Comparative Analysis of English and Business Letter Writing in Latvia Paper

Empirical research on economic letter writing is minimal. The need to explore the use of various distinctive elements of writing a business letter need to be learnt and explained profoundly so as to supply sufficing background on how to correspond effectively in economic references. We take keen interest on the Latvian letter writing culture and the concepts employed in writing letters like application letters, contract letters, government, business letters as well as translation of Latvian business letter references to English. This expounds on the gradual adaptation of Latvians to the English language and how rich the Latvian language culture is.

This paper looks into the various elements of writing a business letter and further explains the context of the globalization of English as a corporate lingua franca with emphasis on nativization of it in various business writing cultures with a research background on the Latvian style and genre.

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Differences in the style and format of economic letters in Latvia are pivotal in understanding the change of cultures, their language and them taking up English as second language. Research shows that cultures across the world are nativizing the English language as their lingua franca to facilitate the gradual incorporation of their genre of communication in the English language, culture, hence subsequently, putting themselves in the league of English speaking and using cultures without hurting their social-cultural lingo structure.

In Latvia, the capital letter is overused in written making it a norm in Latvian speech. The norm is surprisingly adopted from an English convention. This complexity in adaptation of norms and incorporating them to suit the cultural structure of a society’s language requires research. Also, the shift in cultural beliefs and opening up to the English language is of interest. This is examined through analyzing various styles of writing letters.

The need to explore the nature of English as a lingua franca through the screen of business writing and a context of Latvian style of economic letter writing is of importance so as to understand and expound further on the importance of using English as mode of economic issues communication and also to thoroughly explore and understand the Latvian economic correspondence.

Business letters or economic letters are important in corporate relations. They are defined as the papers written when particular issues on a particular issue need to be resolved. This include establishing an important business contact within and overseas, selling or buying, advertising and other business related activity. Ethical considerations during writing a business letter are instrumental in sending the intended message through the correspondence.

Foremost, ethical considerations when writing a letter of this genre is that the letter should be short and concise and the content should correlate to the subject of business. This is usually dependent on the letter writers’ knowledge and relationship with the addressee, carefully editing and arranging the content of the letter. Business letters in Latvia have interesting aspects which are of interest to researchers. This is due to the recent adoption of English by Latvians as a second language. How they write their economic letters is subject to more empirical research on how they are nativizing English to suit their cultural lingua.

This paper explores the differences and the basics of writing an economic letter from an English perspective and analyzing the Latvian context on economic letter writing with the view of rationalizing the need for a standard business letter during business communication. The findings of this paper further project the growing interest in using English by changing some aspects of grammar to suit a culture of native language in adapting to English.

Business Letter Writing and the Concepts and an Analysis of Latvia

Use of English has become almost universal. More and more people are using English and learning it as a second language. This is due to globalization and the rapid migration of people from one country to another as well as the cohesion of cultures, intermarriages and the merging of the corporate world through the internet bubble.

Good Business English means clear and effective writing that projects the exact nature of the message intended. Convections of writing letters revolve around some ethical considerations which arguably cannot be compromised due to the tenacity of business communication.

According to Ivanova (2007), business communication is a very important aspect of business relations. This makes business correspondence becomes very important in business relations. This covers the aspects of how the correspondence is carried out. As such, the methodology of writing the letter, the contents of the letter and the arrangement gives an idea of the overall personality of the letter writer as well as his capacity and proficiency in the language he used to write the letter (Ivanova, 4).

Business text based on an international context should have common stylistic idiosyncrasies regardless of the genre. These idiosyncrasies include brevity and conciseness of the statement, economic use of the linguistic means of communication used in writing the letter. The arrangement and the structure of the business letter, Usage of special lexis and phraseological clichés and narrative nature of the statement in the business letter (Ivanova, 44).

Latvia business letters conform to these key aspects of communication in economic references. They use the basic concepts which project business letters as the key elements of conveying corporate progression through the letters. Ivanova argues that, business letters should have their own specific features which distinguish them from other letters so as to give them a functional style.

