Basic System For Human Communication Commerce Essay


It is acknowledged universally that language is the basic system for human communication. In workplaces, in order to communicate successfully, people tend to use language with particular characteristics which also vary according to different professions and circumstances. In this thesis, the author will describe how language in the workplace is analyzed and critically examine the distinctive features of two example transcriptions from three perspectives, including lexical, syntactical and pragmatic features.

Chapter One Background knowledge on the topic

1.1 Spoken genres at work

The language of work plays an important role in most people's lives, because people spend a great amount of time dealing with other people at work. The topics of conversation at work vary due to different situations. Language at work may be categorized into professional talk and social talk. However, sometimes it is hard to distinguish them from each other. For example, when a doctor speaks to a patient, "How are you today?" this can be interpreted both as a professional inquiry and a part of common greetings.

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Spoken genres refer to oral activity types taking place in working interaction. Some spoken workplace genres, such as meetings and negotiations, are planned in advance and very structured. However, other genres like social talk and directives happen irregularly and may develop into quite different results from what the speaker has presumed.

1.1.1 Instructions and Directives

This genre may include a great deal of workplace talk, and involve telling other people what to do or explaining something. In this type of conversation, one speaker, often the superior, may contribute more to the conversation than the other, especially in situations where an employee is trained. The directives are mostly imperative in structure, explicit and clear. For example, give it to peter; check it with Gordon; seal off the corners.

1.1.2 Problem Solving

In fact, a great deal of workplace talk involves problem-solving of some kind. According to Koester(), problem-solving conversations often follow a certain pattern. A problem is identified within a particular situation, then a response or solution is proposed, and finally this solution is evaluated positively or negatively. Negotiation can be considered a sub-genre of this type of talk.

1.1.3 Meeting

Meetings play an important role in almost every organization. As meetings tend to involve more than two or more people, it is usually necessary to have a person who organizes the meeting and leads the conversation. Features of meetings in workplace include formal, well-structured, goal-oriented, etc.

1.1.4 Small talk

Small talk, or small chat refers to talk that is not concerned with serious information and which is not task oriented. Although social talk is officially banished in work time, it is nearly unavoidable in workplace as its feature of multifunction. People like to gossip during work to update information as well as develop their relationship with co-workers.

1.2 Culture in New Zealand workplace

It is known by the world that New Zealand society is multicultural, which draws even more migrants to the green peaceful island to start a brand new life. The cultural background in New Zealand is complex: it is predominantly European but also contains elements from many other people. The business culture is influenced by the general milieu in every possible way but when it comes to the oral language at work, there are sertain characteristic that must be mentioned and related.

1.2.1 Ethnicity

Immigrant groups to New Zealand are consist of European, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Maori, which illustrates the feature of cultural diversity in New Zealand sociey. They have generally tended to assimilate into the European life-style, although traditional customs are still remained. It creates a great deal of opportunities to the society, as well as cultural conflicts and miscommunication that seems unavoidable in workplace. The Maori, however, found themselves torn between the pressure to assimilate and the desire to preserve their own culture. Maori, the language, is an alternative official language to New Zealand, so it is politically necessary to establish any official document in the workplace in both English and Maori. In other words, knowing some Maori language and master communicating efficiently with co-workers from another ethnical group is essential to employers and employees in a New Zealand company.

1.2.2 Female position in workplace

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New Zealand citizens like to describe their society as a "feminist society", which means the position of women is higher than most countries in the world. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report on women's entrepreneurial activity provides an in-depth global look at women's entrepreneurship and New Zealand has the highest women's entrepreneurship rate in developed world, although the entrepreneurial gender gap is still severe despite improvements (Cruickshank 1). The fact may be originated from 1890s when women were acknowledged as equal to and independent from men and accorded the right to vote. New Zealand was the first country in the world to do this, which in addition, helped to enhance New Zeanlanders' open-minded attitude to homosexuality. As a result, nowadays women in workplace has equal or even better opportunities than male. An example can be illustrated perfectly - Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister, is the first female PM who is homosexual and is still receiving respect and acknowledgement after retirement for the devotion to the country.

1.2.3 Equality and Egalitarianism

New Zealand is often labeled as "an equal and egalitarian society" where every member of the society seems to be at the same class and the gap between the rich and the poor is not as visible as other developed countries. A feature of New Zealand society noticed by the sociologist is Tall Poppy Syndrome which has become a national social attitude and is leveling the wealth of citizens. To simply put, the rich in the society may face more government policies that would reduce their wealth and the poor may receive a fat check from the relatively perfect social welfare system of New Zealand. Interestingly, some rich men consider the attitude as a resentment at other people's success. In any way, the attitude has shaped the society and made it into a egalitarian one that has another attraction to immigrants.

