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World Englishes, Vol 16, No. 3, pp. 313319, 1997.

08832919

Introduction: Genre analysis and world Englishes


VIJAY K. BHATIA*
ABSTRACT: In recent years, discourse and genre analysis has established itself as an important field of
study within linguistics having implications for applied linguistics, especially in the teaching and learning of
languages, mass communication, writing research, language reform and a number of other areas related to
professional and academic communication. However, a more recent recognition of variation in the use of
English as a result of its global spread and use in the `outer' and the `expanding circles' (Kachru, 1992) has
given rise to concerns about the need and capacity of the presently used paradigms, frameworks and
methodologies in discourse and genre analysis to account for such a variation. Since English has
undoubtedly acquired the status of a world language, it is more than necessary that linguists of all
persuasions, whether interested in the issues of language acquisition, description, use or reform need to
adjust their vision, paradigms, frameworks or methodologies in order to be able to account for this global
variation in the use of English in the intra and international contexts. The main purpose of this special
volume is to address some of these issues arising from intercultural and cross-cultural perspectives on the
use of English as an international or world language.

APPLIED GENRE ANALYSIS

Genre analysis, though variously defined in recent literature (see Martin, 1985, 1993;
Swales, 1990; Bhatia, 1993; Berkenkotter and Huckin, 1995), is generally understood to
represent the study of linguistic behaviour in institutionalized academic and professional
settings. Instead of offering a linguistic description of language use, it tends to offer
linguistic explanation, attempting to answer the question, Why do members of specific
professional communities use the language the way they do? The answer requires input not
from linguistics alone, but equally importantly, from sociolinguistics and ethnographic
studies, psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology, communication research, studies of
disciplinary cultures and most importantly, insights from members of such specialist
communities, to name only a few. Taking communicative purpose as the key characteristic
feature of a genre, the analysis attempts to unravel mysteries of the artefact in question.
Genre analysis, thus, has become one of the major influences on the current practices in the
teaching and learning of languages to learners in specialist disciplines like engineering,
science, law, business and a number of others. By offering a dynamic explanation of the
way expert users of language manipulate generic conventions to achieve a variety of
complex goals associated with their specialist disciplines, it focuses attention on the
variation in language use by members of various disciplinary cultures. It concentrates
on at least four main aspects of genre acquisition that professional users seem to display
when they handle specialist genres. They include knowledge of the code, genre knowledge
associated with disciplinary cultures, sensitivity to cognitive structuring, and finally what
Berkenkotter and Huckin call the genre ownership, which gives professional writers
confidence to exploit generic knowledge to respond to familiar and novel rhetorical
contexts.
Let me very briefly elaborate on these four areas of concern.
* Department of English, City University of Hong Kong, 83 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong. E-mail:
enbhatia@cityu.edu.hk
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(1) Knowledge of the code


The knowledge of the code, of course, is a prerequisite to communicative expertise in any
specialist or even, everyday discourse. However, a perfect knowledge of the language is
neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to the acquisition of the genre.
(2) Genre knowledge
Participating in a specialist communicative event involves getting acquainted not only with
the communicative goals of a specialist discourse community, but also with the communicative purposes associated with specific use of genres to achieve those goals. Genre
knowledge as a form of `situated cognition,' is seen as inextricable from professional
writers' procedural and social knowledge (Berkenkotter and Huckin, 1995: 13). Expert
professional writers often display some degree of mastery over this kind of genre knowledge, which includes procedural knowledge (the knowledge of tools, methods and
interpretative framework typically used in a discipline) and social knowledge (in the
sense of familiarity with the rhetorical and conceptual context) before they can claim
ownership of these professional genres. As Fairclough (1992) points out, `. . . a genre
implies not only a particular text type, but also particular processes of producing,
distributing and consuming texts.'
(3) Sensitivity to cognitive structures
Every disciplinary culture has its own way of structuring knowledge. Expert professionals not
only have access to the goals of their community and the conventions associated with
specialist genres used by them, they also have explicit control over how these goals are
typically achieved in response to socio-cognitive demands in specific professional contexts.
They are sensitive not simply to the content of specific genres but also to the shapes that these
genres take in response to changes in social practices.
(4) Genre ownership
Good professionals own specialist genres; they know how to interpret them, use them, and
exploit them. They do not simply follow conventions, but often take liberties with them in
order to respond to familiar and not so familiar rhetorical contexts. In doing so, expert genre
writers, especially in the present-day contexts of ever-increasing consumer culture (Feathertone, 1991), often resort to what Bhatia (1995, 1997) refers to as genre-mixing and genre
embedding to achieve `private intentions' within the context of `socially recognized communicative purposes.'

