Business English as a ‘Neutral’ Option

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Nowadays, modern society lives in globalized world where the boundaries between nations are extended. English is the universal language; both business and management operations are conducted in it. In fact, English is a lingua franca (ELF) which has evolved into Business ELF (BELF). BELF became the ‘neutral’ tool in business communication which allows enterprises to achieve sustainable corporate strategy with the establishment of communication with employees and mutual understanding between management and people in a multilingual environment. Thus, this paper focuses on the multilingual communication in business sphere, suggesting that business English is the most ‘neutral’ one due to its circulation and expansion on the world level.

Business English

Given the nature and scope of today’s business processes, as well as the number of people involved in them, the monolingual environment is a rare phenomenon. Language differences require the use of a multilingual communication style. Two patterns of multilingual situations exist, namely the adoption of a lingua franca when the English language is the most useful and the promotion of multilingual communication for mutual understanding (Meyer & Apfelbaum, 2010, p. 1- 9). In the modern world, most enterprises either participate in international trade or enter the international market for specific business processes. Negotiations, supply chains, procurements, manufacturing processes, and other business components necessitate cultural and linguistic diversity, which creates problems of a linguistic nature. As a result, English as a lingua franca is considered to be a condition for the universality of business knowledge and communication. This principle is based on the assumption that the language is transparent and functions as a neutral means of expressing ideas and sharing knowledge. Thus, this paper focuses on multilingual communication in the business sphere.

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The essay consists of a theoretical framework and argumentation. The first part is a brief review of existing research and literature. It is aimed at identifying the most relevant theories and concepts related to this topic. The argumentation is divided into several parts, which allow considering in detail various factors influencing ELF / BELF, such as history, globalisation, and international business relations. It also provides the arguments in favour of asserting the neutrality of English. The work also includes criticism, which allows considering this topic from different angles. Evidently, the paper suggests that business English is the most ‘neutral’ communication tool due to its circulation and expansion on the world level.

Theoretical Framework

A fast-growing number of studies demonstrate that language diversity influences multilingual business settings (Tenzer, Terjesen & Harzing, 2017, p.2). Piekkari, Oxelhelm, and Randy (2015, pp. 25-26) suggest three aspects of language diversity usage, namely national languages spoken in multinational corporations, officially mandated corporate languages, and English as the language of global business. This paper examines solely the role of English in the business environment. The researchers in the field of international business formulate the concept that English is a hegemonic force (Tietze & Dick, 2013, p. 123); they also conclude that business English as a lingua franca (BELF) is perceived as a neutral alternative (Kankaanranta & Planken 2010, p.27). Kankaanranta and Planken also emphasize three characteristics of BELF; it is usually simplified English that might contain specialized business lexicon, specific technical slang, and relevant genres and that might commingle the features of both English and mother tongue (2010, pp. 17-19). Yanarpasart also supports multilingual strategy in international business, identifying BELF as a “neutral” language which helps to standardise business processes, especially management (2016, p. 95). Ke considers global English to be “a tool [which] corresponds to its role as a global language” (2015, p. 78). He also distinguishes two features of English in the multilingual sphere: communication and standardization.

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Du-Babcock (2013, p. 103), Gajst (2014, p. 79), and Kankaanranta (2013, p. 3) underline the challenges of BEFL, focusing on communicative competence and intercultural context as the key ones. Gerritsen and Nickerson (2009) in their study suggest that these aspects cause the formation of psychological barriers between communicators and are powerful arguments for the denial of neutrality of BELF. Thus, the above-mentioned facts are the basis for learning business English as a neutral tool in multilingual business settings.

Argumentation: The Influence of Globalization and History

In the era of globalization, which brought a breakthrough in science and technology, trade and diplomacy, politics and other aspects of social life, the boundaries between nations have disappeared. As a result of this process, different factors such as historical, political, economic, cultural, and technological have influenced the extension of English language. For this reason, new varieties of English have emerged (Lupia?ez 2016, p. 6). Due to the popularity of English, it became a lingua franca (ELF). This term signifies “an additionally acquired language system, which serves as a common means of communication for speakers of different first languages” (Mauranen and Ranta, 2008, p. 185). According to this meaning, both native speakers and non-native speakers can be the users of English. Based on the meaning of ELF, it is necessary to emphasize its feature as a general tool of communication. As English has evolved from national to global language, it has become a neutral communication tool in various spheres.

The definition of the neutrality of ELF was also expressed by Takino in his thesis (2015, p. 13). He considers the ELF phenomenon to be the result of historical events and globalization. The last factor, in his opinion, has served as the necessity for speakers of different languages to find a neutral way of communication between each other. Therefore, the influence of different speakers and their languages made English flexible, fluid, and intercultural because the exchange of cultural and linguistic features between nations is common. It has also transformed it into a neutral communication tool.

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The historical aspect also influenced the spread of English and transformed it into a neutral communication mechanism. The British Empire, in its heyday, made English an international language through economic progress and colonization (Mairead, p. 3). The British colonies in Australia, Africa, and America contributed to the establishment of English on other continents. That marked the adoption of English by other nations, the emergence of various types and interpretations of the English language, and its adaptation to other mother tongues (Sharma 2008). Thus, ELF has become a dynamic language which is used worldwide. The great economic progress of the USA also influenced ELF, making it the language of politics and economy. Such historic events rooted English into the business environment, making it a global communication mechanism.

