We recently published Exploring Politeness in Business Emails by Vera Freytag. In this post the author explains what inspired her to write the book.
For several decades, there has been the view in cross-cultural pragmatics that Spanish L1 users reveal a higher level of directness than English L1 users, irrespective of a particular language variety. This view was established and reconfirmed in a wide range of comparative studies by means of data elicitation methods such as the Discourse Completion Task.
Having lived in both language cultures for some time and worked with both English and Spanish L1 users, I was increasingly interested in the question of whether directness and politeness are language-dependent dimensions and to what extent contextual factors play a role in one’s use of linguistic strategies and their perception in terms of directness and politeness. Specifically in the workplace context, does it matter if the sender and recipient know each other well? Does it matter whether the sender is of higher, lower or equal hierarchical status compared to the recipient? Does the communication channel matter? Does it matter whether the sender and recipient are of the same or opposite sex?
When I was given the chance to collect 600 English and Spanish business emails of a Community of Practice that I had worked for for six months, I was excited to immerse myself in this email corpus and investigate the contextual complexities that underlie the event of writing email directives. During the time of data analysis and the challenging task of finding explanations for my – partially unexpected – findings, I soon learned that there are many more factors apart from language that appear to influence the choice and perception of a particular directive strategy. I also learned that the complexity of language use and perception can only be examined through a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods both with regard to the collection and interpretation of the data.
Finally, the book reflects my attempt to shed some light on the interdependencies of language and culture in computer-mediated workplace directives and aims to contribute to the field of cross-cultural pragmatics by providing new insights.
For more information about this book please see our website.
If you found this interesting, you might also like Objects, Bodies and Work Practice edited by Dennis Day and Johannes Wagner.