These functional styles are:

  • Objectivity
  • Formality
  • Specificity and accuracy
  • Rationale
  • Imperativeness
  • Politeness

Latvian business letters conform to this formal aspect of writing making their letters communicative and concise. This makes the essence of communicating through the writing methodology effective.

However, it is notable that there are differences in the format of business letters in Latvia. Application letters are written in reverse. Company communication using business letters is top down though the Latvia’s are working hard towards implementing the European strategy. In Latvia CVs are structured in reverse chronological order. Marital status is usually given under the heading personal details. Skills and extracurricular activities are included too, usually at the bottom of the CV (labour.com 2007, pg 1).Latvians are gradually adopting the use of English as a second language. This is due to pressure from external influences. Business letters have becoming subjects of debate and cross examination by scholars due to the diversity of the Latvian style of writing business letters. The term business is diverse and covers the context of marketing, application letters as well as other corporate related contexts.

The paradigms of using the text in a different style while conforming to the basic phraseologies and idiosyncrasies are of interest. Empirical research on these paradigms draws out the context of English use in Latvia and the use of English in writing business letters in Latvia.

The Context of Business Letter Writing in Latvia

The Latvians began using English in the early nineties. This is attributed to closer interaction of Europe societies. The close interaction of English and Latvian languages has resulted to the context of use of English in Latvia and the dissenting methodologies of writing and structuring documents using English but in a Latvian format. The English language has become a basic tool of international communication. English is the common communication language in business.

A notable controversy in Latvian writing is the overuse of the capital letters when writing. According to Birzniece (2006), “This process affects both English and Latvian usage as sometimes the new capitalization standards or the norms of Latvian are shifted to the English texts produced by authors whose first language is not English. This shift is based on the assumption that what works in one language must work in another as well disregarding the fact that any language is culturally laden and also norms of orthography carry meaning” (Birzniece 2006:58).

The paradigms of the use of capitals in texts within a Latvian context are profound. Letter writing composes part of this profundity. Examining the style of the prose expounds these paradigms. The over sue of capital letters is a style commonplace in Latvia. This has elicited interests and more empirical research on it. “The overuse is observed in personal pronouns. The capitalization paradigm is overusing of capital letter for the second person plural pronoun you” (Birzniece 2006:58). Birzniece explains that, “the Latvian language has 2 forms of the 2nd person singular personal pronoun the real singular tu and plural jūs. The plural form is used both for addressing several people and when addressing a single person with a need to show respect, formality and/or seniority.

This norm is present in many European languages. The norm as suggested by standard textbooks of Latvian orthography is that second person plural pronoun is capitalized in personal writing, thus, the use of capitalized tu and jūs in all case forms is expected only in a limited range of writing – personal letters, invitations, and applications. This is done to show respect and demonstrate formality to the person addressed and “to honor the addressee” ((Birzniece 2006:58 and Romane 2000: 59)

Romane observation is paramount in the cross examination of the English pedagogy in Latvia. He notes the capitalized 2nd person pronoun is a functional norm in many cases of writing. Through a broader business writing context, Romane observes the same case in many Latvian contemporary business texts like bank brochures. His summation is that “this pronoun practically always appears in upper case when addressing a potential client, who is important but still not recognized by text writer. No difference is observable between texts addressing many personalities and those directed to specific individuals.

When this is compared to the standardized business writing, the observations show the other forms of idiosyncrasies apart from the pronouns context, style and format are the same with the Basic English format. A basic approach to writing business letters involve a few concepts as mentioned earlier. However, various empirical approaches have been highlighted as vital. The “types’ of letters are categorized style and format differences and this leads to two methodologies (styles). Empirical research by George Mason University on the diversity of writing business letter found out that, the two methodologies of writing business letters.

