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Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
Effectiveness of Explicit Pragmatics Instruction in Developing Business
Communication Skills: A Study of Teachers’ and Students’ Perceptions
Muhammad Asif Javed*
Hazrat Umar**
Language is a means of communication, and pragmatics helps in
understanding and using the language of real use. This study explores
teachers’ and students’ perceptions of the inclusion of explicit pragmatics
in the instruction of business communication contents to enhance learners’
competence to produce effective business communication discourse.
Qualitative-pluralistic approach has been used for data collection.
Business communication course contents were taught with the
incorporation of relevant contents from pragmatics, and afterwards
feedback from 120 students was sought through open ended questions.
Besides, ten instructors of business communication were interviewed to
find out the need and feasibility of teaching explicit pragmatics in business
communication classrooms. The results of this study show that explicit
instruction of pragmatics is highly beneficial in learning the basic
concepts of business communication. It is recommended that explicit
instruction of pragmatics be made a compulsory part of teaching business
communication skills.
Keywords: Pragmatics, explicit instruction, business communication, perceptions
Linguistics scientifically studies language as a tool of communication from
various angles and pragmatics deals with the language of real life use and addresses the
communicative competence for the appropriate use of language for successful
communication. The basic course contents of business communication skills on
communication cycle, Seven Cs, intercultural communication, verbal and non-verbal
communication, and interpersonal communication are vital to learn business
communication in classroom(Chaney, 2005; Murphy, Hildebrandt, & Thomas, 2007). It
is generally observed that the business graduates cannot communicate effectively when
they join their professional careers after the completion of their academic qualification.
Various empirical studies find that communicative contents can be better learned
through explicit pragmatics, and pragmatics may be included in the classroom
Ph.D. Scholar, Department of English, Faculty of Languages, NUML, Islamabad/Lecturer in English,
Department of Humanities, COMSATS University Islamabad, Email
**Assistant Professor, Department of English, Faculty of Languages, NUML, Islamabad, Email
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
instruction of specific communication skills (Amaya, 2008; Bardovi-Harlig, 2013;
Brock & Nagasaka, 2005; Ellis, 2004; Othman, 2011; Rose & Kasper, 2001). The
instruction of relevant concepts of pragmatics along with the course contents may
facilitate in learning language for specific purposes.
This study explores teachers’ and students’ perceptions of effectiveness of core
concepts of pragmatics for developing students’ pragmatic communicative competence.
This study proposes that instruction of explicit pragmatics helps learners in learning the
basic contents of business communication skills. The study is significant as it explores
the critical role which pragmatics can play to enhance the professional communicative
competence of business students.
Literature Review
Importance of Communication Skills for Professionals
Communication skills assist professionals in performing their jobs and making
advancement in their career(Roebuck, Sightler, & Brush, 1995). Through improving
language skills, future business professionals can compete effectively in the expanding
global market(Orban, 1994, p. 422). Pragmatics assists learners in using “language
appropriate to particular communicative events”, in using “the relevant utterances
necessary for being considered a competent conversant”, and “interpreting meaning
contextually”(Brock & Nagasaka, 2005, p. 18).
Importance of Pragmatics for Language Instructors
The knowledge of pragmatics can empower the instructors with the relevant
cultural, social, professional perspectives. Delivering education in cultural context is
vital in the present era (McCarthy, 2001, p. 125) to enable learners cope with challenges
after the completion of their studies.
Significance of Explicit Knowledge of Pragmatics in Business
Pragmatics helps in learning “how-to-say-what-to-whom-when” (BardoviHarlig, 2013, p. 68)and is, expected to be helpful for business administrators to meet the
communication challenges they encounter in their day-to-day interactions in diverse
situations. The explicit knowledge of pragmatics helps communicators in behaving
according to acceptable societal norms, linguistically as well socially(Othman, 2011, p.
Major Segments in Pragmatics
Pragmatics deals with a triangle of three closely linked contributors: 1)
speaker/encoder’s intention, 2) contents of the contexts and 3) interpretation made by a
competent hearer/decoder(Gauker, 2008). The encoders are supposed to “design their
utterances against the common grounds they share with their addressees—their
common experience, dialect, and culture”(Schober & Clark, 1989, p. 211). “People
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
understand each other in conversations by gathering evidence about each other’s
intentions”(Schober & Clark, 1989, p. 211). Pragmatic competence is associated with
the learners’ sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic skills.
Pragmatics and Language Functions
Language performs various functions through speech acts i.e. complimenting,
requesting, complaining and apologizing, as well as through different type of discourse,
and through speech events of different nature(Kasper & Rose, 1999). Pragmatics
studies language from formal/informal and social perspective in a communicative event
with a focus on those “factors that govern our choice of language in social interaction
and the effects of our choice on others”(Crystal, 1987, p. 120).
