Direct reported speech

A frequently recurring discursive device in business interactions involving negotiations is imaginary or “hypothetical” direct reported speech (Koester 2014). Consider the example in (6), from Koester (2014: 35), in which the speaker hypothesizes what the customer might say.

(6) Erm but you know we’re prepared to do something like if you say “Well look I’m pretty sure that we’re gonna be up to sixteen by Christmas time.”

According to Koester (2014: 44), “hypothetical” direct reported speech occurs at key stages of negotiation, mainly the bargaining phase (see Section 3.1 above), and is a negotiating tactic deployed strategically to move negotiation in a certain direction in order to achieve the negotiators’ goals. “Hypothetical” direct reported speech occurs in both proposal and response acts. As part of a proposal act, it can be used to detail an offer or request, to show flexibility, to argue in favor of a proposal, or to point out an issue that needs to be raised. As part of a response act, it can be used to refuse an offer or request, to make a counterproposal, to elicit clarification, to acknowledge the other party’s position, and to express conditional agreement. Outside the bargaining phase, “hypothetical” direct reported speech is found in the initial phase of a negotiation (i.e. information exchange) to elicit clarification, and in the agreement phase, to finalize agreement.

We may now try to understand whether business negotiations constitute a distinct genre. As defined by Bhatia (1993), a genre is a structured, conventionalized, communicative practice. Following the same author (Bhatia 2002: 23), genres are identifiable on the basis of seven criteria.

  • (1) Genres are reflections of disciplinary cultures.
  • (2) Genres focus on conventionalized, communicative events embedded within a discipline of professional practices.
  • (3) Disciplinary or professional genres display a certain degree of homogeneity in terms of textual and discursive (text-internal) factors, or contextual and disciplinary (text-external) factors.
  • (4) Genres are communication events characterized by a set of communicative goals mutually recognized by a professional or academic community in which they regularly occur.
  • (5) Genres are highly structured and conventionalized constructs, with constraints on the intentions that can be expressed and on the co-grammatical resources that can be employed.
  • 6) Established members of a particular professional community will have a much greater knowledge and understanding of genre-related practices than those who are apprentices, new members, or outsiders.
  • (7) Although genres are viewed as conventionalized constructs, expert members of a community are often in a position to exploit such conventions to express private intentions, within the structures of socially acceptable communicative norms.

If we assess business negotiation against these criteria, we must conclude that it satisfies numbers 1, 2, 4 and 6. (I am not in a position to evaluate criterion 7 on the basis of the analyses presented in the present paper.) However, business negotiation is a weak genre. The survey of the statistically significant linguistic features made in the previous sub-sections shows that, in terms of text-internal factors (criteria 3 and 5), conventionalized genre-specific linguistic traits exist in business negotiations only to a limited extent. Our conclusion must therefore be that business negotiation is a sub-variety of professional business communication, with which it shares many conventions and from which it differs because of the narrower procedural rules that apply.

 
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