Communication is an essential part of everyone’s life, both in daily activities and in the workplace. Therefore, applied linguistics has started to take an active interest in identifying the recurrent patterns of language usage by people in various contexts, with various backgrounds, and in different professional settings.
The issue of institutional discourse has come to the forefront of scientific attention only after the essence of discourse specificity and close relationships to the type of social activity performed have been identified.
Consequently, the modern period of discursive linguistics studies is marked by the quest for connections between the conceptual world, making each setting distinct, and its realization through linguistic means in the process of professional communication.
Seeing language and communication as a knowledge-based concepts enables the researchers to draw the necessary parallels between the construction of communal knowledge, the formation of distributed cognition and knowledge-sharing in the institutional settings as essential factors for institutional discourse research.
These issues are taken as the basic theoretical framework of the present paper to identify the institutional genres typical for particular institutions, as well as the ways to achieve the communicative goals within the institutional setting. The second part of the work is dedicated to a more practical overview of institutional genres and knowledge-making in financial institutions, in the Canadian setting in particular.
The overall purpose of the paper is to identify the specificity of institutional genres, to determine their goals and meaningfulness within institutions, and to connect the theoretical findings on the empirical research accomplished by such authors as Smart and Darville.
The Theoretical Framework of the Literature Review
The concept of discourse. The concept of discourse is the key deriving point of the present theoretical framework, as it actually constitutes the subject of investigation. It can be defined from the formalist and structural perspective as “language above the clause” (Stubbs, 1983, cited in Mayr, 2008, p. 7).
This definition encompasses the organization and cohesion of the language but represents a somewhat limited perspective of viewing the social context, individual characteristics of the speaker, the functions and purposes of linguistic acts.
Hence, the functionalist paradigm for considering the discourse is more suitable for the present research – it denotes the discourse as “language in use” (Mayr, 2008, p. 7). According to the functionalist approach, language should reflect the social aspect of its usage, so it cannot be detached from the context in which it is applied.
Judging the language usage from the point of view of discourse implies that language is seen as action and social behavior, a particular form of social practice (Mayr, 2008, p. 9).
This insight into the notion of discourse is extremely helpful for the institutional discourse analysis as it helps view language as the two-way relationship between the discursive event and the situation, the institution, the social structure in which it takes place (Mayr, 2008, p. 8). Language is thus a crucial contributor to the construction of the social reality and reality construction on the whole.
Taking the theory of Foucault about language as a set of statements to describe a particular topic, the researcher can also draw parallels with the institutional discourse analysis (Mayr, 2008, p. 8).
Deriving from Foucault’s thesis, the discourse actually constructs the topic for discussion and governs the way it may be meaningfully discussed, which is vital in the process of institutional discourse analysis, with the proper regard of the specific topics, constructs and concepts forming the distributed cognition framework in particular institutions.
Critical discourse and organizational discourse analysis. The critical discourse analysis serves as the main tool for discourse analysis in the present work, since it represents theory and method of the way language is used by individuals and institutions (Mayr, 2008, p. 8).
It explores the relationships between discourse, power, dominance and social inequality, and investigates the ways discourse can produce, reproduce, and maintain those relationships (Mayr, 2008, p. 9). However, the critical discourse analysis has to take the interdisciplinary approach to be able to grasp the multitude of interactions and enacted processes in the discourse construction.
In terms of finding the adequate interdisciplinary approach, the researcher has to take a deeper insight into the organizational discourse analysis that provides the framework for the study of particular institutional discourses as distinctive entities.
It draws its methods from the theoretical linguistics that gives the theoretical framework for describing the structure and functions of the language used in particular institutions, and from sociolinguistics that gives means for establishing social relations within the language usage such as solidarity, power, social identity and networks (Fox & Fox, 2004, p. 183).
The critical discourse analysis may be implemented to unveil the concepts of causality and determination within the discursive language structures, while the media theory explored only recently can provide explanations for the nature of the institutional discourse’s publicness (Fox & Fox, 2004).
Institutions and institutional discourse. The role that the institutional discourse plays in shaping the institutions nowadays is widely recognized. The institutions are considered to be able to create and impose discourses, and they can also foster certain identities within their framework. However, the question arises on why the language is so important in the modern institutional research.
The answer lies within the framework of the knowledge-driven society that uses language and discourse to bring together realities described. Since the institutions have the primary role in the reality construction, it materializes and internalizes in the institutional social practices, defining identities of people, through the specific linguistic means (Mayr, 2008, p. 6).
The complexity in identifying the institutional discourse derives from the complexity in defining the institution itself; there are varying definitions including both the concept of the building in which a particular organization is located, the organization itself (usually related to education, public service or culture), or the place for the care for destitute, disabled or ill (Mayr, 2008, p. 4).
The concept of an institution is closely linked to the issue of power, as the representatives of the institution are usually referred to as ‘experts’, and non-representatives are regarded as ‘clients’ (Mayr, 2008, p. 4).