Explicit Instruction of Pragmatics
According to Lin (2007), “The education of pragmatics is necessary and
important in our globalized world” (p.91). Similarly, Rose (2012) states that the
knowledge of pragmatics facilitates professionals in making adjustments in specific
social, cultural and cognitive situations for the production and comprehension of
language. The courses on communication skills need to be enriched to enable the
learners for their future professions(Korn, 2004, p. 589).
Implicature and Entailment
Implicature is a kind of inference drawn without extra information. Implicature
is what communicators can imply, suggest or mean, apart from the actual words in an
utterance (Cap, 2010, p. 211). Implicatures are generated when Gricean cooperative
maxims are flouted. These include the maxims of quality, quantity, relevance, and
manner. Entailment deals with the relationship between two interlinked statements,
where the truth of one statement depends upon the truth of the other(Yule, 1996a).
Entailment depends upon the language but implicature depends upon the conversational
Context and Shared Knowledge
Context contributes in formulating utterances and interpreting their pragmatic
meanings. Natural languages are context dependent(Åkerman, 2009, p. 155). Context is
also closely related to the shared knowledge of communicators. Besides the linguistic
context, co-text and physical context also contribute to meanings. The surrounding
words in a text attribute certain meaning to a specific word besides the effects of
physical location, time and place(Yule, 1996b, p. 129).
Pre-existing Knowledge Structures
Communicators rely on their pre-existing knowledge structures for interpreting
the unsaid or unwritten part of utterances, and familiar patterns and structures assist in
experiencing similar structures(Yule, 1996a, pp. 85-86). These structures are called
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
schemata. “A script is pre-existing knowledge structure involving event
sequences”(Yule, 1996a, p. 86). Background knowledge structures are culturally
determined and make cultural schemata(Yule, 1996a, p. 87). Pre-existing knowledge of
the linguistic conventions formulate conventional schemata. Pragmatics can help in
understanding the various dimensions of schemata and their underlying factors(Yule,
1996b, p. 62).
The review of the relevant literature establishes the importance of knowledge of
pragmatics for effective communication skills. The review also shows that no study has
been conducted to explore the opinions and perceptions of instructors and students of
business communication. This study examines the opinions and perceptions of
instructors and learners of business communication about the effectiveness of explicit
instruction of pragmatics in developing business communication skills.
Pluralistic qualitative approach has been used for data collection. The data have
been collected through: 1) the feedback of 120 students of business studies in business
communication skills classrooms, and 2) the opinions sought through semi-structured
interviews from ten teachers of business communication. Purposive sampling technique
was used and prior consent was sought from the participants. As the present study is
qualitative in nature, the data have been triangulated for the sake of trustworthiness.
The business communication instructors were interviewed on the following
Aims of Business Communication Skills Courses
Recommended Text Books and Course Contents
Inclusion of Explicit Pragmatic Contents into Business Communication
This research was a single group experimental study on the pattern of “one
group posttest only” (with no control group) which is an “applied research to evaluate
intervention effectiveness with individuals”(Gast, 2010, p. 13). These students were
first taught course contents of business communication skills. Afterwards, they were
explicitly taught relevant contents from pragmatics and were asked to answer openended questions on the usefulness of pragmatics in business communication skills. The
process was completed in five weeks.
The students’ responses on pragmatics have been analyzed through AttrideStirling’s (2001) ‘theoretical thematic analysis’. This form of analysis tends “to be
driven by a researcher’s theoretical or analytic interest” in a specific area; it is “more
explicitly analyst-driven”; and gives “a detailed analysis of some aspects of the
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
data”(Braun & Clarke, 2006). The pattern of theoretical thematic analysis is portrayed
in Figure 1 as under:
Researcher’s theoretical or analytic interest in a specific area
Detailed and explicit analysis of available data
The generated results in the form of themes and categories
Figure 1. Pattern of theoretical thematic analysis
The students’ responses have been presented in the form of figures and under
their respective headings. Figure 2 below depicts the model for analyzing the students’
(of contents of pragmatics
in assimilation with course
contents of business
• coding material
• identifying themes
• constructing
thematic networks
(of trends and patters
regarding the usefulness
of contents of pragmatics
from students’
• describing/exploring
thematic networks
• summarizing thematic
(through interpreting
• Presentation of data
Figure 2. Model for analyzing students’ responses. This figure has been developed from
Attride-Stirling’s (2001) “analyses employing thematic networks”.
Teachers’ Opinions on the Role of
Communication Skills
Pragmatics in
The responses of the instructors are summed up as follows:
Aims of Business Communication Skills Courses
According to the instructors of business communication, the students of
business studies are prepared for diverse business scenarios to perform their future roles
as entrepreneurs, managers, team leaders, and other multidimensional roles.
Communication skills significantly add value in the students’ academic learning.
Effective communication skills assist business administrators in making advancement
in their careers and grow their businesses. The instructors are of the view that business
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
market is becoming increasingly glocal, and pragmatics enriched communication skills
help business administrators in performing their roles effectively.
