LEXICAL AND SEMANTIC FEATURES OF A FINANCIAL, ACCOUNTING, AND BANKING ENGLISH TEXT
Nguyen phuoc Vinh Co
College of Foreign Languages, University of Danang
Although English has been given special emphasis in the field of education, secondary and tertiary in Vietnam; however, it still gets very little attention from the students especially in English for Special Purposes. The aim of this article is to give the most practical answer to problems facing students when dealing with a financial English text and to provide a detailed analysis of these problems by examining the most basic features of a financial, accounting and banking English text. These findings indicate that the most characteristic features of English for Special Purposes lie in its lexicon. The results of these findings suggest that with a knowledge of the basic features of terminology of financial English, learners, readers and translators may get access to English for Specific Purposes as far as the financial, accounting and banking English is concerned.
Keywords: ESP, specialized English, terms, terminology, vocabulary
Regarded as the most widely used international language [11,187], the language of science and commerce [4,6], and the language of modernization and technological advancement in developing countries [2,12], English may be called a living language not only in our time but throughout history. With such great role and wide importance of English, it is a paradox that a great number of Vietnamese students seem unenthusiastic about learning this language. Here and there in Vietnamese mass media, we read and hear the complaints: ‘Why can’t students who graduated from college speak English?’ (The ‘Youth’ newspaper (bao Tuoi tre) published on Monday, February 8, 2008). ‘The gaps in specialised English.’ (The Labourer newspaper (bao Nguoi lao dong) published on Monday, December 28, 2009). One of the biggest problems facing students of general English and specialised English is that they don’t have a seft-taught method: the autonomy in learning, the quest of knowledge, the distribution of time, constant practice, observation and so on. Moreover, for ESP students, specialised English is a ‘strange land’ and they themselves are ‘strangers’ in a strange land. They are all ‘too often reluctant dwellers in a strange and uncharted land’ [these words are cited in Hutchinson & Waters 4,158], in other words, most of them were familiar with the comfortable environs of general English and when they have to face a specialised text, they may suddenly find themselve having to read texts whose content they know little or nothing. As a result, “The gaps in specialised english” in Vietnamese colleges and universities occur. That is the main reason why the paper will present and analyse the most basic characteristics of a financial, accounting and banking text to provide English students in general and ESP students in particular with necessary and basic knowledge when dealing with a financial, accounting and banking text.
2. The characteristic of specialised English
First, it is necessary to specify that the characteristic of specialised English , including medical English, technical English, business English…etc lies in its lexicon. Although terminology usually only makes up a low percentage of a text: 5%-10% (Newmark [6,151]), : only 9% of the total range of lexis (Inman (1978) cited in Hutchinson & Waters [4,166]), it is the biggest challenge for its learners, readers, and translators.
3. The characteristic of financial, accounting, and banking English
Secondly, business English covers many subjects and professions, therefore; the meaning of a word is usually related to one/more than one subject such as accounting, finance, banking, marketing…etc. The words and terms are used with one meaning of a subject/ profession such as ‘balance sheet’ (Accounting): a document showing a company’s financial position and wealth at a particular time, often the last day of its financial year, ‘building society’ (Finance): an organization providing financial services to customers, especially lending money in the form of mortgages to buy a house or flat and paying interests to savers, ‘deposit’ (Banking): an amount of money paid into a bank account or held in a bank account, especially when it is earning interest, ‘golden hello’ (HR), loss leader’ (Marketing). The words and terms have more than one subject and profession such as ‘amortize’ (Accounting & Finance), ‘above-the-line’ (Accounting & Marketing). The word ‘turnover’ alone is used with the meaning of 4 subjects/professions: 1. (Accounting), 2. (HR), 3. (Commercial), 4. (Finance), moreover; the meaning of a specialised word usually lies in a simple word such as ‘bear’ (Finance): a person who sell shares, a particular currency,etc., hoping to buy them back later at a lower price because they think prices are going to fall rather than rise, a compound noun such as ‘sleeping beauty’ (Finance): a company, especially one with attractive features such as a large amount of cash, that other companies would like to buy, but that has not yet received any offers, a phrase such as ‘pay-as-you-earn’, a prepositional phrase such as ‘above bar’ (Finance): at a price that is above the original value when shares and bonds were first made available, a phrasal verb such as ‘bring sth forward’ (Accounting): to move a total sum from the bottom of one page or column of numbers to the top of the next…etc., and other characteristics we will discuss in this paper.