Recent literature in applied genre analysis has shown increasing interest in the study of
generic variation as a result of diverse practices often associated with specific disciplinary
cultures; however, the discipline has paid very little attention to variation which may be the
result of two other kinds of diversity, one emerging as a result of the use of English as a
world language, and the other as a result of the cross-cultural and/or intercultural factors.
Let us turn our attention to these two.
Multicultural identity of English
English has, as a result of its global spread, over the years acquired identities which are
essentially multicultural. The consequence of this kind of participation, Kachru maintains
is that
. . . the spread of English has resulted in a multiplicity of semiotic systems, several nonshared
linguistic conventions, and numerous underlying cultural traditions. . . And, any speaker of
English (native or non-native) has access to only a subset within the patterns and conventions of
cultures which English now encompasses. . . . English has now become a medium of cross-cultural
expression and, one hopes, of intercultural understanding, too (Kachru, 1988: 207).
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We may or may not accept it, but it is a fact, more widely recognized now than a few years
ago, that there are significant variations in the use of English across national as well as
socio-cultural boundaries and that much of this kind of user-related variation has given
rise to the recognition and codification of many new varieties of English in the last few
years. It is also a fact that all these changes have not come as a complete surprise. They are
an inevitable result of the immense popularity and an overwhelming acceptance of the use
of English as the medium of communication in a variety of social, academic, occupational,
and other specialized areas of language use, some of which include business and trade,
science and technology, economics and finance, politics and diplomacy, newspapers and
advertising, computers and mass media.
One thing that stands out clearly from the foregoing is that the present-day use of
English is embedded within multilingual as well as multicultural contexts. As Quirk et al.
(1972) pointed out:
English, which we have referred to as a lingua franca, is pre-eminently the most international of
languages. Though the mention of the language may at once remind us of England, on the one
hand, or cause association with the might of the United States, on the other, it carries less
implication of political or cultural specificity than any other living tongue.

However, referring to the cultural diversity of the users of English, they cautiously add:
. . . the cultural neutrality of English must not be pressed too far. . . . The literal or metaphorical
use of such expressions as case law throughout the English speaking world reflects the common
heritage in our legal system; and allusions to or quotations from Shakespeare, the Authorized
Version, Gray's Elegy, Mark Twain, a sea shanty, a Negro spiritual or Beatles song wittingly or
not testify similarly to a shared culture. The continent means `continental Europe' as readily in
America and even Australia and New Zealand as it does in Britain. At other times, English
equally reflects independent and distinct culture of one or other of the English-speaking
communities. When an Australian speaks of fossicking something out (searching for something),
the metaphor looks back to the desperate activity of reworking and diggings of someone else in
the hope of finding gold that had been overlooked. When an American speaks of not getting to
first base (not achieving initial success), the metaphor concerns . . . (a)n equally culture-specificactivity the game of basketball. And when an Englishman says something is not cricket (unfair),
the allusion is to a game that is by no means universal in the English-speaking countries (Quirk et
al., 1972: 6)

Looking at it now, one is inevitably amazed at the universal popularity of baseball in