In addition, institutions impose power on people (by means of persuasion and consent) and use language to constitute a coherent social reality, to generate patterns for shared understanding of the institution-specific concepts that people apply in their social practices (Mayr, 2008, p. 4).
There are varying opinions on the role of the institutional discourse; it used to be considered a bureaucratic-instrumental, authoritative, and restrictive tool for imposing the institutional regulations on employees and outside clients.
However, nowadays there is much research indicating the productive functions of the institutional discourse as well – members of the institution use it to share the professional conceptual world, and to construct the specific institutional knowledge (Mayr, 2008).
Disciplinary perspectives of business discourse. There are many disciplines that turned out helpful in the analysis of the institutional discourse; some of them are linguistic anthropology, gender studies, the social construction of reality, and pragmatics (Bargiella-Chiappini, 2009, pp. 194-256). These disciplines can be successfully applied to discursive analysis in various institutional settings.
For example, linguistic anthropology provides the qualitative analysis of recurrent themes and patterns of the organizational discourses (e.g., narrative at the workplace utilized in the present study). Gender studies are a useful tool for the research in the field of gendered discourses and can be applied for finding the linguistic patterns applied by men and women in various institutional settings.
The social construction of reality is useful in the research where the institutional discourse is viewed as a product of social action, and where the social aspect of knowledge-making and communication thereof obtains the dominant significance.
Pragmatics has provided the discourse analysis with such tools as the speech act theory (that is successfully applied to analyzing various business and institutional discourses) and the cooperative principles of language usage in institutional settings (Bargiella-Chiappini, 2009, pp. 194-256).
The Applied Example of Professional Discourse in Financial Institutions
As it comes from the previous section, the development of institutional genres is an inevitable element of communication and language application within the institutional settings. The institutional discourse highly specific, helping in collective knowledge-building and distributive cognition of the institution’s members who are communicative participants.
There are many distinguishing characteristics that institutional genres possess; as noted by Darville (2009), they are not about the people’s experience, but they explain and regulate it, being posed outside the framework of the human participation of the genre formation.
The author states that the institutional genres are sometimes impenetrable for the novice reader because of the ‘implied reader’ concept embedded in them, that is, they assume particular background knowledge for ensuring their understanding (Darville, 2009, p. 16). The power constituted in institutional genres is enormous because of their authoritative power to provide versions of how things are and must be done (Darville, 2009, p. 17).
This is the main reason for the complexity in navigation, and it adds to understanding of how they are constructed, in particular for which purpose and by what means.
The example investigated in the present work is the formation of narratives and written knowledge in the financial institutions, particularly in the Central Bank of Canada; it will reveal both the complexity of financial institutional discourse and the processes engaged in its formation, communication, interpretation and utilization for further finance-related decision-making. Narrative construction and development.
The financial institutions’ discourse is a field of study for several reasons; first of all, it gives many useful findings to understand the communicative patterns and peculiarities evident within this particular kind of an institution; secondly, it provides the insight into the way the discursive genres and their products affect the processes of decision-making regarding the financial issues, the monetary policy in Canada in the described case.
As Smart (1999, p. 249) notes, the narrative theory offers a constructive lens for exploring the epistemic function of the professional discourse. The focus of attention on discursive narratives derives from the assumption that the construction thereof is a collaborative process of knowledge-making within the particular financial institution.
To be more precise, the financial institutional discourse is a communally constructed representation of knowledge about economic developments in Canada pertaining to any moment of time (past, present or future) (Smart, 1999, p. 250).
The financial discursive genres give the bright idea of the patterns utilized in the structured social interaction within the financial institution, and act as means for deployment of differentiated expertise, for the synthesis of economic analysis types (e.g., the monetary policy story), and contribute to the understanding of the inter-subjectivity that is required for ensuring the fruitful intellectual collaboration (Smart, 1999, p. 253).
Freedman and Smart (1997, p. 240) identify the primary role of discursive genres as tools for cognitive work and distribution, deriving from the concept of distributed cognition involved in the process of conducting the monetary policy. For this reason, the researcher attributes a key role to the discursive genres as sites for communal construction and change.
Thinking and knowledge-production, in his opinion, are instances of social action, so the distributed cognition concept occupies its important place within the institutional discourse analysis as well (Freedman & Smart, 1997, p. 239). The latter concept identifies the extent to which coordination is accomplished through textual and discursive means.
The main principle of distributed cognition inclusion in the discursive analysis is that it assumes the proper unit of analysis should be the joint, socially mediated activity in the cultural context (Freedman & Smart, 1997, p. 240).
Consequently, the communicative processes and knowledge-making as a social activity are conducted by means of sharing the distributed cognition elements, which are the institutionally accepted patterns for analysis, interpretation, expertise, etc.
Genres of the financial institutional discourse. One of the essential discursive genres found in financial institutions that has already undergone a profound theoretical investigation is the monetary policy story (Smart, 1999, p. 254).
