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Cornelia Hassa

Analysing Global Corporate Image Texts on the Internet: Requirements of a Textlinguistic Model 

1. Introduction

Global corporate image texts on the internet are part of the text corpus of a research project into the specimens of corporate language. As existing textlinguistic approaches are not sufficient enough to cover the specialties of such texts, first attempts to analyse them did not succeed. Due to the medium, the desired effects and the context of such communicative events, these texts underlie a specific combination of characteristics. This paper shall point out the requirements of a model for analysis. 

2. Texts on the Internet

The internet, respectively the World Wide Web, and communication on the internet occupies various sciences since its public break through at the beginning of the 1990s. Since then, the internet constantly advanced, daily users increased exponentially and the possibilities of interaction grew enormously. It has developed into an integral part of every-day life. It is not only a colossal database with an unconceivable amount of information but also a communication network which invites for interactive reactions. The World Wide Web is organised as a network of websites that functionally and thematically belong together. A homepage serves an entry page into a website. The user navigates through hyperlinks and hypertext through a website.

The internet offers multiple possibilities for usage. Basically, one can divide two groups of possible usage. These can be called active and passive use. Active use subsumes all web presences, and passive use subsumes the reception of web presences. Active or passive user can be each individual as private person and as representative of organisations; or legal entities such as corporations or public authorities. In linguistic research, first attempts to divide web offers according to communicative functions have been undertaken. It has been distinguished between private (represents individuals), personal (represents individuals as representative of an organization), institutional (represents institutions), thematic (has certain thematic focus) and commercial (represents sales offers, advertisements) homepages. However, linguists still search for appropriate parameters for such divisions.

Regarding texts presented on the internet, linguists face new challenges. To some extent, the internet seems to make traditional text characteristics obsolete. There are two characteristics that need to be considered in internet text analysis. First, there is the modification of the coherence criteria, and second there is the non-linear reception of internet texts. According to the coherence criteria, texts are seen as uniform wholes with continuity in meaning. This criterion partly looses its force, when texts are presented in multimedia contexts. An investigation[1], which concerned text analysis in multimedia contexts concludes that the coherence criterion does not reach far enough. It becomes obsolete. Texts in multimedia contexts are not made to be perceived in endogenous traditional ways. Such texts are unique and unrepeatable. The reader designs the text himself by exogenous recourse to other entities. However, the modification of the coherence criteria only holds for some of the texts presented on the internet. The researcher needs to distinguish carefully, what kind of text he/ she will analyse. As traditional texts may be read in linear ways, respectively from the beginning to the end, there exist various different ways of text reception on the internet. Due to hypertext and hyperlinks, the reader chooses his/ her own way through a text. He/ she may himself/ herself put together various textual units. Thus, a text may have one beginning but many potential endings. A text becomes a conglomerate of numerous parallel reading possibilities. Consequently, it is hard to foresee how which preceding and which proceeding text units will interfere with one another. Text reception and interpretation becomes even more individually determined.

3. Corporate Imag e Texts

Many different texts, reaching from advertisements to legal information, can be identified as corporate texts. By corporate image texts, this paper refers to texts that are self-representations of companies. They are part of the corporate identity concept. As corporations developed into an integral part of society they are embedded into societal issues. The sole goal of economic activity - the gaining of profit - is no longer sufficient. A reliable pattern of internal and external activity - a corporate identity in the literal sense - is needed. The corporate identity encompasses all characteristics, values, and norms of a company. It replaces the personality of the entrepreneur of former times. A part of the communicative activities of a company are designed to represent this identity. They are designed to mediate between corporate values and societal values. A corporate image text tries to represent the company in its characteristics and values in harmony to societal values. It positions a company within society. Thus, linguistically, corporate image texts are texts with distinctive communicative goals. They differ from advertisements and sole informational texts. Corporate image texts shall position the company within its social surrounding. They are to convince the reader without notice and build common grounds for interactions. Public relations people[2] even cry out for a distinctive public relations language. This language shall be informative but not boring, convincing but not dogmatic, interesting but not overloaded and understandable but not old-fashioned. They plea for openness and two-way-relationships. All these are economic descriptions of the effect of corporate language. Linguistically, these mean, that there must be certain style features innate to language that allow such effects. There are feature that fulfil the requirements of these effects. Therefore, it is necessary to abstract which at linguistic levels such features exist and how they function. A distinctive linguistic description of corporate identity is needed. As a first attempt to specify corporate identity linguistically, one may consider the following statement: Corporate Identity is linguistically traceable. It is traceable in style features, which demarcate a meaningful interplay between a linguistic parameter and the communicative goal. Such parameters can be found at the level of thematic, lexical, pragmatic and syntactic choice. Their interpretation, however, determines the interplay of communicative goal and communicative context.

4. Global Texts and Global Contexts

This paper views context as knowledge about non-linguistic phenomena which influence the linguistic design of communicative events and which are interpreted subjectively by interactants. That means there are phenomena that have effects upon text design and text reception. Such phenomena can be typical behaviour, typical ways of thinking and specific symbols. They can vary between individuals and groups of people. In global contexts one typically speaks of different cultures and cultural variation in text design and text reception. Accordingly, global contexts refer to cultural variation in text design and text reception. Global texts, on the other hand, are texts that are received in global contexts. They are designed against one specific cultural background and received against various cultural backgrounds. Due to this variation the same text may be received and interpreted differently by each reader.

In order to incorporate cultural variation in handleable ways into an analysis, the analysing model must abstract from the complexity of the issue and make a few assumptions. As the analysis concerns the specific text type of global corporate image texts on the internet, one may assume, that a text producer knows about differences in text reception and that a reader has some associations concerning corporate activities in general. Consequently, this is the mutual base upon which a textlinguistic model can draw for the context specification. Global corporate image texts are not directed towards an individual reader, but towards a heterogeneous readership. And this heterogeneous readership has a minimal common idea about economic activity. Thus, cultural variation can be grabbed in a textlinguistic model on a contextual level that specifies economic processes. The economic level may not be seen as the sole influential level, but as the minimal common base of understanding. Texts are designed and received upon this level.

5. Global Corporate Image Texts on the Internet: Outlook

Global corporate image texts on the internet are texts with distinctive communicative goals. They shall build common grounds for two-way communicative relationships and positions a company according to its corporate identity. Presented on the internet, these texts are conglomerates of numerous parallel reading possibilities and are received by a culturally heterogeneous readership. The minimal base of understanding is at the contextual level of economic and business activity.

The above elaborated facts demonstrate that global corporate image texts on the internet incorporate characteristics that concern research fields of economic and business studies, cultural studies and text linguistics. As a consequence, an appropriate textlinguistic analysing model is essentially interdisciplinary. Economic and cultural definitions and approaches must be linguistically interpreted, modified and reformulated. Furthermore, through cultural variations and multiple reading possibilities, these texts are individually determined. There is no single way of reception and interpretation. Thus, the analysing model should best employ an interactional approach in order to allow scope for communicative negotiation. Finally, a textlinguistic analysing model for these texts must abstract from complexity and make assumptions about text productional and text receptional levels.

6. References

Ronneberger, Franz and Manfred Rühl (1992): Theorie der Public Relations: Ein Entwurf. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.
Schmitz, Ulrich (1997): "Schriftliche Texte in multimedialen Kontexten". In Weingarten. Sprachwandel durch Computer. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

[1] cf. Schmitz (1997).
cf. Ronneberger/ Rühl (1992).