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Conclusion

The present chapter has demonstrated that what we call “business language” relates to a concept that has witnessed important changes over time. In the earliest documented or otherwise reconstructed stages, business language could hardly be distinguished from general language, consisting at most of a few business-related words with a somewhat specialized meaning. This is the case not only for Sumerian, Akkadian or Proto-Indo-European, but also for Old English or Old High German. The point at which business language first evolved into a full-blown language for specific purposes may be situated in the High and Late Middle Ages, when Italian merchants developed trailblazing commercial techniques, accompanied by textual genres such as the ledger or the bill of exchange and by a number of new business terms. The business languages of the other European languages depended on the Italian model well into the modern era, though eventually French, German and English emancipated themselves and started contributing their linguistic innovations which were then circulated among the other European nations. Business vocabulary continued to be closely linked to the merchant’s counter until the end of the 19th century. A new era dawned with the institutionalization of business studies at Handelshochschulen and universities in the 20th century, which led to an exponential increase in the number of business terms. In the related area of economics, Physiocracy might be considered the decisive point where a real language for specific purposes was born, though this theoretical current itself was short-lived. Economics was institutionalized at universities a century before business administration; correspondingly, the language for specific purposes of economics began to be elaborated earlier.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the business world has been increasingly fragmented by the growing division of labour, and, at the same time, it has become the subject of close academic attention. The same is true of economics. Yet, as argued throughout this chapter, the study of how this modern stage of the language of economics and business evolved is still in its infancy. Although the two macro-trends, fragmentation and “academization”, have undeniably left important traces, for the most part they still await closer scrutiny. There can be no doubt that in-depth diachronic investigations would prove to be highly relevant from an applied-linguistic perspective.

 
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