4. The morphological characteristic of financial, accounting, and banking English
4.1 Simple words
According to Greenbaum [2,439], some of the most frequent words in the English language are simple: they cannot be divided into smaller meaning segments. Financial, accounting, and banking English has simple words such as ‘asset’, ‘bear’, ‘capital’, ‘debit’, ‘earnings’, ‘fraud’,etc., and most words are composite in that they have a recognizable internal structure. We know the adjective ‘friendly’ (Finance) means ‘about an attempt to buy or gain control of a company’ that the directors of the company that is to be bought want and are willing to accept’ consists of ‘friend’- plus ‘ly’ because ‘friend’ occurs as a word by itself and ‘ly’ is found with the meaning ‘having the qualities of’ in other words (scholarly). English in the area of finance has composite words such as ‘advancer’, ‘decliner’, ‘dishonour’, ‘unfriendly’, ‘allowance’ and so on.
4.2 Compound words
According to Close [1,120], compound nouns consist of two or more words joined together to form a single lexical unit. According to Longman Business English Dictionary [10,vi], compound nouns make up a large part of the vocabulary of business English. Newmark [6,145] states that new collocations (noun compounds or adjective plus nouns) are particularly common in the social sciences and computer language. In Greenbaum’s view [2,441], compounding (or composition) is one of the four main processes that results in the formation of new words. Nguyen and Ton [8,5] point out that collocations (noun plus nouns and adjective plus nouns) are one of the most characteristic features of financial, accounting, and banking English. The corpus of the collocations of compound nouns in ‘Longman Business Dictionary’ given by these two authors shows that the word ‘account’ has 65 collocations; ‘asset’ has 13 collocations; ‘balance’ has 14 collocations and so on.
Some compounds consisting of verb + preposition also add to the terminology of finance, accounting, and banking such as ‘buy-back’, ‘buy-in’, ‘take-out’, ‘take-over’, ‘turn-over’, ‘write-back’, ‘write-down’, ‘write-off’ and so on.
The few compounds, typical of legal English, on the pattern count noun + adjective that take the plural inflexion on the noun as in attorneys general, notaries public, courts-martial are also present in financial English such as ‘accounts payable’, ‘bills receivable’, ‘shares outstanding’ and so on.
Some examples of compounds given below will show that they themselves are the problems for anyone learning, reading, and translating a financial text: (dormant) account, (liquid) asset, (idle) balance, (baby) bond, (cooperative) bank, (red-chip) company and so on.
4.3 Phrasal words
Some phrases (conversion from phrases to adjectives), though not common, also present in financial English as in ‘above-par’, ‘below-par’, ‘above-the-line’. ‘below-the-line’ and so on.
4.4 Phrasal verbs
Verbs are made up of two or more words. According to Close [1,25], constructions on the pattern of verb + preposition are very common in English. However, we see only a few verbs in financial English as in ‘to buy out’, ‘to bring/ carry forward’, ‘to carry down’, ‘to take out’, ‘to take over’, ‘to write back’ and so on.
4.5 Long premodified and postmodified noun phrases
Another fairly common characteristic in financial terminology is long premodified and postmodified noun phrases. The long premodified noun phrases are as in ‘public sector borrowing requirement’, ‘pay-in-kind debenture’, ‘acid test ratio’, ‘accelerated cost recovery system’, ‘accounts receivable turnover’, etc., Besides them, we also see the long postmodified noun phrases as in ‘lender of last resort’, ‘law of diminishing returns’, ‘return on capital employed’, ‘balance brought down’, ‘amount falling due after one year’, ‘work(s) in process/ progress and so on.
The most common of all abbreviations in the area of finance is the acronyms derived from the initials of several words as in ‘C.O.D’ (cash on delivery), ‘S.W.I.F.T’ (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) or the letters represent elements in a compound or just parts of a word as in ‘GHQ’ (General Headquarters), ‘LBO’ (leveraged buyout), ‘deb’ (debenture). These acronyms are fairly familiar to specialised English students but are new to general English studends when it comes to translating a financial text. The following are the examples of some acronyms in financial English:
a. Why do most M & A’s fail ?
b. They predict an increase in EBIT of 23%.
c. EBITDA is expected to reach $ 2 billion this year.