However, Bob Consedine writes, in Culture and Identity in New Zealand: A significant factor in maintaining the egalitarian myth is that the rich have managed to disguise their wealth and continue to identify with the struggle of the ordinary working person. Until recently, wealthy people in New Zealand simply did not admit they were wealthy, poor people don’t easily admit to being poor.

1.3 Discourse analysis theories

Brian Paltridge, in Making Sense of Discourse Analysis (2000:4) describe discourse analysis as:

Discourse analysts might, for example, examine paragraph structure, the organization of whole texts, and typical patterns in conversational interactions, such as, the ways speakers open, close, and take turns in a conversation. They might also look at vocabulary patterns across texts words that link sections of texts together, and the ways items such as "it" and "they" point backward or forward in a text.

1.3.1 Discourse

Discourse, or the use of language, and text, or pieces of spoken or written discourse, concentrating on how stretches of language become meaningful and unified for their users (Cook 1989), focusing on the coherence and specific links between layers of language of which differs from pragmatics looking at the relevance.

Discourse analysis can take us into the social and cultural settings of language use to help us understand particular language choices. That is, it can take us beyond description to explanation and help us understand the rules of the game that are part of the knowledge users of a language draw on in their everyday communications.

1.3.2 Lexicology, Syntax, and Pragmatics

To analyze the lexical, syntactical, and pragmatic features of a transcription at work, one should understand what they are and how they influence the communication.

According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online (2011), lexical features refer to features that are related to words or dealing with words. To help identify the register and the genre of the conversation, the clues may be specific vocabulary and grammar relating to the register and genre. For example words such as 'applying', 'vacancies', 'application' in the letter of refusal to the applicant, or the exclusive use of nouns in the agenda of the meeting (Koester 10).

Syntax is a branch of linguistics that studies how words are combined to form sentences and the rules that govern the formation of sentences (Dai & He 42). Therefore, the syntactical feature refers to the features that are related to sentence structures. For instance, one of the syntactical features of everyday spoken language is ungrammatical and incomplete sentence structures.

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According to Dai and He (2002), a general definition of pragmatics is that it is the study of how speakers of a language use sentences effects successful communication. Pragmatics studies such topics as language communication, including speech acts, indirect language, politeness, cross-cultural communication, and presupposition (Dai & He, 2002, p84). It is usually combined with sociolinguistics which studies the relation between language and society. Thus in this article, pragmatic analysis will focus on the sociolinguistic factors such as age, gender, status, location and type of workplace.

1.3.3 Authentic texts

The use of authentic texts is now regarded to be one way of keeping or enhancing students' motivation for learning. They give the learner the feeling that he or she is learning the 'real' language; that they are in touch with a living community which uses the target language on daily basis. The language input in the textbooks tends to consist of lists of 'useful expressions'. Meanwhile, the textbooks seem to wrongly assume that learners know when and how it is appropriate to make speech acts, and that all they need is to be given the phrases to do so (Crandall and Basturkmen 2004: 44). It means that the textbook talking about linguistic theories with such inadequate real-world cases and examples that learners do not know how to apply it in an authentic context. If indeed new migrant workers are to meet talk of this nature (i.e. face threatening speech acts such as one finds in authentic spoken texts) outside the classroom, they will benefit from opportunities to meet it in training materials. The goal is not language production, but awareness-raising and rehearsing the skill of interpreting discourse in context' (Newton 2004: in press)

The two pieces of transcripts analysed in this thesis are contracted from the handouts of Employment in a Globalized World, an undergraduate paper given in 2010, at Unitec Institute of Technology in New Zealand, which are recorded in real New Zealand factory and a TV interview respectively, and then put into proper transcription form by professional linguistics researchers. In other words, the materials used and mentioned in this paper would be authentic thus have the value to reflect the authentic features of oral dialogues in workplace and to demonstrate the diversity and complexity of real interactions.

Chapter Two Analysis of Authentic Conversation

2.1 Transcription Analysis I: 'Only Done Three Samples'

'Only done three samples' is a transcription of a conversation in a factory. Terence, a team leader, who is walking around the factory checking on things, has a conversation with Paul, a shop floor machinist, about the samples.

2.1.1 Linguistic features I

Lexical use of the language in the dialogue is quite informal, colloquial and simple, which also helps to identify the workplace as a factory. Informal expressions and everyday words appear quite often in the conversation, such as 'gotta', 'not good enough', 'lot more than', 'put' em'. There are even swear words, like 'oh shit', giving evidence that it is not in a formal professional occasion and the relationship between speakers is to some degree quite casual. Technical words such as 'samples', 'weighing', 'stacks', and 'scale' indicate that the conversation takes place in a factory.

