Are simple business request letters really simple? A comparison of Chinese and English business request letters.

Kenneth C C KONG

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


This cross-cultural study of Chinese and English business request letters, and of English letters written by native English speakers and Chinese non-native speakers is aimed at examining the rhetorical differences between them. By using Swales' move structure analysis and Mann and Thompson's rhetorical structure theory, the comparison between Chinese and English business request letters reveals that they have a rather different rhetorical structure although they share the same communicative purpose of expressing a wish for something. This is probably due to two factors: first, the inherently different discoursal patterns of the two languages, and second, the different readers' and writers' expectations regarding making a request in the two cultures. In the Chinese letters, a deference face system is predominant, including features such as the inductive introduction of requests (justification+request), an absence of face-threatening moves, and a greater proportion of and flexibility in the use of rapport-building strategies throughout the whole text. On the other hand, in the English letters, a solidarity face system is employed in making business requests, with features such as the deductive introduction of the request, greater emphasis on the ideational content, and frequent occurrence of face-threatening moves. The English request letters by Chinese writers show patterns similar to those found in the Chinese request letters, such as the preferred pattern of justification followed by request, greater emphasis on interpersonal or rapport-building strategies, and an absence of face-threatening moves. Certain possible areas of discoursal transfer in English business request letters by Chinese writers have been identified for further investigation. Lastly, move structure analysis and rhetorical structure theory are compared for their relative strengths and weaknesses for textual analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-141
Number of pages39
JournalText and Talk
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

User-Defined Keywords

  • Contrastive rhetoric
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • Discourse analysis
  • Second language acquisition.
  • Writing


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