4.7 Culture in the terminology of finance, accounting, and banking
What is meant by ‘culture’ here is ‘culture-bound terms’. Harvey,[3,2] defines culture-bound terms as the terms which ‘refer to concepts, institutions and personnel which are specific to the source language culture. Any readers, learners, and translators for a financial text must have had some problems with a range of culture-bound terms as in: ‘bulldog market’, ‘bear’, ‘bull’, ‘bull market’, ‘shark’, ‘cats and dogs’, ‘white knight’, ‘black knight’, ‘red herring’, ‘wildcat’ and so on.
4.8 The difference between British English and American English in the area of finance, accounting, and banking
This is a most significant characteristic because the difference between them sometimes faces learners, for example , the British use ‘debtors’ (the amounts of the money that are owed to a company which are recorded as assets on its BALANCE SHEET) when Americans use ‘accounts receivable’.
British English: Annual General Meeting, Articles of Association, authorized share capital, barometer stock, base rate, bonus issue, bridging loan, building society, etc.
American English: Stockholders Meeting, bylaws, authorized capital stock, bellwether stock, prime rate, stock dividend, bridge loan, savings and loan association, etc.
4.9 The oppositions or contrasts in financial English
One of the characterisics (typical of financial English) is the strong oppositions or contrasts in financial English as in ‘assets’ / ‘liabilities’, ‘credit’ / ‘debit’, ‘income’ / ‘expenditure’, ‘output’ / ‘input’, ‘supply’ / ‘demand’, ‘bear market’ / ‘bull market’, ‘premium’ / ‘discount’, etc., Learners should pay much attention to these oppositions because they are typical of financial English.
4.10 The lexical productivity in financial English
By lexical productivity, first, we mean ‘derivatives: words that have been developed or produced from other words such as ‘speculate’ (v), ‘speculation’ (n), ‘speculator’ (n), ‘speculative’ (adj). This is one of the ways to enlargen vocabularies. Secondly, lexical productivity is also one of the main features in the types of specialised English owing to the new developments in the fields of science, technology, economics, computing, etc. For example, as far as computing is concerned, this field develops and produces: ‘mouse’, ‘etiquette’, ‘emoticon’, etc.
In the field of business, however, lexical productivity is clearly shown in subjects/ topics as in ‘accounting’, ‘finance’, ‘banking’, ‘marketing’, ‘ law’, ‘insurance’, etc., and is arranged in clear divisions and subdivisions. Look at the arrangement of the subjects/ topics and divisions and subdivisions in the book on the vocabularies and knowledge of finance written by MacKenzie, [5,44]:
Subject/ topic : Banking
Division : Personal Banking
Subdivision : A. Current Accounts
: B. Banking Products and Services
: C. E-Banking
Take, Subdivision B, for example. This will give us a range of financial terms as in ‘loan’, ‘overdraft’, ‘mortgage’, ‘standing order’, ‘bank transfer’, ‘
banker’s order’, ‘foreign currency’,’traveller’s cheque’, etc.
5. The semantic characteristic of financial, accounting, and banking English
5. 1 General English words with specialised English senses
Semantically, the first and most basic characteristic is that general English words have specialised senses. We will come across these terms in a financial text such as ‘asset’, ‘balance’, ‘capital’, ‘dishonour’, ‘earnings’, ‘facilities’, ‘gain’, ‘honour’, and many other terms. It is worth noting that these specialised terms, when combining with other terms, usually give us a collocational pattern that may sound odd in everyday English but is common collocations in financial English. The following four familiar verbs when collocating with the noun ‘debt’ easily give us ambiguity in meaning, for example, ‘to service a debt’, ‘to forgive a debt’, ‘to retire a debt’, and ‘to restructure/ to reschedule a debt’ and its collocations as compound nouns such as ‘debt service’, ‘debt forgiveness’, ‘debt retirement’ and ‘debt restructuring’.
5.2. Polysemous words with a specialised English sense
Secondly, polysemous words with one or more than one specialised sense canbe sound frequent. Take two words ( ‘return’ and ‘interest’ ) from ‘Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary’ as an example. The word ‘return’ has 10 senses, one of which refers to ‘financial subject’/‘topic’, (the amount of profit or income that you get from a particular investment), and the word ‘interest’ has 8 senses, two of which refer to ‘financial area’ (1. the extra money you pay back when you borrow money or that you receive when you invest money, 2. a share in business or company and its profits). The following examples will illustrate this point:
Ex. 1. Shareholders are expecting to see some RETURN from their investment.
Ex. 2. Bond INTEREST is fixed, but earnings per share are growing.
Ex. 3. He has a 15% controlling INTEREST in the new company.