These methodologies have to correlate to a certain standard of important factors. The research explains that “a good business letter is brief, straightforward, and polite. If possible, it should be limited to one single-spaced typewritten page. Because it is so brief, a business letter is often judged on small, but important, things: format, grammar, punctuation, openings and closings. A business letter is not the place to try out fancy fonts or experimental writing styles” (George Mason University Writing Center 2006:1)

The two styles of writing good business letters are:

  1. Full block style: In this method of writing a business letter, the text and all its elements is aligned to the left margin of the paper.
  2. Modified block style: This requires writing the text down the middle of the page and aligning the return address, date, closing, signature, and typed name on the same direction (down the text); the other elements of the text are aligned to the left page margin of the paper. (George Mason University Writing Center 2006:1)

Writing an application letter in Latvia requires some skills as well as some in-depth information about the culture of business letter writing in Latvia. It is emphasized that the applicant should concentrate on writing a letter that convinces the recruiter of inviting him for an interview. The key to success is mentioning that the applicant has relevant experience in the English language. This puts him in good stead since Languages are considered very important in Latvia. It is also important to observe the basic format of Latvian letters style. In Latvia CVs are structured in reverse chronological order. Marital status is usually given under the heading personal details. Skills and extracurricular activities are included too, usually at the bottom of the CV (www.labourmobility.com.).

 The Latvian society views the plural form as a norm when talking to those who they unfamiliar with. The singular or plural carry strong connotation though the singular usually is an expression of trust, friendship, liking, its use in some instances is seen as rude. This element of the difference in the connotations subsequently creates a vacuum in the Latvian concept of distance difference. Geert Hofstede argument on difference on the distance based on a speech perspective draws out the important aspect of respect during speech and the misconception of the connotation power.

The power distance is a derivate of the strength of connotation and it’s an aspect of difference in age and objective comprehension of age and respect in society. Geert Hofstede defines power distance “as the degree of inequality among people which the population of a country considers as normal: from relatively equal (that is, small power distance) to extremely unequal (large power distance)” (Hofstede 1993: 89). As such the conclusion on the Latvian power distance is that Latvia  has a strict differentiation in the language between singular and plural personal addresses indicates higher rather than lower power distance (Birzniece 2006: 60).

Within the business context the use of capitalized you is brought over to all manner of business writing and especially in marketing texts. Marketing texts are mediums of communication between a seller and the customers. Hence, within the faculties of English pedagogy, they are letters or rather, passionate appeals to customers to buy these items. They are letters profiling the products the seller deems essential in the customer’s life and worth purchasing. The Latvian authors have made it a norm to use the capitalized you in formal business communication. In the formal English faculties it’s wrong to capitalize you and its deemed faulty and confusing in the prose. However, regardless of learning grammar Latvian English philologists have carried this norm from the Latvian orthography making it prevails in the English texts in Latvia (61).

Learning English in Latvia has become basic. Russian has been the lead language but since the 90’s learning English as the second language gas become important. This has made English the most essential second language (Bond et al. 2001).

Latvian business letters terminologies translations

Latvian English
komercdirektors sales director
Komerclikums the Law on Commerce
saimnieciibas daljas vadiitaajs facilities manager
stividorpakalpojumi stevedore services
iesvetits confirmed
Diena day
Nedela week
Meness month
Gads year
Direktor director
Pakalpojumi services

Sample Latvian style government letter, It’s an excerpt from the IMF website

Below is a Letter of Intent of the government of Latvia. It describes the policies that Latvia intends to implement in the context of its request for financial support from the IMF. The document, which is the property of Latvia, is being made available on the IMF website by agreement with the member as a service to users of the IMF website.

June 15, 2000

Dear Mr. Köhler:

The attached Supplementary Memorandum of Economic Policies describes the policies the Government and the Bank of Latvia intend to follow for the remainder of the program period. This economic program is based on our Memorandum of Economic Policies, dated November 10, 1999, and has been discussed and updated with the staff of the IMF, during the first review of economic developments and policies under the stand-by arrangement.

Our economic policies are focused on ensuring that the recent renewal of economic growth is durable, and that our external position remains sustainable. As such, our program is built on a reduction in the fiscal deficit this year, and a return to fiscal balance over the next several years, combined with measures to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the public sector. At the same time, we are continuing to put in place those structural reforms needed to ensure that Latvia reaches its full economic potential. We continue with our intention to not make any purchases under the stand-by arrangement, but would do so should circumstances warrant.

