From language to communicative practices and their ordering

Text - genre - communicative practice

Since the 1970s, linguistics has adopted pragmatic methods to capture situation- specific processes and patterns of linguistic action as they are manifested in texts and conversations, starting from the purposes and objectives of speakers and writers. Various subdisciplines have evolved to apprehend and describe these patterns, ranging from text linguistics and systemic functional linguistics to various kinds of conversation analysis. For a long time these different approaches rarely took note of one another. In German linguistics the resulting diverse terminology makes any shared reliance on key basic concepts extremely difficult. In addition to Text (text) and Gesprach (conversation, talk), reference is also made to Genres (genres), Text- und Gesprachssorten (varieties of text and conversation), Text- und Gesprachstypen (text types and types of conversation or talk), kommunikative or mediate Gattungen (communicative or media categories), and kommunikative Praktiken (communicative practices). All of these are intended to help order and classify the numerous possible textual and conversational phenomena (for a general indicative framework, see Swales 1990, 2004; for a systemic-functional approach, Martin 1992; for an overview of English terminology, Lee 2001; for German linguistic terminology, Stein 2011; and for numerous articles that offer international overviews of these concepts, Habscheid 2011).

Text refers here to a sequence of signs which is coherent and, in its entirety, signals a communicative function or which is intended as a text (Brinker 2010:17). Since the work of Beaugrande and Dressler (1981), the prototypical criteria of textuality have been considered to be:

a. cohesion, i.e. structural interconnections at the surface level of the language (e.g., repeated reference to the same non-linguistic object or fact);

b. coherence, i.e. semantic and contextual interconnections anchored in the deep structure of a text (patterns by means of which a theme or an argument is developed);

c. informativity, i.e. the idea that a text contains a theme that has some kind of informative value;

d. intentionality, i.e. the idea that it is intended by its producer to be a text and that it has a certain function;

e. acceptability, i.e. the idea that it can be accepted as a text by its recipients on the basis of its characteristic features;

f. situativity, i.e. the idea that it is tied to and influenced by the specific situations of production and reception;

g. intertextuality, i.e. systematic reference to conventional textual patterns in the sense of manifesting a specific text variety.

By contrast, a conversation prototypically denotes a situationally-specific, verbal communicative event involving at least two participants which, according to Deppermann (1999: 8), displays the following characteristic features:

a. constitutivity, i.e. the active participation of the conversation partners in creating conversation events;

b. processuality, i.e. the “follow-on” character of talk that emerges from participants’ sequential activities;

c. interactivity, i.e. each participant’s reciprocal references to the contributions of their counterpart;

d. methodicity, i.e. the use of typical procedures in the production and interpretation of contributions to a conversation;

e. pragmaticity, i.e. the idea that the participants engage in a conversation and use their contributions to pursue certain purposes.

One way of describing the typical and patterned character of texts and conversations is to reconstruct prototypical correlations of: a) communicative function or purposes pursued by the speaker-writer; b) topic; c) outward structure (division into parts/ course of a conversation and, for written texts, text design); and d) linguistic forms (textual and conversational routines, styles and registers). These can then be placed in a rule-governed relation to the situational context. This context, in turn, consists in particular of the domain or the arena of action, the particular set of participants involved, the time-space relations of production and reception, the medium of transmission and the extent to which it is a public context (for this German approach, see Brinker 2010; for the analytical categories of Anglo-Saxon systemic-functional linguistics, see Martin 1997). Text types in business communication include quarterly and annual reports, press releases, customer and employee magazines and business letters; examples of types of conversation, or talk, are meetings, telephone conferences, consultations, sales conversations, and press conferences.

Yet there now seems to be a consensus that the “spoken”/“written” dichotomy exists only in relation to the medial realization of a communicative event (i.e. phonic or graphic expression), but not with regard to the linguistic form of such an event. This is because written texts (e.g., a tweet on Twitter) may be similar in formal terms to spoken language, while, conversely, spoken texts (e.g., a job interview) may display typical features of written language. In order to better apprehend and describe such graded phenomena, it will therefore be assumed that the “medial orality”/ “medial scripturality” dichotomy is cross-cut by a continuum relating to linguistic form and ranging from “conceptional orality” (“konzeptionelle Mundlichkeit”) to “conceptional scripturality” (“konzeptionelle Schriftlichkeit”). What this implies is that conceptionally oral forms of communication convey greater linguistic proximity (“sprachliche Nahe”) whereas conceptionally scriptural forms appear more formal and thus typically facilitate communication characterized by social distance (“sprachliche Distanz”) (Koch and Oesterreicher 1985; for the English terminology, see Murelli 2011: 49-50). In addition, research on intertextuality (e.g., Genette 1982) has shown with increasing clarity that interaction very often occurs through written and spoken texts that are closely interwoven with one another. Examples occur when meetings or telephone conferences are prepared and minuted in writing, or when project presentations are accompanied by text slides and supported by written handouts (for business communication, see Loos 1999 and Janich 2009).

Given these interconnections between genres, it makes sense to speak of “communicative practices” (“kommunikative Praktiken”, Stein 2011) when describing and analyzing business communication. The term communicative practice takes for granted the functional commonalities that exist between written and spoken language, as well as the situation-specific interweaving of various genres, without seeking to gloss over all that is specific about particular texts or conversations. Communicative practices also generally serve both to document knowledge and to organize relationships and community, and thus also to enforce power and ideology (Janich and Birkner 2015), fundamental mechanisms as prevalent in business communication as they are elsewhere.

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