Recommended Text Books and Course Contents
The instructors reported that most of the course books recommended for
business studies and business communication are written by foreign authors, and can
only partially address the needs of contemporary indigenous organizations. The course
contents devised for various subjects of business studies and business communication
also have a reflection of the recommended/available course books. On the other hand,
the students of business studies and other management sciences are prepared to work
for local organizations after the completion of their qualifications. The instructors feel a
need of reviewing and revising the course contents to handle the challenges which their
students would face in their professional careers.
Inclusion of Explicit Pragmatics into Business Communication Courses
The instructors agreed that many course contents already have implicit
reflection of pragmatics. Pragmatics is useful in producing desirable interpersonal
skills. Since the courses on business communication skills aim at preparing business
graduates for effective communication in their professional careers, therefore, the
course contents may be made more effective through the inclusion of explicit
pragmatics to enable business administrators to perform their tasks with improved
interpersonal skills. The knowledge of pragmatics helps in understanding the
relationship between linguistic forms and their impact on the users and assists in
conveying the desired meaning in a specific context and assuming probable
interpretations by the audience. The instructors opine that pragmatic competence of
business administrators helps them understand the constraints of a communicative
situation and communicate according to the sociolinguistic norms of society.
Students’ Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Pragmatics in Business
Communication Courses
The results of the students’ responses in regard to the open-ended questions are
as follows:
How are contents of pragmatics (speaker’s intentions, presuppositions, frame,
listener’s interpretation, differences as barriers/noise, shared context) helpful
in understanding communication cycle?
In this section, students’ perceptions and preferences regarding the advantages
of contents of pragmatics in understanding and performing communication cycle
effectively have been presented. Figure 3 shows relationship between concepts from
pragmatics and communication cycle.
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
• sender, message, receiver, feed
back, channel/medium
• flow of message from sender to
receiver; and feedback from
Communication Cycle
receiver to sender through some
in business
media/ channels
Pragmatic content
relevant to encoding
and decoding of a
message or an
effectively through
integrating relevant
pragmatic contents
• speaker’s intentions, presuppositions, frame,
listener’s interpretation, differences as barriers/noise,
shared context
• speaker’s intetions, presuppositions,frame, and shared
context are involved in encoding a message
• listener’s interpretations, frame, barriers, and context
are involved in decoding a message
Figure 3. Relationship between concepts from pragmatics and communication cycle.
Sender’s Roles and Responsibilities
The sender should consider his/her own and the receiver’s frame before
encoding and relaying a message. The receiver may interpret the message quite
differently from what the sender intends to convey. The sender should understand the
possible interpretations which can be made by the listener and make his/her intentions
more obvious in an utterance. A sender should also consider the frame of a particular
(his/her own and the receiver’s) society.
Receiver’s Roles and Responsibilities
The receiver should consider his/her own frame while decoding/interpreting a
message as his/her biases may affect the decoding of the message. The receiver should
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
understand what the sender has intended to convey through a message below its surface
General Considerations in Message Formulation
Communicators of a communicative event may have different frames. Their
frames can become barriers in successful communication. Shared context makes
contribution in making message more meaningful. A message should be more detailed
if there is less shared context and vice versa. Non-verbal communication (gestures,
facial expressions, eye contact etc.) are also helpful in interpreting the unsaid part of a
sender’s message.
Importance of Pragmatics
Pragmatics helps in understanding the back-story of every conversation and
facilitates communication when the receivers are from different frames. Awareness of
pragmatics assists in situational communication through making it audience oriented.
What are the advantages of incorporating Gricean Cooperative Maxims in
understanding 7Cs (completeness, conciseness, consideration, concreteness,
clarity, courtesy and correctness)?
The respondents view that Gricean cooperative maxims of quality, quantity,
relevance, and manner are closely associated with Seven Cs and they are a value
addition to 7Cs. Observance of maxims minimizes misunderstandings in business
correspondence, and helps to conduct business effectively and efficiently. The
relationship between Gricean maxims and Seven Cs is shown in Figure 4.
• Quantity
• (size)
• Relevance
• (relation)
• Quality
• (truth)
• Manner
• (explicitness)
Figure 4. Relationship between Gricean cooperative maxims and Seven Cs.
Journal of Educational Research, Dept. of Education, IUB, Pakistan (Vol. 22 No. 1) 2019
Quantity is associated with ‘completeness’ and conciseness’ and helps in
making a message comprehensive, of appropriate bulk and length, assists in better
understanding of 7Cs for composing a brief message
Quality endorses fairness and honesty in business activities and
communication, without anything doubtful or false in the both. Furthermore, quality
helps in making a message reliable, trustworthy, and believable.
Relevance adds interest in a message for receivers by making a message
relevant to their needs. Relevance also helps one to analyze one’s own communication
whether it is appropriate or otherwise. Maxims of relevance assists in communication
process while preparing/encoding and decoding a message.
A business message needs to be explicit enough to enable a receiver understand
and act accordingly. Manner is closely associated with clarity and concreteness.
Maxims of manner also helps in deciding the content-nature of a business message …
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