Language is the main vehicle for communicating between human beings. It seems, therefore, natural not only to associate it with exchanging ideas and points of view, but also to consider it a medium for achieving goals and getting a job done.
In this essay I will look at how English is employed in the context of a working environment and will examine, in general and theoretical terms, some of the main features which characterize this type of language and the social implications on the groups of people who use it; in this respect I will consider two situations: English used by co-workers and English used by professionals when speaking to members of the public. In the second part, I will give some concrete example of working English which hould illustrate the main points discussed.
Characteristics of English as a tool for work The main feature of language as a tool is its facilitative function: the focus is on the goal to be achieved and on how the use of a particular set of language conventions influences an outcome. Since language is a very adaptable medium, it can change to reflect the needs of a particular context or situation. Another important factor is that for a communicative conversation to be successful, shared cultural knowledge and understanding is required from speakers and listeners.
This common background enables them to relate to what is being said in a way that may not be intelligible to other people, while very frequently the distinctive features of the language may not be apparent to participants any longer, since they have become part of a subconscious expressive process. Discourse communities The concept of discourse community is very important for understanding how English is used as a working language.
It was developed principally by the linguist John Swales who observed that particular types of communities exist in which people do not necessarily live close together or even have personal contact, nonetheless they use a common spoken or written language to achieve a shared objective. In the words of Neil Mercer the notion of this type of community Professional discourses are not static but change and develop naturally to adapt to the needs of people working in a specialised field of work. In fact, they have not been elf-consciously designed for their purpose, but have evolved through the processes of natural selection and conventionalization within the range of ways of using language that people have employed over the years. (Mercer, 1996, p. 99).
Discourse can be defined as the ways in which language, either spoken or written, is used in the social practises of a community. The necessity for understanding other people in a work environment can produce many varieties of discourse. Quality of language: its format and function The first aspect that comes to mind when considering the English language in the ontext of a working environment is the use of a distinctive vocabulary linked to a specific occupation.
Jargon Most commonly represented by acronyms and technical terms can, in fact, be found in virtually any industry and can seem obscure to outsiders who are not familiar with conventions and peculiarities of that business. However, becoming familiar with jargon is a normal process when entering a profession and it is often only a matter of time before the nuances are mastered. It is a necessity to be able to communicate effectively with colleagues and this represents a great incentive to learning it.
However the role of jargon as a useful linguistic element coexists with jargon as a tool for defining social relations incorporating roles of authority and submission. This happens particularly within the private sector, where unnecessary wordiness and sentence complexity are employed to prove superiority and to influence the public sector, where the extreme use of jargon can often be described as writing to impress, rather than writing to inform. This latter case is well illustrated by Martin Cutts in his contribution to English at work, for the Open University (Cutts, 1996).
In it he quotes the following response by a British Local Government official to a citizen request to put up posters in the local public library: So far I have dealt with the format of the language itself; there are, however, other considerations to be made with regard to the function of English in the work place. Indeed, other work-related quality of language may be more distinctively represented in the structure of an interaction, rather than the fact that technical English words are used. (Neil Mercer, 1996, p. 87).
The process of working together towards a common goal involves consultation, deliberation, instruction, information, as well as explanation, interpretation and negotiation. All interpersonal factors that are strictly linked to the useof language. M. A. K. Halliday (1995) identified three specific aspects associated with the use of English at work which are outlined below. The ideational function Probably the main purpose of work-related language is to facilitate carrying out a task or job and completing it successfully without introducing any ambiguity or unnecessary risks.
This can be achieved by means of highly task-oriented communications, heavily based on content, reference, dealing with concrete facts and problematic situations; the ideational aspect of language works mainly by encoding two sorts of reference, to entities (including things, people and abstract ideas) and to processes, relations and actions. These referential needs are realized in English roughly through noun phrases on the onehand and verb phrases on the other. (Peter Medway, 1996, p. 108).