5.3. Polysemous words with many specialised senses
Apart from the terms given in Section 3, the phenomenon of polysemous words is also one of the fairly common features in the terminology of finance, accouting, and banking. In ‘ Oxford Business English Dictionary’, the word ‘credit’ has 8 senses, four of which refer to specialised senses. 1. (Commerce): an arrangement that you make with a bank, shop/store, etc., to be able to buy things now and pay for them later. 2. (Finance): money that financial institutions lend to business, governments and people. 3. (Accounting): an amount that is written in a company’s financial account to show an increase in money that the company owes or a decrease in the value of the assets. 4. (Accounting): an amount of money that is paid back or owed to you, because you paid too much. The following examples will be given in the order of subjects/topics:
Ex. 1. I bought it on CREDIT.
Ex. 2. It is unlikely that the bank will extend additional CREDIT to the firm.
Ex. 3. Produce a trial balance to ensure that CREDITS equal the debits.
Ex. 4. We will issue you with a CREDIT for any damaged goods that you return.
5.4. The most characteristic feature in terms of meaning of financial, accounting and banking English
Of all semantic features given above, it may be said that compound nouns in terms of meaning as well as formation are the most characteristic. According to Quirk & et al. [ 9,1020], semantically, compounds can be seen to be isolated from ordinary syntactic constructions by having a meaning which may be related to but can not simply be inferred from the meaning of its parts. For example, ‘a hothouse’ (‘a heated glass building for growing plants’) is a type of building with a special use, but its last element has enough common with the uses of the word ‘house’ for us to recognize the resemblance. Greenbaum [2,458] makes a distinction beween compounds and phrases, which consist of two or more words that are grammatically related: a large card, beautiful pictures. Therefore, according to him, ‘sleeping partner’ is ambiguous between phrase (‘partner who is sleeping’) and compound (‘partner who does not take an active role’). Among the 65 words (adjectives, nouns, phrase) collocating with ‘account’ (see 4.2), the following words are compounds in terms of Quirk’s definition on compounds and Greenbaum’s distinction between phrases and compounds: 1. call/call deposit account. 2. current account. 3. demand account. 4. deposit account. 5. dormant account. 6. instant access account (demand account). On the other hand, it is difficult to see anything in common between the ordinary noun ‘dog’ and second element in the compound ‘hot dog’( a sausage in a sandwich). This is also present in financial English compounds such as ‘window dressing’, ‘true and fair view’, ‘sleeping beauty’, ‘windfall’, ‘white knight’, ‘black knight’, ‘cash cow’, ‘whistle blower’, ‘fallen angel’, ‘due diligence, etc.
Understanding the features of the terminology of financial, accounting and banking English (structure and semantics alike) is the initial but basic step to provide learners/ readers with a passport (indispensable knowledge) to a ‘strange’ land. ‘Characteristic features of financial, accounting, and banking’given above, though useful and indespensable, is just a beginning step (discovery steps). To master financial, accounting, and banking English, what learners, readers, and translators need is ‘another step’ (consolidation steps): a method for vocabulary development with constant and hard practice. That is really your own STEP into the field of financial, accounting and banking English.
Appendix I: the following are the terms (simple and composite) in the area of finance, accounting and banking
A : Accelerate, accept/acceptance, account, accretion, accrue, acquisition/ acquisitive, active, actuals, admission, advance/advancer, advice, agio, allow/allowable/ allowance, amortizable/amortization/amortise/ze, analyse/ze, annuity, apportionment, appropriate, arbitrage/arbitrageur, aval.
B : Back, backwardation, balance, bear/bearer/bearish, bellwether, bid, bill, billing, block, bond, book(s), boom, bounce, bourse, broker, bull/bullish.
C : Call/callable, cap/capping, capitalise/ze/capitalised/zed, check/cheque, chip, clear/clearer/clearing, collateral, collect, consolidator, control, compound, cost(s) cover, credit, creditors.
D: Dealings, dear, debenture, debit, debt/debtor/debtors, decliner, deduct/ deductible, degearing, delist, dematerialise, deposit/, depreciate, derivative, devalue, dilute, discount, dishonour, distribute, dividend, draw.
E: Encash, endorse, equity/equities, exchange, excise, exercise, expire, exposure, extraordinary.
F: Facility/facilities, factoring, float/flotation/floatation, floater, floor, foreclosure, forfaiting, fund, futures.
