Questions and responses in business communication in Hong Kong

Pao Yue-kong Library Electronic Theses Database

Questions and responses in business communication in Hong Kong


Author: Lin, Hin-sze Iris
Title: Questions and responses in business communication in Hong Kong
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2008
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations.
Business communication -- China -- Hong Kong.
Grammar, Comparative and general -- Interrogative.
Department: Dept. of English
Pages: xiv, 368 p. : col. ill. ; 30 cm.
Language: English
InnoPac Record:
Abstract: The thesis is a corpus-informed study of questions and responses in business communication in Hong Kong. It examines the Business sub-corpus of the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English (HKCSE) (prosodic) (hereafter "the Corpus"), amounting to about 260,000 words, which is compiled by a research team of the English Department of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Cheng, Greaves and Warren, 2005). All instances of question-response sequences in the five business sub-genres are studied. The sub-genres are Service Encounters, Interviews, Meetings, Informal Office Talk, and Q&A Sessions. The Corpus is examined with regard to five aspects: the exchange structure of question-response sequences (Sinclair and Brazil, 1982; Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975; Sinclair, 1992), the syntactic forms of the questions (Biber et al, 1999; Carter and McCarthy, 2006; Givon, 1993; Huddleston et al, 2002; Quirk et al, 1985) and the functions of the questions (Tsui, 1987, 1992; Stenstrom, 1984, 1994), the functions of responses (Tsui, 1987, 1992; Stenstrom, 1984, 1994), the communicative values of discourse intonation (Brazil, 1995, 1997) of questions and their corresponding responses, and the influence of the institutional roles of the participants in different sub-genres in business and professional settings on the use of questions. The findings of the study show that question-response sequences are not necessarily organised in simple and discrete Initiation-Response structures. Instead, many of the sequences stretch over a number of exchanges. It is found that some question forms are more frequent than the others. Among the six question forms, declarative questions are most common. The second most common form is yes-no questions, followed by wh-questions, tag questions, and alternative questions. The least common question form, insert questions, occurs only very rarely in the Corpus. Different realizations of these question forms are discussed and illustrated with excerpts. In the examination of question functions, there is a very similar percentage for three of the categories, <Q: identify>, <Q: confirm>, and <Q: polar>. And very few questions are found to perform the <Q: repeat> function. There is more or less even distribution of most of the question functions, while the distribution of question forms is unevenly spread. This study concludes that there is not a direct form-function relation in questions. Instead, the function of a question is largely determined by the here-and-now situation in which the question is produced. In business and professional discourses, the majority of the questions (95%) are not only responded to but also answered. Only 5% of the responses do not answer the question either explicitly or inexplicitly (with 1% <R: supply>, 3% <R: disclaim> and 1% <R: evade>). And 92% of the responses answer the questions directly (28% <R: identify>, 26% <R: confirm>, 37% <R: polar> and 1% <R: repeat>). The rest (8%) either provides irrelevant information (by <R: supply> with 1%) or gives information indirectly (by <R: imply> with 3%). In the analysis of discourse intonation, both the communicative values and the local meanings of each question form are discussed and illustrated with excerpts from the Corpus. The findings have shown that all question forms identified are produced with different choices available in the tone system (Brazil, 1997), with the exception of the rise-fall tone which is usually used in "exclamatory" and when no feedback is expected from the hearer (ibid: 97). In other words, there is no fixed intonation for any particular question form. Through analyzing the communicative functions of discourse intonation in the questions and responses, the study shows the ways in which participants in the business discourses exploit the intonation system to project a context of interaction which suits their current communicative purposes. Particularly, participants are found to be exploiting the key and termination systems when both asking questions and formulating the responses. In the case of Service Encounters, for example, service providers are found to frequently use mid termination in declarative questions to seek confirmation from the guests or customers. In examining the use of questions in different sub-genres, the study finds different patterns of questioning. The determinant of the number of questions produced and their forms and functions in the interactions is not the length of the discourse but the communicative purpose, and nature of the interactions, the institutional role of the participants and the tasks that the participants need to achieve in the discourses. In this study, discourses which are more "transactional" compared to "interactional" (Brown and Yule, 1983: 1-5) are found to be more question-laden. Finally, the findings of the study are explored in relation to their contribution to the theories and models in discourse analysis, discourse intonation and pragmatics, and pedagogical and research implications of corpus-informed studies for business and professional communication.

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