We believe that the policies described in the attached memorandum are adequate to meet the objectives of our economic program, but will take additional measures to meet these goals should the need arise. Further, we are committed to taking several actions, discussed in the memorandum and noted in the attached Table 1, prior to IMF Executive Board consideration of the first review. The second review of the program would be completed by end-December 2000. In addition to a comprehensive evaluation of economic performance under the program, this review would focus on public sector reform efforts and financial sector developments and oversight. The program will also be evaluated on the basis of a number of quarterly performance criteria for end-September and end-December and structural benchmarks, which are proposed in the attached Table 2.

The Context of Latvian Letters

The Latvian style of writing business letters differ with the intent of the business. If it’s a job application or vocation the connotations differ while advertising and other forms of business use different style. The application letter is the most interesting and popular in Latvia. In written communication Latvians are reserved and very formal. In Latvia important communication is through writing as it represents more authoritative style. Latvians like to be correct and like mentioning precise in their business and other forms of correspondence

We examine this letter and establish what makes it very different from others. The letter is often in either in English or Latvian and it’s supposed to be typed and printed. It should be concise and short. Latvians believe in making the aim of writing the letter as the key element of the letter hence put effort in making their aims add panache to the letter.

Genre, style and formal English style of business letter writing

Though discussed above, empirical research on both English pedagogy as well as the key elements of writing business letter elicit much interest in English pedagogy. Empirical research highlight main areas of interest on the business letter writing as the format and style while the language structure is also an integral aspect of the letter. Within a structure English perspective business letter writing has standards as well as ethical considerations.

According to Jenkins and Hinds, the business letter writing process is a creative discovery which takes place in three reoccurring stages.  These reoccurring stages are Pre-writing, writing and re-writing. This combination makes the process of business letter writing recursive (Jenkins and Hinds 1987: 327). First, we examine the style of writing business letters from an English perspective without contextualizing the Latvian style and tradition. There are two forms of writing business letters within the English perspective.

Full block style: In this method of writing a business letter, the text and all its elements is aligned to the left margin of the paper.

Modified block style: This requires writing the text down the middle of the page and aligning the return address, date, closing, signature, and typed name on the same direction (down the text); the other elements of the text are aligned to the left page margin of the paper. (George Mason University Writing Center 2006:1)

Jenkins and Hinds suggest that, business letter writing should be viewed as the process creating meaning and an examination of highly prescriptive form of written communication that increases our understanding of the varied interpretations the customer-corporate partner etc purpose and readers expectations (327).  A close examination of the elements of the letter shows that elements of the letter are the keys to a successful letter. The return address of the company the letter writer represents is important so as to facilitate the intended response reaching him after his submission. The second most elements are the date of letter. This is followed by inside address, salutation, body, closing, signature and position of the letter writer.

The use of English is widely seen as the key to globalization. Laamanen argues that English can undoubtedly be called a genuine and global lingua franca used as a contact language between people who do not share a native language (4). Gradol suggests that It is the dominant language of international organizations, science, higher education, business, audio-visual cultural products, tourism, technology, and the Internet (Graddol 1997:8).

Empirical research on usage of English shows that the correct norms of usage are shifting away from native speakers of English. In fact cultures are transforming the norms to suit their cultural faculties. Scholars define this as nativization of English. The nativization of English has helped the globalization of English to the status of lingua franca. This has been achieved through various strategies like examining whether “unclear words or utterances may be ignored in the hope that the matter will be understood in the course of the later interaction.

Abnormal or marked words or phrases may also be made “normal” by indicating that one has understood them despite their peculiarity. The strategies, which are used to achieve “normality” and to cope with what is often perceived as incompetence in the foreign language, differ from person to person” (Laamanen 2004: 8).

