Email Discourse among Chinese Using English as a Lingua Franca by Yuan-shan Chen, Der-Hwa Victoria Rau, and Gerald Rau is an investigative initiative that adopts the paradigm of English as a lingua franca (ELF) situated in the discourse of email exchanges among Chinese people in both academic and professional settings. This book is thematically organized into four main sections: ‘Emails from Students to Professors’, ‘Emails from Students to the International Academic Community’, ‘Emails from Peer to Peer’, and ‘Emails in the Workplace’. It showcases how email as a genre has been manifested in different social practices, and as the editors point out, this is ‘the first edited volume devoted solely to Chinese speakers’ email discourse in English’ (p. 1). Overall, this volume is a welcome addition to an interdisciplinary scholarship that interweaves both email-mediated communication discourse and ELF, although we need to point out from the outset that not all chapters examine email discourse using the ELF paradigm. Part One focuses on emails from students to professors. Chapter 2 by Rau and Rau focuses on data from classroom settings to examine how students and their teacher negotiated their personal relationships through email exchanges. Rau and Rau analyse how the instructor used different terms of address and signature to show his relationship with the class, and how the students adopted different forms of salutation, closing, and signature in emails being used for different purposes. Because ‘email is not a monolithic genre but is inherently fluid’ (p. 28), the authors argue for the importance of classroom instruction in email writing to highlight how to negotiate relationships. They consider email as a genre that needs to be included in pragmatically oriented language instruction, and recommend incorporating terms of address into such instruction. In Chapter 3, Huang analyses a corpus of 76 emails to explore ‘how Taiwanese EFL learners use their linguistic repertoire to communicate with their teachers in emails’ (p. 37). In terms of language choice, Huang found that students preferred to use English, but sometimes code-switched depending on their interlocutors, different contexts, and their major subjects. Huang found that ‘most of the emails served the functions of request and inquiry’ (p. 44). She also investigated the discursive organization of email messages and reports that although different patterns of writing emails were evident, the postgraduate students tended to be more formal than undergraduates. In addition, the students employed both written and spoken features of communication in their emails. Huang thus concludes that ‘email is of a hybrid nature which includes features from both written and spoken forms of communication’ (p. 56). Overall, Huang contends that the discourse analysis of email exchanges can ‘inform language teachers’ diagnostic assessment of language use’ (p. 57) to better understand English learners’ first-language transfer. Chapter 4, by Chang, Curran, Hsu, and Hsu, presents a study that examined the discourse of waffling manifested in 60 apology emails in an academic context. The findings show that English native speakers, EFL learners, and Chinese native speakers used different apology strategies in terms of generality, such as ‘I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this might pose on your end …’ (Direct Apology, p. 77) and ‘I am willing to accept partial credit for the assignment if you allow me to finish it to completion, but I will leave that to your judgement’ (Taking on Responsibility, p. 81), and specificity, such as ‘I’m really sorry, but I can’t make it to today’s class. There’s something else that I have to do, so I won’t be able to make it’ (Account, p. 79). The findings also suggest that the participants’ sociocultural background plays a pivotal role in the discursive construction of apologies in academic email encounters. In Chapter 5, Li and Chen look at 13 Taiwanese professors’ perceptions of students’ email requests to faculty members in relation to politeness and effectiveness. Grounded in content analysis, the findings indicate that despite a high level of tolerance towards informal email writing styles, the participating Taiwanese professors perceived a formal style as the preferred one in student emails to faculty members. In addition, most of the Taiwanese faculty members reported that students should give grounds for their email requests to their professors. This study gives fresh insight into the role of politeness and email effectiveness in successful email communication between academic professors and students who do not share equal social power and social distance. Part Two focuses on emails from students to the international academic community. Chapter 6, by Chen, focuses on Chinese learners’ performance of speech acts by studying request-making emails. Chen asked his students to write an email to an imaginary international researcher whom they had never met and request access to an article. In light of relational identity construction, Chen found that students chose a formal style when communicating with these hypothetical international researchers. By analysing the pragmatic elements, Chen argues that the use of formality is the result of ‘attempted deference rather than … perceived distance’ (p. 125). In Chapter 7, Xiao and Gao use the concepts of guanxi and taoci to analyse emails written by Chinese students when they applied to potential supervisors for postgraduate studies overseas. Guanxi is a social concept similar to using personal relationships or contacts to exchange favours; taoci means ‘building guanxi with targeted persons for practical goals, mainly through linguistic means’ (p. 135, italics in original). Xiao and Gao point to the importance of guanxi building in Chinese intra-group communication. However, they then point out the subtle changes of the value attached to guanxi in China’s process of modernisation and highlight the importance of investigating how applicants may apply this concept in taoci emails to potential supervisors. When analysing sample guanxi/taoci emails, Xiao and Gao found that students used power-oriented strategies to show respect and solidarity-oriented strategies to maintain contact and create opportunities for further interaction. When looking at academic taoci emails, Xiao and Gao found that students would adopt strategies to establish mutual academic interests to demonstrate their academic potential and competence. Chapter 8, by Ren, argues for the need to research written ELF discourse, and reports how Chinese university students used pragmatic strategies to signal and to remedy or prevent and pre-empt problems in understanding. One significant finding of Ren’s research is how students tended to employ remedial and pre-emptive pragmatic strategies when they encountered misunderstandings and non-understanding of ELF emails. Students were also aware of the ‘gaps in their knowledge of some topics and the knowledge of their email recipients’ (p. 177). Drawing on the findings, Ren