G & H: Gainer, gearing, gilts, giro, giver; hedge, holding, honour, hostile, hyperinflation
I & J: Illiquid, imprest, inactive, inbound, indenture, index, insolvency/insolvent, interest, inventory/inventories, issue, item, junior, junk.
K & L: Knock, ledger, leverage/leveraged, levy, liability/liabilities, liquid/liquidate/liquidation/liquidator, liquidity, list/listing, lodgment, loss .
M & N: Margin, mature, maturity, merger, mortgage, narration, negotiate, net, nominal, nominee.
O & P: Offering, operation, option, originate, par, participate, placement, payables, portfolio, premium, prepayment, progressive, provision, public.
Q & R: Quotation, quote, quoted, raid, ratchet, rate, rating, realise, recapitalize, receipt, receivables, reconcile, redeem, redeemable, redemption, redeploy, remit/remittance, retire/retirement, return, revalue, revenue(s), review, risk.
S: Secure/secured, securitise/ze, securitization, security, senior, serial, series, service, session, share, short, soft, solvency/solvent, speculate/speculation/speculative/ speculator, spot, spread, stake, stock, subordinated, surplus, surrender, syndicate/syndicated.
T & U: Tarriff, tenor, tippee, tipper, trade/trader/trading, tranche, translate/translation, trust, unaudited, uncashed, undated, undercapitalized, underlying, underwrtite, unlisted, unsecured.
V & W & X & Y & Z:Variance, vest, volume, voucher/vouching, writer, yield.
Appendix II: the following are the terms that can be combined with other words in a two-word partnership, e.g. ‘capital asset’, ‘liquid asset’, ‘net current asset’ and ‘asset backing’, ‘asset chopping’, ‘asset tripper’…etc.
A: Acceptance, account(s), accountant, accounting, acquisition, agreement, allocation, allowance, analysis, analysist, annuity, application, assessment, asset, assurance.
B : Balance, bank, banking, benefit, bid, bill, bond, bonus, book(s), borrowing, broker, budget, business, buyer.
C: Call, capital, centre, certificate, charge, cheque/check, clause, company, contract, control, cost, credit, creditor, currency, curve.
D: Damage(s), deal, dealing, debenture, debt, deficit, deposit, depreciation, discount, dividend, duty.
E: Earnings, economy, equity, exchange, expenditure, expense.
F: Fee, finance, financing, fund, futures.
G & H: Gilts, goods, growth, guarantee, holiday, house.
I: Income, index, indicator, industry, inflation, insurance, interest, inventory, investment, investor, invoice, issue.
L: Labour, land, law(s), leader, lease, letter, leverage, liabilities, liability, loan, loss.
M & N: Management, manager, margin, marginal, market, marketing, merger, mix, money, mortgage, note.
O & P: Offer, offering, office, option, order, payment, period, plan, point, policy, power, premium, price, product, profit, provision.
R & S & T: Rate, rating, ratio, return, revenue, risk, sale, security, selling, service, share, tax, taxation, term(s), trade, trading, trust
U & V & Y: Value, yield.
. Close, R.A. (1975), A Reference Grammar for Sudents of English, Longmam Group, Ltd.
. Greenbaum, S. (1996), English Grammar, Oxford University Press.
. Harvey, M. (2003), A beginner’s course in legal translation: the case of culture-bound terms. Retrieved November 7, 2010 from http://www. tradulex.org/Actes2000/harvey.pdf
. Hutchinson, T & Waters, A. (1987), English for Specific Purpose, CUP.
. MacKenzie, I . (2007), Financial English, CUP.
. Newmark, P. (1988), Textbook of Translation, Prentice Hall International.
. Newmark, P. (1993), Paragraphs on Translation, Multilingual Matters Ltd.
. Nguyen, Phuoc Vinh Co & Ton, Nu Thanh Thao . (2010), Mot Cach Hoc Thuat Ngu Tieng Anh Tai Chinh, Ke toan va Ngan Hang. (A Way to Learn Financial, Accounting and Banking English). Retrieved January 9, 2011 from the library of Vietnam OpenCourseware Web site: http://voer edu.vn/Content/m32298/1.1/
. Quirk, R & et al, (1980), A Grammar of Contemporary English, Longman.
. Longman Business English Dictionary (2007), Longman.
. Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics, (1999), Longman.
. Oxford Business English Dictioary (2005), Oxford University Press.
. Tu Dien Kinh Te – Kinh Doanh Anh – Viet (2000), Nguyen Duc Dy & et al, Science and Technics Publishing House.