The appropriation of linguistic resources to promote corporate interests

Vijay K. Bhatia

Corporate disclosure documents

Unfortunately, however, very little attention has so far been paid to
discourse analytical investigations of the use and exploitation of language
in many of the regularly employed documents for corporate disclosure
purposes, especially in the front matter accompanying the facts and fi gures
about corporate performance; that is, the communication from the senior
management to the various stakeholders through letters, reports, press
releases, etc.
This study undertakes a detailed investigation of the use and abuse of
linguistic resources in corporate periodic disclosure documents.1 Using
a critical genre-based approach to the analysis of the nature of some of
these corporate disclosure genres and the use of generic resources (which
include textual, intertextual, interdiscursive and socio-pragmatic) in a
corpus of relevant corporate disclosure documents, the study attempts to
demystify the appropriation of linguistic resources to obscure corporate
performance, in particular, the negative aspects of corporate results, and to
highlight instead the positive aspects of performance in order to enhance the
company’s image in the eyes of the shareholders, other stakeholders, and the
business community as a whole. In order to investigate the use of language
in this subtle and yet deliberate ‘bending’ of the socially expected generic
norms of these corporate disclosure documents, the chapter also attempts
to integrate the available analytical tools to illustrate a multi-perspective and
multidimensional framework (see Bhatia 2004 for details) for ‘critical genre
analysis’.
Corporate disclosures documents such as corporate annual reports have
long been considered the pulse of corporate realities. Their main purpose
is to inform their shareholders about the performance and health of the
company, specifi cally its successes and failures, current problems and

prospects for its future development. In recent years however, the function
of corporate annual disclosure documents, as in many others corporate
genres, seems to have undergone a gradual shift from ‘informing and
reporting’ to increasingly ‘promoting’ the companies to their audiences, by
‘mystifying’ corporate weaknesses through a subtle ‘bending’ of sociallyaccepted
communicative norms of corporate disclosure genres. The main
thrust of the study therefore is to focus on the appropriation of linguistic
resources to promote corporate interests within socially accepted and
hence expected procedures of factual corporate reporting. In this chapter I
would like to consider some of the generic resources employed in a range
of corporate disclosure genres to give expression to the ‘private intentions’
(Bhatia 1993) of promoting corporate interests against the background
of established corporate disclosure procedures in the context of statutory
requirements often imposed by government and other regulatory bodies. In
doing so I hope to offer a grounded account of the discursive practices of
the business community in corporate disclosure contexts by incorporating
relevant insights from the conditions of production and reception of such
documents by taking into account ethnographic reactions from a range of
specialists in business, accounting, management and marketing, based on
their convergent narrative accounts of fi rst-hand experiences (Smart 1998),
their lived professional experiences on ‘who contributes and is responsible
for what’ to the process and the products of corporate reporting, including
some reactions from media specialists who seem to know what goes on in
the corporate world.

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