The researcher states that the genre reflects the complex structure of economic knowledge, serves to organize, consolidate, and give textual (linguistic) expressions to the professional expert knowledge of large numbers of people, financial employees (Smart, 1999, p. 249).
It is used to align the economists’ analytical activities relating to the financial data they get from internal and external sources every day, with the bank policy directed at increasing the well-being of economy, or any other specifically stipulated objective.
The ultimate goal of utilizing the monetary policy genre is to produce specialized financial knowledge that may be further on applied to construct the national monetary policy in the most optimal way with the proper regard of conclusions made from the financial data analysis (Smart, 1999, p. 252).
The example of how this specific genre of the monetary policy story is enacted for communicating the monetary policy-related knowledge within a single financial institution was provided by Smart (1999, p. 255) in his study of the Central Bank of Canada and the way decisions are made there. The comprehensive study helped the researcher identify the processes of knowledge-making by all participants of the communicative process.
He found out that the distributed cognition framework lay within the set of institutionally, collectively established and shared frameworks used to interpret the economic data. Some instances include the ‘current analysis’ and the Quarterly Projection Model – tools for the ongoing analysis of financial data.
With the help of these models, the bank analysts accomplished the tasks of analyzing and interpreting the incoming financial data, with the further construction of the monetary policy story passed on to the executive board of the Central Bank to make decisions on the course of actions in terms of the monetary policy (Smart, 1999, p. 256).
In the process of research directed to the monetary policy story formation, Smart (1999) identified three stages of the genre’s evolution within the institution. The first one is the cluster or sector stories – they are segmented and non-unified, emerging in different departments of the Bank and having only fragmental knowledge on the financial data.
The second stage is undergone by means of utilizing the Projection Exercise, and the result is the document called the ‘white book’. The final stage involves using data from the ‘white book’ as well as other sources by the executive board to produce the ultimate set of conclusions and to make it a starting point in their monetary-policy decisions (Smart, 1999, p. 257).
Thus, the evolution of the financial information taking place within the institutional framework involves the interpretation of financial data by junior-level analysts, with the further sorting out and filtration of interpretations at each successive level of management, with the final presentation of thoroughly selected interpretations at the highest level, to the executive board.
There is a set of other financial discursive genres identified by Smart in the process of his research in the Canadian financial settings. He generalizes the term of ‘story’ introduced for the financial discursive narrative as pertaining to all interpretations provided by analysts for figures and statistics (Freedman & Smart, 1997, p. 242).
As soon as these ‘stories’ are re-analyzed and presented in a modified way to the executive board or shareholders, they acquire the name of ‘briefings’ (Freedman & Smart, 1997, p. 243). One more distinguished type of the financial narrative is the ‘bank speech’ – it refers to the presentation of the financial information with a high level of generality and less reliance on the technical aspects of the analyzed data.
No mathematical language is usually used in a ‘bank speech’, and it actually represents a combination of prose with tables and charts, prose prevailing (Freedman & Smart, 1997, p. 247). Some written genres identified by Smart (1998) are the ‘analytic notes’ and ‘research memoranda’.
Knowledge-making processes in the financial community. The study undertaken by Smart in 1998 with the application of interpretative ethnography as the main methodology gave a much deeper insight into what the processes and underlying preconditions for the economic discursive knowledge-making are.
The researcher assumed that the complete understanding of the knowledge-making process in the economic discourse can be acquired only in case of understanding the economists’ conceptual constructs (Smart, 1998, p. 115). Hence, he conducted a series of interviews to identify the inter-subjectivity sectors and shared concepts essential for intellectual collaboration in the economic field.
The findings of Smart (1998) include the conclusion that economists employ a distinctive discourse representing a combination of language, statistics, and mathematics to create knowledge about the Canadian economy, the functioning of a particular financial institution, making real-time and projective assessments of economic data, etc. (Smart, 1998).
Also, Smart (1998) identified two essential issues in the knowledge-making process undertaken within the economic discourse.
The first one is the inter-subjective reality that all economists share and that forms their conceptual world utilized by them to explain the events in the economy, to make projections for future, and to identify sectors of conceptual economy through shared understanding of the unified conceptual framework.
Secondly, the intricate relationships of the spoken and written language with the Canadian mathematical model called QPM deserve separate attention. According to Smart (1998, p. 117), the distinguishing trait of the economic discourse is the way economists provide linguistic explanations to the mathematical tendencies through particular social interaction and the specific style of collective thinking.
As one can see from the present review, institutional genres are a highly specific form of the linguistic discourse reflection in everyday professional activity of every institution. The role of possessing and sharing the distributed cognition contributes to the joint understanding of the shared conceptual framework governing the work of all institution’s employees.
Understanding the basics of the professional conceptual world highly specific for any institution, as well as ways of its utilization to produce the shared knowledge, to interpret data and to link mathematical information with the linguistic interpretations on the basis of those institutional concepts (as in the case of financial institutions discussed in the present paper) are becoming the issues of active interest for discursive linguists.
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