Statistic Data and the Influence of International Business Relations

The undoubted argument in favour of the assertion that ELF is a neutral instrument of communication derives from the statistical data. According to the information, English as a first language is used by 500 million people, as a second language – by 510 million, meaning that there are 1010 million people speaking English (Mairead, p.9). It confirms that ELF is perceived as a neutral language because it is widespread throughout the world among both native and non-native speakers.

A sound argument in favour of using BELF as a neutral instrument of communication is based on the current level of business integration and business in general. Every day, new companies and start-ups appear in the world, expansion and absorption of enterprises and holdings happen, and network companies expand. Modern foreign economic activity is highly advanced, which contributes to frequent negotiations, meetings, presentations, conferences, and networking between businessmen from different countries. To achieve the desired result, representatives of the business environment need a general neutral communication tool in order to better understand and cooperate effectively with other players in the market.

Communicative Competence and the Influence of Intercultural Context

Despite the precise definition of BELF as a neutral means of communication, there are a number of arguments that challenge BELF. Du-Babcock (2013, p. 103), Gajst (2014, p. 79), and Kankaanranta (2013, p. 3) note that BELF meets various cultural challenges. Intercultural context influences BELF negatively as cultural differences between nations impact business negotiations greatly. Such aspects as interactive styles and interactive strategies significantly differ in various countries. For example, Finns and Japanese prefer quite conversations associated with politeness and respect while Americans tend to use humour and joked during presentations; Italians usually deliver long speeches while Germans and Dutch value accuracy and seriousness in business negotiations. Nevertheless, the use of a common language reduces the barriers and contributes to the creation of a neutral environment. The cultural characteristics of business representatives fade into the background, creating a specific neutral microculture that helps to establish dialogue and work efficiency.

One more challenge in BELF is communicative competence, which often acts as a barrier to understanding each other during meetings, negotiations, and other forms of interactions. The lack of English proficiency, vocabulary, and grammatical basis for free business communication creates problems of understanding others. Pronunciation, accent and other features of speech also affect the oral perception of information.

Gerritsen and Nickerson (2009) suggest that the neutrality of BELF can be questioned because of the cultural differences, poor knowledge of English, lexical and grammatical differences between English and other languages, as well as stereotyped associations with particular English accents. The language disparities can cause the formation of psychological barriers between communicators.

Despite the risk of low communicative competence, BELF was initially designed for people with a narrow specialization, meaning that it does not require in-depth knowledge of English. To understand and communicate BELF, it is sufficient to have an average level of knowledge, which is usually not a problem for representatives of companies and managers. Thus, despite risks and difficulties, BELF is still the best way to communicate in the business environment and acts as a neutral tool in business processes.

BELF Features as the Basis of its Neutrality

BELF has become an important communication tool, which makes BELF the dominating language of international business in the last few decades. Thus, according to Lupia?ez (2016, p. 7), the main focus of BELF is the global business discourse community. BELF is aimed at achieving fruitful and effective communication from the viewpoint of Martins (2017, p.67); in fact, the communicative goal based on BELF is to reach mutual intelligibility in a multicultural situation. Being based on various cultural characteristics of representatives in the business environment, Business English is characterised by simplistic vocabulary, specific terminology, and a mix of languages used in a communication situation (Alapeteri 2018, p. 46). According to Ehrenreich (2016), such flexibility of language has become one of the key reasons for the perception of BELF as a neutral means of communication.

One more unique characteristic of BELF is its usage as a contact language between people of different mother tongues. According to Gajst (2014), Louhiala-Salminen and Kankaanranta (2013), and Ehrenreich (2016), Business English as a lingua franca refers to English used as a neutral and shared communication code. Lu and Kankaanranta (2013, pp.6-7) note that BELF as a lingua franca is characterised by variation and hybridity. Thus, the linguistic prerequisites contained in BELF are reflected in the discourse practices of its respective versions.

In addition to these features, Martins highlights neutrality as the most important particularity of BELF (2017, p.63). Business English as a lingua franca is used by companies to standardize and simplify the dialogue between management and employees. Nowadays, many enterprises have branches or launch production in different countries. Thus, to achieve the goals and to create a corporate balance, companies aim to enhance language understanding as the first main task. In this aspect, English as the most common language serves as a communication tool between various departments and workers. In the situation of multilingualism when the staff come from different countries, English acts as an instrument of mutual understanding between different nationalities and cultures.

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The purpose of this paper was to discuss the characteristics of ELF and BELF in order to confirm that Business English is more “neutral” because of its distribution and expansion at the global level. To achieve this goal, the most influential aspects of Business English as lingua franca, such as history, globalization, statistical data, and international business relations, were analyzed. It was revealed that historical events, such as the economic progress of the British Empire, the emergence of the United States, and colonization, contributed to the spread of the English language, which is still happening nowadays in the context of globalization. Statistics confirm these arguments. The influence of BELF on international business relations was considered, namely the role of BELF in the conduct of business processes and in the communication with foreign partners. The key issues and risks were also considered, namely communicative competence, which casts doubt on the neutrality of the BELF due to problems with understanding the English language at a sufficient level. The intercultural context also impacts BELF. Thus, the neutrality of BELF was thoroughly examined, proving that it remains to be the most effective communication tool at the global level.

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