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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Interdisciplinarity, communication studies and other curiosities

I've just returned from Nijmegen, Holland, where I attended the conference of the Association for Business Communication. During the the three days of the conference I have been in and out of presentations that covered an unbelievably wide range of topics. Some strands took a rather applied approach and looked at teaching materials for business communication, others reported the findings of research conducted on social media and corporate communication, for instance the effect of business tweets, or a comparison of corporate Facebook and YouTube.

One of my secret agendas during the conference has been to gain a clearer understanding of what this vague field of "business communication" entails. After listening to numerous talks I can report that there is lots of statistical analyses,  standard deviations, control groups, interviews and surveys involved.

But I somehow missed the communication element of this whole issue, the interaction, the transmission of information, the negotiation of meaning. Language.

Some speakers did address (or at least  acknowledge) the importance of linguistic awareness, discourse and various linguistic or discursive strategies in the field of business communication:  Jane Johansen for instance described a very effective model of intercultural business communication and highlighted the language/linguistic awareness as one of the key components of the constructed taxonomy necessary for successful intercultural business encounters. 

But for the most parts  "communication" people seemed to build sky-high towers on the foundations made up of the findings from language studies and linguistics without being fully aware of the components of that foundation. I heard a presentation about the communicative functions of apologies where the presenters only considered the word "sorry", without acknowledging that other linguistic and discursive strategies might as well function as apology. There was very little reference to the classic politeness theory, not to mention the newest developments in linguistic politeness research.

I attended a session on how the "language of the workplace" is taught at an UAE university, where "language" was predominantly  misrepresented by slogans and jingles from adverts.

Or there was the keynote speaker, Peter Kerkhof talking about corporate communication via social media, going into lengthy explanations about the manipulation of the messages and their effect on the customers, without mentioning the word "pronoun" once!

After talking to colleagues at the conference, it seems that I am not alone with my confusion regarding this apparent lack of connection between language studies, linguistics and "communication". So perhaps that should be the next thing on my agenda: facilitating or building this link, instead of trying to make sense of it.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed, so many data sets, so little synthesis! I really wish you could attend the larger ABC convention each fall--this year's is in Honolulu. Many presentations at this convention do present research and theories on linkages concurrent with other presentations like the ones you attended in Nimegen(graduate students presenting their studies). Overall, however, business communication is an eclectic field, and sorting through its topics and more importantly its levels of inquiry can turn one's hair gray--as you may have noticed.