As China has emerged as an economic giant and has established business relationships worldwide, the use of English has become essential in every day communication. New digital written genres such as emails are used every day in a globalized business context. We think that this current setting encourages participants to experiment with communication, changing and adapting language to their own comfort, using a more direct style, and prioritizing instant communication over grammatical and style correctness.
We believe that it is necessary to take into account the cultural background of the speaker when interpreting meaning in a business context in order to understand the message in cross-cultural communication.
In this sense, since English is spoken by more non-native speakers than by native speakers nowadays, it could be said that it becomes like a “sponge”, absorbing the characteristics and features of different cultures and languages. Chinese speakers of English are not an exception, differences or variations can be observed in their language use.
In this paper, we contrast business e-mails written by agents who work in an exporting company in Hong Kong and China and communicate via email with their counterparts all around the world. Two research questions arise from this study:
a. What are the most common types of variation produced by Chinese writers of English?
b. Does lexical variation change when English is used as a second language or as a foreign language?
Our main aim is to determine the causes of variation and their influence on digital discourse.
The results of the analysis of the corpus compiled showed that there are variations indeed. We observed that Chinese writers used more non-Standard English than do Hong Kong writers, as for the latter English is an official language and is used as a second language. Furthermore, business English tends to be more informal when used by Chinese writers, transmitting the linguistic and cultural identity of the author as, for example, they use a commanding style or invent a given name.