful business communication depends on pragmatically competent business people. Business people acquire pragmatic competence both naturally and socially. It is mostly learned as they gain a full participation and membership in a society, especially in a business community so that they are acculturated into it and acquire specific manners of business communication that reflect beliefs, values, practices of the given business culture.

The above account of general pragmatic competence suggests two levels from which business pragmatic competence could be investigated. In terms of goals, it is the competence of using language appropriately to achieve business and interpersonal goals, which feed into each other. Based on Cap [23, p. 5], it is business people's ability of using language to represent the organization, i.e. building up the image and identity of the organization, and to accomplish smaller-size goals, such as promoting one's point of view and managing their floor in a business meeting. business communication locutionary

Business pragmalinguistic competence represents not only an ability to master the linguistic code, but also an ability to use knowledge of the business cultural context, business institutional context, and actual situational context to construct and interpret business discourse. When performing requests in the workplace, for instance, mangers should be able to take into account not only the cultural factor (e.g. high-context or low context culture) but also the situation factor (e.g. purpose of interaction, role relationship) to choose appropriate linguistic resources. The same is true for responding to customer complaints.

To enhance effective business communication, the communicators should have socio-cultural, socio-pragmatic and pragma-linguistic competence to be able to identify the pragmatic content of the message. If the communicators cannot go beyond the conceptual meaning of the utterances, serious misunderstanding may come into being at the pragmatic level.

To understand an utterance semantically and pragmatically, it is necessary to take into consideration the following notions:

- the intentions of the speaker;

- the effect of utterance on listeners;

- the implications that follow from expressing something in a certain way;

- the knowledge, beliefs, and presuppositions about the world upon which speakers and listeners rely when they interact.

To sum up, it is very important to identify the pragmatic meaning of an utterance in the business context. Any misinterpretation of the intended meaning will lead to misunderstanding or miscommunication and, as a result, pragmatic failure in business communication would mean pragmatic loss in the business world.


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