Japan and that of The Beatles and of cricket in many of the other English-speaking
countries. The English language, like cricket, has no longer remained the exclusive
property of a once great (cricketing nation) Britain. In fact, the strength of English lies
in the fact that it does not represent just one culture or one way of life alone, at least
not in its present form; it is being used as a vehicle for communicating several
cultures, several ways of conducting the business of science and technology, discussing
issues and negotiating realities in trade, commerce, management, economics and
politics.
Metamorphism of English
In the process of becoming a universal medium of communication, English language
itself has undergone gradual metamorphism, acquiring a number of additional identities,
in addition to several it has always enjoyed. Perhaps one of the important reasons, apart
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from the obvious historical ones, for a greater acceptance of English as a world language
has been the relative ease with which the English language has accepted innovations,
additions and extensions, enriching itself in the bargain. A language is bound to be as
readily acceptable to outsiders as readily it accepts external influences. To the purist, it
may appear to be a great weakness, but considered in a wider global context, this very socalled `weakness' has become its greatest strength. As a natural consequence of its
immense popularity and global spread, English is increasingly becoming international
in character.
John Adams, the second president of the United States, predicted as early as 1780 that
English would be the most respectable language in the world and the most universally read
and spoken in the next century . . . (see Mathews, 1931, quoted in Kachru, 1992: 2). When
predicting such a spectacular rise in the use of English, he was, perhaps, unaware of the
fact that one day English itself will undergo transformation from the English of a
particular section of world population (British, American or Australian) to the English,
or more appropriately World Englishes.
Jacob Grimm, speaking to the Royal Academy of Berlin in January 1851, probably had
this thing in mind when he declared,
Of all modern language, not one has acquired such great strength and vigour as the English. It has
accomplished this by simply freeing itself from the ancient phonetic laws, and casting off almost
all inflections; whilst, from its abundance of intermediate sounds, tones not even to be taught, but
only to be learned, it has derived a characteristic power of expression such as perhaps was never
yet the property of any other human tongue. . . . Indeed, the English language, . . ., may be called
justly a LANGUAGE OF THE WORLD . . . (see Grimm [1851] 1965; quoted in Bailey, 1991:
109110).

The interesting point about Grimm's prediction is the importance he attaches to the
natural capacity of English in adapting and absorbing influences, changes and innovations, which he thinks are partly responsible for making English popular as a world
language. Today we do not need to make a case for the universal popularity and global
spread of English as a dominant medium of communication in almost every international
context, be it politics or business, trade or commerce, science or engineering, agriculture or
information science, radio or television, advertising or journalism. More recently, Kachru
(1991) confirms,
. . . English has acquired unprecedented sociological and ideological dimensions. It is now wellrecognized that in linguistic history no language has touched the lives of so many people, in so
many cultures and continents, in so many functional roles, and with so much prestige, as has
the English language since the 1930s. And, equally important, across cultures English has been
successful in creating a class of people who have greater intellectual power in multiple spheres
of language use unsurpassed by any single language before; (Kachru, 1991: 180).

Two things stand out very clearly from these assertions. First, that the rise of English to
stardom, as it were, is multifunctional rather than any particular restricted aspect of
general use, either social or professional. Second, it is embedded within multilingual as well
as multicultural contexts.

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MULTICULTURAL WORLD OF WORK

The working world is becoming increasingly multicultural as a result of the merger of


business organizations to form big multinationals to operate across national borders. In
this emerging context, it is misleading to assume that all professional activities are
conducted through English, whether British or American. Many of the multinationals
which operate offshore often recruit, wherever possible, a large number of employees, and
some key personnel from the host country. This helps them to handle, and avoid, if
possible, any linguistic, socio-ethnic, intercultural and cross-cultural constraints they may
be required to confront in the host country. Underlying this strategy, there seems to be a
clear understanding of the requirements of operating in a multicultural setting.
Even if we assume that English is the dominant mode of communication in such
professional contexts, it is still not true that all interactants need to be governed by a set of
uniform native standards. As Strevens (1992) points out, there are significant differences in
the way English is actually used globally. It often, he points out, involves linguistic
interactions of three types of participants: native speaker and native speaker (NS-NS);
native speaker and non-native speaker (NS-NNS); and, non-native speaker and non-native
speaker (NNS-NNS). The use of English in a majority of situations outside the native
contexts, be they academic or professional, may not always involve a native speaker as one
of the interactants. Even where a native speaker is involved as one of the interactants in
contexts outside the `inner circle' (Kachru, 1992), it is the responsibility of both the parties
to make effort to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication arising from crosscultural factors in the use of language.
CHANGING LANGUAGE TEACHING CONTEXTS