Business communication from the perspective of letters is often viewed as a matter of ethics and qualifications. There is a culture within the context of business writing. The language-speech relation and its functions is purposeful. This further involves the culture of business communications and the types of letter drafted in various English cultures. Besides, there is profound preference to the type of communication which is replicated on the written word. This means the oral and written dialogue are predominant in the sense that they are represented in the figures of speech the letter writer uses in his communication. There are also factors that determine connotation, meaning and the brevity of a business letter. The letter entirely depends on somes important factors like distance between sender and the addressee.

The principles employed in the business writing context also involve the relationship between the writer and the receiver. Acquainted persons have a different approach to writing their letters. Ivanova argues that  “the acquaintances with the main principle of business communication and mastering idiosyncrasies of business correspondence as a medium for effective business and personal communication is prerequisite for the future successful professional realization of competent business correspondence” (Ivanova 2007: 5).

The style of the letter is basically formal though the content is what explains the business aspect of the letter.  The letter is characterized by strict normative language which is so, so as to regulate the writer’s perceptions, needs and thoughts as he objectively wants them to be in the letter. The linguistic form is formal since the terms and expressions used are like legal regulations aimed at conveying the seriousness of the writer and also his interests as he explains them through the letter (Ivanova 27).

This style is related to the higher social class due to changes experienced so rapidly in the social structure and subsequently imparted to the to both the social and political class. Ivanova explains that, business letter style is characterized by stability, traditional nature, restraint and standardization of the language used to express oneself (27).

Genre of an English business letter is dependent on the relative concept of speech activity. This is the relative realization of the social and communicative needs of the letter writer during writing a letter. His speech as on the paper is the formula and determinants of what kind of evaluation and meaning the receiver will have on his thoughts as he wrote the letter with an aim of communicating these thoughts.

Through propagating a thought concisely aimed at conveying a message a person writes a statement which he rationalizes, evaluates and again rationalizes. As argued by Jenkins and Hinds, the business letter writing process takes place in three reoccurring stages, Pre-writing, writing and re-writing., making the process of business letter writing recursive (Jenkins and Hinds 1987: 327).

In this process of rationalizing, assessing personal speech and evaluating the conciseness and the command level of his written message, the writer perceives through the screen of the text, creates a mission statement in the letter, then gives an evaluation of of the facts the statement stands for. This statement is then formulated through other supporting statements which help send the message home (Malderz, A. and Wedell, M. 2007)

Written business messages have evolved towards a culture which is imperative. The written message conforms to a tradition of norm and sticks to a strict compound syntactic structure, a gig number of participles and gerunds constructions, lexis since it is meant for the perceivable not the audio. It also follows a strict structural organization which involves paragraphs, chapters, page numbering, footnotes, indenting, lines and also grammar (Ivanova pg 98).

The purpose of this hypothesis is to project the continuum of grammar as an integral aspect of communication in business letters while the underlying context of Latvian business letter writing is an offshoot of English norms.

This hypothesis is a derivate of the fact that, writing in English is a set of norms which have been absorbed in various cultures and has also seeped into the Latvian culture. The Latvian system and the convections of writing correlate to the English ones. This clearly dictates the tradition of English has been there and was adopted in various cultures through education.

Business correspondence or rather business communication requires sticking to ethics and being concise (Kotler, Philip 2006). In Labanova’s assertion that only a language will unite the world communities in the new millennium, a survey on learning English in Latvia shows various truths in this perspective. English was introduced to various countries through the colonization of these countries by the British. This led to Canadian English, American and Pidgin English. English has turned into a global lingua franca. “Mankind has just graced the threshold of a new millennium. What will unite people in the future? Probably, a common language – the English language most presumably” (Labanova 2006:1)

The sentiment is shared by Berg et al who asserts that “the high status of English as both the language of international communication and an important code of communication in many elite domains, might be important in shaping the climate for language shift and hence in influencing language use patterns of the coming decades” (Berg et al 2001:313-314)

The globalization of grammar has resulted to different perspectives on the norms of usage of English. This contradiction in the correct nouns and pronouns and various connotations are what Bamgbose projects as a pull between the English writing norms and culture. He states that there is a “constant pull between native and non-native English norms” (Bamgbose 1998:1.)