emphasizes the capacity of ELF users to ‘employ appropriate pragmatic strategies in their ELF email communication’ (p. 177) and argues that ‘ELF users’ pragmatic competence should not be evaluated against the “native speaker norm”’ (p. 177). Part Three deals with emails from peer to peer. In Chapter 9 Huang presents an investigation into the distinct features of EFL students’ email openings and closings in the context of intercultural exchanges. Taiwanese, Italian, and Japanese EFL students were involved in a two-year email exchange project. Drawing on conversational discourse analyses of 768 emails, Huang found that the opening strategies that students used were mainly salutation + name, followed by greeting, question, no opening, and gratitude. To close their emails, the strategies they deployed were signature, farewell/ending salutation, expectation, no closing, and gratitude. The findings suggest that the discourse of email openings and closings portrays a myriad of interpersonal meanings (e.g., building and maintaining good personal relationships and solidarity) in email communication. Chapter 10 by Liu and Ren investigates how Chinese students express their apologies in English-medium email exchanges. Liu and Ren looked at two groups of Chinese university students: first-year students and third-year students. Participants were asked to ‘write emails to their foreign peers to make apologies according to scenarios’ (p. 215). Liu and Ren found that L2 proficiency is not a key factor in how Chinese learners perceive sociopragmatic variables in the situation of offence. However, the intermediate learners (low group) employed more IFID (illocutionary force indicating device) and ‘taking on responsibility’ strategies, whereas the low-advanced learners (high group) were able to ‘write more intensified apologies in a shorter email’ (p. 224), indicating the pragmatic development of these aspects. The last part of this book focuses on emails in the workplace. In Chapter 11, Lü reports a study that examined the directness, discursive modification, and politeness of request e-mails written by one novice and two senior professional secretaries in a private Taiwanese university context. Lü reports that senior professionals preferred using more direct strategies and more internal and external modification devices when emailing requests to foreign teachers and local Chinese teachers to achieve administrative purposes, such as asking for information and taking action. However, the novice professional deployed more conventionally indirect strategies and fewer modifiers. This suggests a lack of self-assurance as a practising professional in the asymmetrical academic context. The study indicates that both power and institutional roles shape the discourse of email communication between professional secretaries and academic faculty members. Chapter 12, by Tai, examines the email discourse between an editor and two potential contributors to an edited volume, looking closely at how the editor showed her symbolic competence and how she and the two potential contributors negotiated face in emails. Tai shows how the editor enacted multiple identities when negotiating with the potential contributors for a resubmission request in the first case, and maintained face between her and the contributors when asking for revisions in another case. Through the complexity of ELF email discourse, ‘not only consensus, but also conflicts can be discovered’ (p. 277). The study thus contributes to a better understanding of symbolic competence and facework in ELF email communication. The last chapter, by Hsiang, presents valuable data concerning the email writing styles of a hacker and a company employee from a forensic linguistics perspective. Hsiang concludes that the employee’s writing style tends to be inductive, and uses strategies of involvement and enhancement, whereas the hacker uses ‘deductive patterns and the strategies of independence and challenge when writing the emails’ (p. 295). This volume is an important contribution to understanding pragmatics in ELF written texts in two respects. The first is the contextual validity of the work: the research described was conducted by both established and emergent scholars who are familiar with and working in Chinese contexts. The second reason is that the volume extends the scholarship on email-assisted communication from discursive and ELF perspectives. However, as we pointed out above, in spite of the mention of ELF in the title, a number of chapters are not ELF related but simply pragmatic explorations of email exchanges. Furthermore, although many chapters incorporate an ELF paradigm in their research, some chapters still do not legitimate localized use of English, and reflect native standardization in the teaching of writing. We also feel that some aspects of this book could have been improved. First, the ELF paradigm should probably have been defined and explained in the introduction, given that the notion of ELF is the main thread of this volume: some contributors did discuss ELF in their literature review, though others did not. Second, methodological stances and different approaches to email discourse analysis could have been explained more clearly in each of the chapters. This would have strengthened the entire volume, and the way it represents the discourse of email writing as social practice situated in academic and professional contexts. Despite these drawbacks, the present volume is a point of departure for investigating email as a fluid genre of writing from an ELF perspective. For this reason, it can also serve as a reference for practitioners of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and Business English practitioners who would like to design ESP materials that emphasize English-medium email communication. Fan (Gabriel) Fang obtained his PhD from the Centre for Global Englishes, the University of Southampton, UK, and an MA from the University of Leeds, UK. He is currently an Associate Professor at Shantou University, China. His research interests include Global Englishes, language attitude and identity, intercultural communication, and ELT. He has published in refereed journals including Asian Englishes, English Today, Language Teaching Research, System, and the Journal of Asia TEFL. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Handoyo Puji Widodo is an Associate Professor at Shantou University, China. His recent publications include Situating Moral and Cultural Values in ELT Materials: The Southeast Asian Context (with Canh, Perfecto, and Buripakdi; Springer, 2018) and Asian English Language Classrooms: Where Theory and Practice Meet (with Wood and Gupta; Routledge, 2017). His areas of specialization include language teaching methodology, language curriculum and materials development, systemic functional linguistics in language education, and teacher professional development. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
ELT Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 4, 2018
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