One of the most influential models of communication that has influenced language
teaching in recent times has been associated with the notion of communicative competence,
which goes well beyond what linguists term as grammatical competence and includes what
could be broadly termed as sociolinguistic competence, which means the knowledge of
what is socially acceptable in real-life socio-cultural situations. In addition to these two
types of competence, one also needs a more selective and specialized kind of competence,
which could be termed as generic competence, which allows a person to choose from a
range of appropriate genres the one that is most suitable for achieving the communicative
purpose(s) in institutionalized social contexts.
Unfortunately, however, many of the language teachers interpret communicative
competence too narrowly to incorporate either the grammatical competence, or some
aspects of sociolinguistic competence in addition to that. It is important to note that these
various facets of competence may develop different patterns of proficiency and, may be, at
different rates. Of all the three, it is the grammatical competence which seems to be least
problematic for successful communication, in that it is still possible for people to be able to
communicate effectively even with a relatively less than desirable grammatical accuracy.
Sociolinguistic (in)competence, on the other hand, is likely to lead to more serious types of
miscommunication as well as misunderstanding. Generic competence, to a large extent, is
embedded in generic knowledge, which includes the experience or understanding of the
discursive practices associated with disciplinary cultures, and ensures pragmatic success in
communicative tasks embedded within specialized settings.
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However, in the teaching and learning of languages, it is grammatical competence which


has traditionally been given the most important place. Sociolinguistic competence was
given quite a bit of importance in the 1980s as a result of the popularity of communicative
language methodology.
Generic competence, however, has become the focus of attention only recently as a
result of the somewhat unprecedented explosion of interest in genre-based studies of
discourse, where an attempt is made to answer the most important and yet often
overlooked question, `Why a particular text is written the way it is?' The main problem
with socio-cultural and strategic aspects of communicative competence is that they are
likely to be more generally embedded within the individual learner's socio-cultural
knowledge or experience of disciplinary cultures.
In the teaching and learning of English, especially ESP, the most important aspect of
learning is the acquisition of ability to use language in the context in which the learner is
or going to be part of. Learning a language, therefore, essentially involves a process of
contextualization. The context invariably involves the social semiotic within which the
learner is likely to operate. When English is taken from a native context and is
transported to a second language learning context, it carries with it the cultural baggage
of the native context.
So far as the learner's social semiotic is concerned, a great majority of ESP learners
across the globe are more likely to operate within their own native socio-cultural contexts,
rather than in any English-speaking native or even native-non-native context. As Steve
points out:
Foreign languages are usually taught with the goal of being able to communicate with/participate
in that language's `native' society. In this instance, it is necessary to teach the structure of the
language as well as the social semiotic as seen by the target culture. However, in most of the cases
in Asia and Africa, the goal is not to learn English to participate in the Anglo social semiotic, but
to transfer the native social semiotic on to the English base and thus nativize it as an effective
means of communication for that culture, without reference to the Anglo culture (Steve,
1994: 390).

The need, therefore, in most second language learning contexts is to transfer native social
semiotic to the second language, without being dictated to by the standards of the native
culture. In the emerging language learning and teaching contexts of variation in the use of
English across the international boundaries, it is necessary to recognize nativized norms
for intranational functions within specific speech communities, and then to build a norm
for international use on such models, rather than enforcing or creating a different norm in
addition to that. What needs to be done is that international English should be considered
a kind of superstructure rather than an entirely new concept. The best way this superstructure can be added is by making the learner aware of cross-cultural variations in the
use of English and by maximizing his or her ability to negotiate, accommodate and accept
plurality of norms. For language teaching pedagogy, as Kachru (1981: 37) points out, this
will require the use of a `dynamic' approach based on a polymodel concept rather than a
static monomodel approach to the teaching of professional communication. `Linguistic
homogeneity' as rightly pointed out by Kachru (1981: 26) `is the dream of an analyst, and a
myth created by the language pedagogues.'
Current work in applied discourse and genre studies has paid very little attention to
cross-cultural and intercultural variation resulting from a variation in the use of English
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globally. In order to cope with the rapidly increasing international mobility and the everchanging socio-political and economic influences on the use of discourse genres in the
changing context, I suggest we need to look more carefully and promote a more general
understanding of generic norms, suggesting accommodation, negotiation and plurality of
models, so that many of the second language learners' legitimate adaptations are seen as
exploitation of generic resources to reflect the meanings they assume, the social relations
they refer to, and the functions they seem to serve, rather than mere deviations. I hope that
contributions in the present volume will serve this purpose and add to the growing body of
literature in this area.
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recognized purposes. In Explorations in English for Professional Communication. Edited by Paul Bruthiaux, Tim
Boswood and Bertha Du-Babcock. City University of Hong Kong. pp. 119.
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(Received 15 June 1996.)

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