Standardization and automatization

Linguistics studies contain evidence both of the high degree of stability (Hundt 2000) of communicative practices in the business domain and of their powerful dynamics (Jakobs 2011). This apparent contradiction is resolved on looking at the diversity of genres in the business context, and at their transformation over time. Some are relatively stable for legal reasons (e.g., balance sheets, contracts or laws/ ordinances), some because they have become standardized over time (e.g., delivery notes, invoices, bank statements) (Hundt 2000: 643). However, the development of new media technologies and a correspondingly wider range of electronic forms of communication have led to the emergence of new opportunities for interaction, in terms of both content and form. Furthermore, these also influence hitherto tried- and-tested communicative practices (e.g., e-mail has affected paper correspondence, the selection and ordering of goods online using e-commerce has influenced catalogue design and sales talk). Alongside the predominantly monologic texts in which companies address customers and the general public, dialogic texts and interactive genres are becoming increasingly common (via diverse product review portals, comment functions, blogs, guest books, Twitter, etc.). This array of new and speedy communication media has spurred a growing need for legal safeguards and for the documentation and monetization of communicative processes (Jakobs 2011: 78-79). In other words, amidst the tensions between stability and dynamic development, one important issue for companies is the extent to which communication processes can be standardized and simultaneously documented - be it for purposes of quality assurance or of automation and efficiency.

The issue of standardization, like that of a consistent company style, depends largely on the communicative functions, patterns of action and situational settings of the practices to be standardized. The questions from a linguistic standpoint, then, are which communicative practices are stable, which are dynamic, and for what reasons, as well as how these practices develop and influence each other in the course of their reciprocal interactions (see Section 3.2). In terms of efficiency vs. effectiveness, particular attention needs to be paid to those communicative practices where standardization, and perhaps automation processes, appear desirable and feasible, while ensuring that “manual” formulation remains an option in order to achieve the communicative objectives in question (see, e.g., Habscheid 2003). Attempts to standardize communications would need to be examined as to whether they are appropriate in terms of function, medium and situational context; this would serve to highlight better alternatives. The cultural specificity of each genre also needs to be taken into account here (Gunthner 2007).

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