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Review of Written communication across cultures: A sociocognitive perspective on business genres

posted March 10th, 2008

Written communication across cultures: A sociocognitive perspective on business genres. By Yunxia Zhu. (Pragmatics and beyond new series 141.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. xvii, 215. ISBN 9027253846. $126 (Hb).

Reviewed by Aleksandar Čarapić, University of Belgrade

What is the best way to approach the comparison of intercultural business genres? What persuasive orientations can be embedded in English and Chinese cultural and rhetorical backgrounds? What are the main persuasive strategies used in English and Chinese business correspondence? How are they similar or different, and what causes such similarities and/or differences? What are the implications of the research for learning and teaching business language in cross-cultural communication? These major questions underlie the research in Yunxia Zhu’s exciting study, Written communication across cultures.

The volume consists of nine chapters. In addition to a brief introduction to the book, Ch. 1, ‘Introduction and outline’, brings in the necessity for developing a theoretical framework for genre comparison. It discusses genre in relation to a ‘stock of knowledge’ that is shared in a relevant discourse community in specific sociocultural contexts. Ch. 2, ‘Communication across cultures’, focuses on cross-cultural aspects as a part of the theoretical groundwork for comparing Chinese and English genres, and discusses sociocultural, organizational, and interpersonal levels for studying the business genres involved. Specifying the main theoretical framework for intercultural genre analysis, Ch. 3, ‘Conceptual framework: A dual perspective’, proposes a model for genre comparison, emphasizes genre-intertextuality interaction, and promotes cross-cultural genre study from sociocognitive and intercultural viewpoints based on English and Chinese literature related to genre analysis.

An overview of the research design, its methodology, data, questionnaires, and interviews, and of the method of analysis is given in Ch. 4, ‘Research design’. Both Ch. 5, ‘Comparing English and Chinese sales letters’, and Ch. 6, ‘Comparing English and Chinese sales invitations’, apply the proposed model with regard to the specific differences that different genre types impose. Ch. 7, ‘Comparing English and Chinese business faxes’, focuses on business faxes as a relatively new business genre, showing the possibilities of extending the use of the approach to high-tech-related business genres, thus going beyond business genres and involving the influence of technology on genre writing in general.

Ch. 8, ‘Cross-cultural genre teaching’, considers implications of the proposed framework for the processes of learning and teaching genre, and applies previous findings to cross-cultural genre learning with respect to pedagogical issues in English and Chinese curricula. Ch. 9, ‘Summaries and conclusions’, offers a working definition of genre from a cross-cultural standpoint based on the previous findings.

Written communication across cultures has made several great contributions. First, as one of the first books to study the cross-cultural business genre, it conceptualizes this field with a sociocognitive and intercultural dimension. Second, it presents an in-depth theoretical exploration of business discourse by considering discourse community, cognitive structuring, and the deep semantics of genre and intertexuality. Third, it offers an insider’s perspective on cross-cultural comparison by soliciting professional members’ intracultural and intercultural viewpoints about the target cultures. As such, the book is a valuable read for scholars interested in intercultural communication, applied linguistics, (critical) discourse analysis, contrastive rhetoric, interlanguage pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and other interdisciplinary fields.