Repository logo

What about speech acts? A comparative analysis of speech acts in isiZulu and English for the development of business writing skills in English second language learners.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The current study investigates students' awareness and challenges with using speech acts and politeness in written business correspondence. The research is motivated by the researcher's observations and experience as an English Communication Skills practitioner at the tertiary level. She found that most first-year English second language (L2) students battle with using appropriate speech acts and politeness strategies when writing business correspondence. Furthermore, students struggle with understanding both transactional and interactional functions of business letters. Yet, university graduates must develop and possess effective business writing skills to meet global communication needs because future employers expect their employees to communicate successfully internally, nationally, and internationally with people of various cultures through business correspondence. In addressing these challenges, the study explores to what extent an understanding of isiZulu speech acts and politeness strategies can be used in developing practical written business communication skills for English business communication. Data was collected by a mixed-method approach, using a student questionnaire, a politeness scoring task, focus group interviews and business letters on the speech acts of COMPLAINT and REQUEST in English and isiZulu. A total of 150 first-year tertiary students, who are isiZulu first language and English second-language speakers, participated in the study. The study's findings show that while the students recognize the importance of politeness in business writing and have an awareness of the pragmatic function of speech acts in English and isiZulu, they experience difficulties in choosing the appropriate words that show politeness and achieve the intended meaning in English. The students understand both the transactional and interactional intentions of writing business letters in isiZulu. However, they struggle with performing these language functions when writing the same letters in their L2. The study found that the L1 can be used to enhance pragmatic competence in English business correspondence and intercultural communication. Hence, in the teaching of business communication at the tertiary level, the acknowledgment of the students’ existing competencies in their L1 seems to be crucial in addressing challenges with intercultural communication.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.