This is the sixth book in Routledge Introductions to Applied Linguistics Series. The book consists of eight chapters and each except the eighth is divided into three sections, A, B and C. Each deals with a specific area of professional communication. In contrast to the usual theory-to-practice approach, the chapters start by explaining problems (Section A), go through possible interventions (Section B), and end with establishing the theoretical accounts and implications (Section C).
The first chapter, “What is professional communication?,” explores the term ‘professional communication’ in its diverse and dynamic nature by illustrating various authentic spoken and text samples. It shows how transactional and relational accounts of professional communication occur and overlap during ‘frontstage’ and backstage encounters. Drawing on some previous works the author strives to mark the similarities and differences between some similar sounding words like institutional talk, professional discourse, workplace or business discourse.
The second chapter, “Genres of Professional Communication”, deals with categorization of different communicative events under the genre of what is referred as professional communication. The chapter analyses the similarities and differences found both in the forms and functions of discourses occurring in the diverse professional contexts. It shows how the genres that are typically used to perform specific functions may not only vary across different workplaces but also across departments, working groups, age and hierarchical layers. It is further said that over the long and natural course of development, a genre can be modified or die, giving way to new genres. Or, a new genre comes into being due to some innovation in the field of communication technology or when a particular style becomes popular for some unknown reason.
The third chapter, “Workplace culture”, explores the relationship between professional communication and workplace culture, i.e., how language contributes to shaping of a workplace culture. Emphasis is placed upon distinctive ways that members of different workplaces adopt to communicate. For example, use of slang can strictly be avoided at one workplace whereas people think nothing unusual about it at another. These differences in communicative practices are reflected not only in the ways people write emails and faxes, speak with their super- and sub- ordinates or group members, but also in the ways people lead, direct, intervene, dress, etc. The chapter critically introduces main three approaches to workplace culture: Schein’s model of different levels of cultural; Greet Hofstede and his colleagues’ ‘collective programming of the mind’ approach and Lave and Wenger’s community of practice (CofP) concept.
The fourth chapter, “culture and politeness at work”, is about the role of national and workplace culture in professional encounters, though the main focus is on the relationship between national culture and politeness. The chapter starts by exploring whether culture is really an issue at work. In multilingual and multicultural workplaces the concept of culture does not carry so much weight as to influence the overall professional communicative realities. Culture, of course, may well be a reason for miscommunication among people, however. The chapter also draws attention to the fact that attempts to explain differences in people’s behavior in a workplace solely by reference to culture run the risk of overgeneralizing and stereotyping. Two main theoretical frameworks, politeness theory and rapport management, have been used to analyze the ways in which culture and politeness interrelate with professional discourse.
The fifth chapter, “Identities at work”, discusses the ways and processes through which identities are enacted, created and reflected in and through professional communication. Language is one of the most crucial means on which people draw on in order to construct and perform various identities. Concept of identity, in general, in itself, is very fluid and relative in nature and is established only against other identities. Therefore, individuals’ as well organizations’ idea of self-perception and self-representation affect their own and another’s respective identities in many ways. The author also briefly discusses the social constructionism framework in exploring processes of identity constructions in communicative interactions, followed by an introduction to Bucholtz and Hall’s (2005) five principles of identity construction in interaction. It is argued that identity should not be considered as a static attribute assigned to an individual or organization rather it should be conceptualized as performance which is dynamically constructed by interlocutors in specific contexts.
The sixth chapter, “Gender”, shows that gender, apart from influencing other workplace issues such as identity construction, leadership, negotiation, decision making etc., affects professional communicative behaviors in variety of different ways. Its role, however, may be relatively hidden in the background and hence not so obvious on first glance. Two specific ways in which gender is enacted in the workplace are gendered speech styles and the existence of certain gendered discourses.
Gender stereotypes may often be reflected in workplace discourse and could have serious implications for the perception and treatment of both men and women, though women are the most likely victims. The chapter also discusses the role of critical discourse analysis (CDA) to investigate relationship between language, gender and workplace.
The seventh chapter, “Leadership”, focuses on the role that professional communication plays in leadership performance. Communication makes indeed an inevitable aspect of what is called doing leadership and most of the tasks that leaders engage themselves in during their normal working are achieved through it. From the applied linguistics framework, acts of leadership can roughly be divided into two types of constellations: (1) asymmetrical constellation where leader is in hierarchically higher position (2) distributed, shared or co- leadership where everyone contributes like a member of a group. The author opines that leadership should be defined as performance which takes both transactional and relational behaviors into account. In the end, the author argues for a discursive approach to the leadership, as it places communication at the heart of the leadership.
The eighth chapter, “Conclusion”, presents the book’s overall argument and briefly overviews entire content of the book for its usefulness in finding new avenues for future research -- in particular for student projects. The chapter aims to establish that research in the area of professional communication is enough fruitful yet challenging and demands in-depth knowledge from other disciplines.
This book is intended for more advanced students and scholars new to or generally interested in the field of professional communication. It presents an informative introduction to prominent theories, methodologies and research fields within applied research in professional communication. It brings together a number of useful chapters on a range of aspects of professional communication. But most of the chapters focus on spoken professional discourse. Since writing makes an important part of the workplace discourse and therefore should not be ignored (Gerson & Gerson, 2009). Similarly, the impact of computer and other digital technologies on workplace communication is apparent, though it is still less clearly understood. A chapter on it would have made the book more useful.
All chapters are well-written and organized using a practice-to-theory approach. Each chapter provides appropriate workplace communication samples and other data that help readers develop a better understanding of the issues and problems. For example, each chapter contains sample tasks for readers to check whether they have developed a clear understanding of the theme or the idea discussed. Answers and explanations to these tasks are available in the ‘Task commentaries’ section. The book contains a well-developed glossary of technical terms, a list of references and some important notes on all of the chapters. The book also provides a comprehensive list of readings that may be helpful for readers working in the area of the professional communication.
This book can be utilized either as a means of keeping up to date on the research or as a way of becoming more knowledgeable on a topic. It, in other words, will appeal not only to those who already are familiar with ongoing research in the area but also to those who are new to the subject. Overall the book provides scholars working in the fields of communication studies, technical and professional discourse, and other related organizational processes with rich insights.
Bucholtz, M. and Hall, K. (2005) Identity and Interaction: A Sociocultural Linguistic Approach. Dicourse studies, 7(4-5), 585-614
Gerson, S.J. and Gerson, S.M. (2009) Technical Writing: Process and Product, 3rd ed. New Delhi: Pearson Publication.