Research Article

Politeness constructions in written business communication: A plea for African politeness strategies

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 41, issue 1, 2021 , pages: 44–54
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2021.1902133
Author(s): Bulelwa Nyangiwe, South Africa, Heike Tappe, South Africa


In this article, we conduct a comparative study which investigates challenges faced by isiZulu-speaking (L1) students with regard to appropriate politeness strategies in English (L2) business letters. We draw on the well-established distinction between interactional and transactional intentions in business writing. Data consists of a comparative bilingual business writing task as well as of a questionnaire that sought to identify specific challenges experienced by students in business communication. Findings indicate that students mostly implement politeness strategies successfully in their L1. In the L2, however, they manage to communicate transactional intentions but struggle with interactional intentions because they often do not address their audience appropriately and adopt unsuccessful politeness strategies. The article argues that isiZulu politeness constructions could empower students to communicate more efficiently when writing in their second language, English. The study may have practical implications for the teaching of business communication and may lead to critical reflections on the relationships between English and isiZulu politeness constructions and strategies in business communication.

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