English for Specific Purposes, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 241-265, 1998 © 1998 The American University. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd All rights reserved. Printed in Great Britain
A Cross-cultural Comparison of Letters of
Abstract--Letters of recommendation (LRs) from different countries are as individual as the local academic cultures from which they arise. Distinct regional patterns emerged in this comparative study of letters of recommendation from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Two types of analysis were performed: first, a quantitative analysis examined features such as linearity, symmetry, data integration, advance organizers and sentence types; second, a qualitative analysis examined the content of the sections of the letters. Differences were found cross-culturally in the quantitative analysis. Significant differences were also found in the organizational patterns and methods of support. Organizational patterns varied from topical to chronological organization. LR writers from different regions supported their recommendation of the applicant with different types of evidence, from factual lists of achievements to storytelling. The format of the letters themselves showed similarities cross-culturally. © 1998 The American University. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved Introduction
A great deal has been written in the past decade on cross-cultural differences in academic writing; not surprisingly most of this attention has been focused on the research article. Little notice has been given to the less public texts of the academic community, aptly named occluded genres in Swales (1996). The purpose of these texts is primarily to conduct the business of the academic community--requesting reprints, recommending students, reviewing articles, evaluating colleagues, and so forth. Since these occluded genres are private documents, they are much more likely to retain their authors' cultural influences than are the more public, highly stylized texts such as research articles. That is, according to Swales, the rhetorical patterns of the L1 would likely be more pronounced in these private, occluded texts than in research articles, and therefore the study of the occluded genres might yield some interesting cross-cultural comparisons. Cross-cultural comparisons of texts promise to give insight into the differences in the way that the same intention is expressed from one culture Address correspondence to: Kristen Precht, Department of English, Northern Arizona University, Box 6032. Flagstaff, AZ 86001, USA.
242 K. Precht
to another. Though intentions may be the same cross-culturally, differences in verbal and nonverbal expression are as subtle as the degree of directness that's considered appropriate in making a request, or as obvious as a bow vs a handshake. A comparison of ways cultures express themselves in writing is undertaken in contrastive rhetoric.
In examining the discourse of letters themselves, one can see elements of both spoken and written discourse, as well as a great deal of variety, from the very formal business letter to the chatty holiday newsletter, each type with a host of expectations as to form, structure, and content. Within academia itself there are many types of letters, from submission letters, to reprint requests, to correspondence with colleagues and editors. Amidst all the academic correspondence, letters of recommendation for graduate school are a particularly interesting text type to study cross-culturally; they are occluded, and representative of local academic culture. LRs themselves can vary to a certain degree within a given cultural context (recommending either admission, or funding, or advancement), but the intention of recommending a student or junior colleague allows for a great deal of functional similarity in LRs, as most admission or...
References: Bhatia, V. K. (1993). Analysing genre: Language use in professional settings.
Blanton, L. L. (1994). Discourse, artifacts, and the Ozarks: Understanding
Berkenkotter, C., & Huckin, K. (1995). Genre knowledge in disciplinary
communication: Cognition, culture, power
Bouton, L. (1995). A cross-cultural analysis of structure and content of letters
Clyne, M. (1987). Cultural differences in the organization of academic texts.
Clyne, M. (1991). The sociocultural dimension: The dilemma of the Germanspeaking
Clyne, M. (1994). Intercultural communication at work: Cultural values in
Connor, U. (1996). Contrastive rhetoric: Interdisciplinary approaches in crosscultural
Cooper, M. M. (1989). Why are we talking about discourse communities?
Or, foundation rears its ugly head once more
Kaplan, R. B. (1995). Contrastive rhetoric. Journal of TESOL--France, 2(2),
Kachru, B. (1982). Models for non-native Englishes. In B. Kachru (Ed.), The
other tongue: English across cultures (pp
Kachru, B. (1996). World Englishes. In S. McKay & N. Hornberger (Eds.),
Sociolinguistics and language teaching (pp
Maier, P. (1992). Politeness strategies in business letters by native and nonnative
Mauranen, A. (1993). Cultural differences in academic discourse---problems
of a linguistic and cultural minority
Myers, G. (1989). The pragmatics of politeness in scientific articles. Applied
Linguistics, 10(1), 1-35.
Popken, R. (1987). A study of topic sentence use in academic writing. Written
Communication, 4, 209-228.
Purves, A., & Hawisher, G. (1990). Writers, judges, and text models. In R.
Renouf, A. (1987). Corpus development. In J. M. Sinclair (Ed.), Looking up
Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Swales, J. (1996). Occluded genres in the academy: The case of the submission
Please join StudyMode to read the full document