The use of English is through absorption of its norms in the language culture of the community in question and subsequently the society members or rather the native provides the correct norm to use in speech. This is observed when a non-native speaker discussion considers the native speaker as the provider of the correct norm and insists on maintaining a standard variety based on British and American English as a basis of teaching English as an international lingua franca and as a means of cross-cultural communication (Laamanen 2004: 18, Quirk 1985:5-6, Preisler 1995:342).

This has made English to be a language of the people and even the English cannot control it nor claim it. Laamanen asserts that, the global diffusion of English has taken an interesting turn: the native speakers of this language seem to have lost the exclusive prerogative to control its standardization; in fact, if current statistics are any indication, they have become a minority. This sociolinguistic fact must be accepted and its implications recognized. What we need now are new paradigms and perspectives for linguistic and pedagogical research and for understanding the linguistic creativity in multilingual situations across cultures (Seidlhofer 2001 and Laamanen pp18).

 British and American English vary in various aspects; from spelling to verbs and tone and pronunciation. Case study on various writing structures draw out the significant differences in the British English and the American English. According to Labov, Ash, & Boberg, 2006, the American language is a Standard English with a set dialect and accent. This is language is used by the American community and easy to use.

British English is a uniform lingo both in speech and in the written form. The British English is renowned as the queens English (Hargraves, Orin 2003). It is distinct in both dialect and accent.  Apart from the difference in speech the two differ in spelling. The difference is notable is the words like “labour and labor”

The purpose of this paper was to compare and analyze various arising differences in the lexis, grammar and syntax in Latvian letters and the English business letters. The underlying benefits of the English business letter writing context and the subsequent absorption of the English language in the global society with a special interest on the Latvian business letter writing culture.

This may be summarizing by asserting that special features in the figure of written speech are of interest. The use of the capital you in Latvian business texts is a symbol of speech and it denotes various aspects of intended perceptions which include respect and even disrespect.

We also explored the differences between the American English business letter writing and the American style of business letter writing. Though briefly, the results of the analysis reveal a difference in spelling, dialect and figure of speech. This however is shadowed by the likeness in the style of writing business letters. The two use a similar format and style and over the years have began letting go the strictness of grammar in both dialect and the accent.

Within a Latvian perspective, we conclusively assert that, there is much difference in both accent and figure of speech in business letters and related correspondences. The use of plurals and singular as well as the subjugation in the Latvian writing is different from the normal English. This makes Latvian English and the culture of speech and writing interesting. In spite of increasing interest on researching cultures and the nativization of English in Europe, there is need to explore the Latvian nativization of the English language from the early nineties.

Still on the Latvian perspective, we observe there are gradual changes taking place in the strategic business texts in Latvia. Based on the empirical research and the hypothetical perspective of the paper we conclude that there is an internalization of English norms into Latvian and the other the absorption of Latvian norms in English language texts. There is also the overuse of upper case and lower case letters form in the body of a text.

This research portends the Latvians expect what they believe is correct to be used and, by extension, they may not look kindly on deviations from the norm in business texts (Bond, Dzintra; Markus, Dace; Stockmal, Verna 200). This is obviously a contentious issue in the pedagogy of English in Latvia and a wake up call to Latvian scholars. According to Veisbergs, Language is a dynamic entity; it does change. He suggests that there should be more flexibility in the way new tendencies and uses are elevated to the level of the norm (Veisbergs 2006: 2).

Within the English perspective, writing economic letters requires both skills and the conformity to the norm of idiosyncrasies all which determine the level of how easily the intended message will be taken and understood by the addressee. The typology also reflects closely on the use of a common format in writing business letters aiming at making the English language a lingua franca. This perspective is becoming a feature in the internationalization of the English language and should be given emphasis.

We also conclude that English business letters are notably interesting and demand a conscience of brevity and respect. They reflect to curt and precise information often aimed at passing the exact message intended without using any artistic form like idioms or metaphors. This makes business letter writing more of a lesson of passing important information and also a reliable system of courtesy and precision in writing.

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