When it comes to the features relating to sentences, non-standard structures occur frequently and a quantity of weakening and strengthening devices are used by both speakers. An example of ungrammatical structure can be illustrated - by saying the utterance 'if you're running on this line most of the morning, we've only done three samples', Terence actually wants to say that Paul has been working for most of the morning, but has done only three samples, which is not good enough for him. Terence's frequent use of if clauses and 'we' as subjects weakens the effect of criticism on Paul. However, Terence manages to make his point clearly to Paul by rising his speech volume on particular words like 'EVERY', 'NOT', and 'ASK' and by using modal verbs such as 'you've gotta...', 'we should have...'. Another example is in the second half of the dialogue, where Terence's repetition of 'continuously checking' strengthens his directives.

As to the pragmatic features, it can be deduced that the relationship between the two speakers is a team leader to a subordinate, and that both of them are relatively direct but polite to each other. In the first line of Terence, the sentence 'it's not good enough' tells us he is not satisfied with what Paul has done, which gives us the first impression that Terence is superior to Paul. Then, skimming the whole conversation, we can see that Terence tends to speak more, the asymmetry of which also shows the relationship between speakers. The repetition of the filler 'right?', as well as tag questions such as 'eh' , shows that though there occurs dissatisfaction, both speakers are trying to be polite to each other. However, as a leader, Terence speaks more straight in some particular directives such as 'this is your proof', 'if they're underweight run that line out immediately' and 'we should have lot more than this [high voice]'.

2.1.2 Comments and Comparison I

In the author's point of view, the conversation is quite successful for three reasons. Firstly, generally Terence expresses his dissatisfaction and gives directives clearly without hurting Paul's feelings. He uses more weakening devises than strengthening devices to compromise the directness of his utterances, such as 'oh well that's all right then', while he manages to state very clearly about his instructions to Paul. Secondly, Paul makes his complaint about the scales properly, which enables Terence to flow rather than fight and therefore achieve a win-win situation. By saying 'I think um + I'm not making excuses (it's just) what can happen', Paul expresses his concern in an indirect and clever way to the superior. As a result, after several explanations, Terence actually admits his negligence by saying 'I should have made it clearer...' The third reason is that Paul, as a listener, contributes to the conversation and balances the turn-taking by offering back-channels frequently. When listening to Terence, Paul always gives feedbacks like 'yeah', 'yep', and 'oh yeah I know I know'. Such backchanneling helps he show his understanding to the speaker so that the conversation flows well. In the end of the conversation, he promises the team leader by saying 'don't let it happened again' to reassure him.

Another interesting feature worth mentioning about Terence is that he tend to use 'we' as subject in a sentence quite often, which seems to be a distinct conversational ritual of female style in spoken language. However, he achieves the satisfying effect of downplaying his status and not being too bossy, which can be seen from Paul's responses afterwards.

2.2 Transcription Analysis II: 'The Prime Minister of New Zealand'

The transcription is derived from a video interview in which the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, is interviewed by Guyon Espiner on topics of economical recession. The program is called Q+A, which is a New Zealand current event and political talk show (Wikipedia, 2010).

2.2.1 Linguistic features II

The lexical use of the language is more formal than the previous dialogue in the factory, and words relating to economics and international business are used commonly in the interview. As an interview host, Espiner starts the conversation with extending gratitude to the Prime Minister by saying 'Thank you Prime Minister for coming in' and 'we really appreciate that'. From the word 'appreciate', we can see the words are more formal and less colloquial. In the second line of John Key, phrases such as 'under a nimbler more than lean environment', 'perceive their future demand' and 'unprecedented level' also show us the formality of the conversation. The speakers use economical and business jargons in most of utterances such as 'unemployment lags', 'the mill recession', and 'international credit market', which reveals the main topics of the conversation.

Most of the sentences in the dialogue are relatively standard language and correct in grammar and both the speakers use weakening and strengthening devices very often. In the fourth question, the host says 'I just guess I'm asking you though' before the actual question, which is a weakening device used to soften the directness and sensitiveness of the question. John Key also uses discourse markers like 'well', 'actually', 'well again' in the beginning of most answers, not only to gain himself some time to think about what to say, but also to weaken the negative effects which his words afterwards may produce. However, in order to make the show more interesting to the audience, both the speakers use rhetorical questions to harden the tone and make it like a debate. Examples are 'don't we want companies to invest in rather than just housing?' and 'haven't you ruled out a capital gains tax'.

