An Online Journal of Modern Philology ISSN 1214-5505

Language Functions in Business Meetings (Book Review)


Marek Havrila


The article reviews the book on Language Functions in Business Meetings by Johanna Jakabovičová, a study on exponents and phrases expressing functions of opinion, suggestion, agreement and disagreement in business communication.

Jakabovičová, Johanna. Nitra: SPU v Nitre. 2005, 172 pp. ISBN 80-8069-628-4

Publishing this book was a successful attempt to make the non-philological language students acquainted with one of the youngest linguistic disciplines, namely pragmatics. Certainly a few authors in Slovakia, generally university teachers have written books on pragmatics and discourse analysis providing an overview of existing ‘classical’ theories from various viewpoints. ‘Classical’ here means the theories by Austin, Leech, Searle, and others. But unlike other authors, Johanna Jakabovičová offers the reader a deeper insight into this area since her book is a balanced connection of principal ‘classical’ theory projected in three authentic case studies with a particular focus on language of politeness in business meetings compared with conclusions of existing Business English textbooks. Keeping in eye the reader for whom the book is intended, namely business administration university students, the author managed to present the subject matter of the work in a professional yet uncomplicated and clear way, which makes the handbook accessible, understandable and easy to read hence everyone interested can take a lesson from it. Johanna Jakabovičová focuses on fundamental points of relevant theories offering a concise but appropriate look at theses by ‘classics’ of pragmatics without overloading the reader with excessive information.

The book is divided into six parts.

The introductory part of the book concisely provides the non-philological language student with a selection of linguistic theory written in clear and, I dare say, popularizing language removing the fear of linguistics, which makes it understandable to any layperson. The author considers the substance of language functions and speech acts theory as the alpha and omega of pragmatics and discourse analysis. Particular attention is paid to principles of politeness as presented by the authors like Grice, Leech, Austin or Brown and Lewinson.

In Functional approach to foreign language teaching, which is the title of the second part, the author elucidates the substance of communicative competence and critically views its treatment in many Business English textbooks. With reference to communicative competence, in author’s view FL teaching should aim at the effective and appropriate context-dependent language use. The last section of this part presents detailed background information on meetings to be analyzed and thereafter compared with conclusions found in other Business English textbooks.

The third part of the book briefly presents the methodology, data and conventions of analysis, which is followed by two analytical parts ‘dismantling’ the business meetings language.

Part four Analysis and data, and part five Exponents and phrases expressing functions of opinion, suggestion, agreement and disagreement are, in my modest opinion, from practical viewpoint of a prospective businessman or any politeness conscious or interested person the most valuable pages offering great numbers of examples (exponents) to politely express the functions introduced above. The conclusive comparison of exponents presented in other textbooks and those actually used in authentic business meetings analyzed by J. Jakabovičová confirms the well-known saying theory is one thing but the practice another.

The last part sums up the theoretical bases under consideration of intended objectives of the book and discusses the findings and results of the comparison. Of course, since the author emphasizes the role of context for language understanding and teaching/learning process, the book is supplemented with the full-length transcripts of authentic business meetings with relevant phrases highlighted. The book also contains the list of sources and a comprehensive summary in Slovak that offers, besides a concise theory overview, a beneficial selection of exponents and their Slovak translations, which undoubtedly will be of great value for those who might fail to read the whole book in English.

To conclude the comment on Johanna Jakabovičová’s book Language functions in business meetings: it is an exemplary piece of work worthy of spending time with it. Reading the book is profitable for every one, since, to use the author’s own words: politeness is basic to production of social order, and precondition of human cooperation, regardless of cultural variation.

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