Lehrstuhl für Englische Sprachwissenschaft

Business correspondence in Hong Kong

Business correspondence in Hong Kong – Tracing genre- and variety-specific changes

The study of the structural characteristics of post-colonial varieties is facing two major problems which have been repeatedly addressed in recent studies: On the one hand, features of a new variety are almost exclusively compared to Present-Day Standard (British) English, thus neglecting spatial and temporal variation of the superstrate (see Mesthrie & Bhatt, 2008, p. 45) , i.e. the English transported to the colonies. On the other hand, cross-varietal comparative studies have shown that features that were formerly supposed to be variety-specific may point to genre-specific characteristics, i.e. genre might be a stronger predictor of variation than variety (Noël & Van der Auwera, 2015) . This shows that the diachronic study of the characteristic features of a post-colonial variety needs to take into account the development of the structure of the parental variety as well as the development of the genre in order to identify variety-specific features.

Since Hong Kong is a financial and commercial hotspot, this project focuses on the genre of business correspondence. From the very beginnings of the colony, banks and companies (such as the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Cooperation and Jardine & Matheson) established their head offices in Hong Kong and maintained a regular correspondence with their London office and other branch offices as well as with Hong Kong-based companies. Besides the British senior and foreign staff, local staff was employed and trained for the business. Within the scope of this project we collect, digitise and analyse business letters and colonial reports from as early as the 1860s until today in order to trace the development of this genre in Hong Kong (also in comparison to its development in Great Britain). With this knowledge about genre development, we are able to correctly assess varietal features emerging in Hong Kong English.


Prof. Dr. Carolin Biewer    
Dr. Ninja Schulz
Lisa Lehnen
Carina Stick