Another clever speaking strategy worth noticing is Epiner's use of tag questions which can be interpreted into either weakening or strengthening. For instance, in the sentence 'you're taking those people's livehoods and their mana, their dignity, away from them aren't you?', the host seems to soften his tone, however, to some degree, he makes the question aggressive and more challenging, which on the other hand, may draw audience's full attention successfully.

Speaking of the sociolinguistic aspects of this interview, compared to the former transcription, a much higher formality, as well as several humorous expressions can be found in the text. That is because the genre of the conversation is a television interview calling for the public's attention and interests, especially when the participants are well-known and have great influences on the society. Additionally, John Key's use of the nearly perfect sentence grammar, rigorous choice of vocabulary and speaking strategy such as signposting represent his social status as the Prime Minister of the nation. For example, there are signposts such as 'well firstly...', 'actually I'd argue...', 'well there's always been a lot of reasons for that', and discourse markers like 'I tend to think...', 'I personally think...'. Humors appear in the metaphorical forms several times, such as 'one single silver bullet' and 'thick skin', which contribute to the flowing of conversation.

2.2.2 Comments and Comparison II

In the author's opinion, both the speakers fulfill their roles successfully from two aspects. On one hand, they make the interview interesting to listen to by not only talking about current economical situations which arouse citizen's concern and attention, but also by their clever speaking strategies. As the host, representing all the audience in the nation, Espiner asks questions that most people would like to know the answer to. Meanwhile, representing the Government and the people, John Key answers the questions quite fluently, arguing and disagreeing with evidence and uses humor properly. Humour helps him to repair the conversation from miscommunication. On the other hand, as to the transactional talk, they also have some interactional talk at the end to make the end more natural and to let the audience relax after listening to serious topics.

2.3 Main Features of Oral Dialogues in Workplace

2.3.1 Politeness and Humor

Our analysis indicates that most workplace interactions provide evidence of mutual respect and concern for the feelings or face needs of others, that is, of politeness (Holmes and Stubbe 2003). Politeness toward a subordinate can be interpreted as an indication that the more powerful protagonist is concerned with constructing good workplace relations, and in developing rapport and maintaining collegiality (Spencer-Oatey 2000): that is, the expression of collaborative power vs coercive power. As the Communication Accommodation theory suggests, politeness may also be politic, since treating others with consideration is more likely to result in the cooperation which will assist in achieving workplace goals.

By contrast, it is self-evidently in the interests of a subordinate to express themselves politely or with deference to a superior. Although Critical Discourse analysts draw attention to ways in which people may challenge, contest, undermine or subvert power and authority, in the data Holmes and Stubbe examined, they found that challenges to authority were typically acceptable or 'polite' ways, such as through the use of humour. Humour functions as a particular effective politeness strategy, especially in a hierarchical context. It is very difficult for a superior to react negatively to a criticism or challenge that is expressed as a humorous comment without losing face. Therefore, humour provides a cover for a remark which might otherwise be considered unacceptable in the work context.

2.3.2 Mixed-in Small Talk

Cockcroft (1999) in Living Language: Investgating Talk stated that discourse can be either transactional or interactional. Transactional language is used when the participants are exchanging goods and services (e.g. going to buy some bread, going to see your lawyer), whereas interactional language is used when speakers are socializing. Small talk, or in this case, interactional conversation often mixed in with transactional conversation in workplace, especially for certain professions like nurses and doctors, sales person, or other peer employees, even between supervisor and the subordinate.

A small research study at Wellington Hospital done by Holmes and Major (2003) has amazingly demonstrated the wide range and large number of interactions nurses engaged in over relatively short periods of time, which indicates a result of their socio-pragmatic skills in selecting appropriate ways of completing tasks in various social contexts, which they use to put patients at ease and to ensure they get their work done.

2.3.3 Technical Vocabulary

According to Koester (2004), the professional or workplace context may be reflected in the lexical choice, that is, in special lexis or vocabulary used by the speaker. For example, the professional context of the editorial office is reflected in a number of lexical items which are specific to publishing: reprint, front, key, main title. Other words more generally reflect the business context, and would be found in other workplace context: stock, estimate, mortgage. Such use of professional jargon can make a text like this quite difficult to understand for non-professionals, especially for those from another cultural background and not familiar with the native language.

Understanding basic terminology is essential to certain professions like in a medical setting or an academic setting. If one work in a veterinary setting, he use medical terminology everyday. In addition to using medical terminology on the job, you, as a consumer, are exposed to medical terms and procedures on television, in magazines, and on any public information system. Becoming familiar with how medical terms are organized will enable you to understand and use the words you may hear at work and will allow you to figure out new words as you are told or exposed to them.

Chapter Three Value and research defect

3.1 Value and importance

3.2 Shortage