Shifting identities: Executives’ use of first-person pro-forms in financial Q&A sessions


An important function of company executives is to communicate the corporate identity, or the vision, values, and defining attributes of their organizations. Yet we know that identity is often a multi-faceted phenomenon that is dynamically constructed during interaction, involving aspects of both collective identity as a member of a group and individual identity as the expression of self as a unique person. This study aims to identify the different facets of executive speakers’ identity that emerge during the Q&A sessions of earnings calls as a key oral business genre during which teams of executives interact with financial analysts who participate via teleconferencing. The dialogic Q&A sessions follow prepared monologic presentations delivered by executive teams and are relatively impromptu in nature, thus providing for a rich interactional context. The data for the study consist of the transcripts of the Q&A sessions of the quarterly earnings calls of ten major US-based companies. The analytical approach integrates both quantitative and qualitative methods to tease out the linguistic expression of identity in the form of the first person pro-forms we, us, our, ours, I, me, my and mine. Previous research on the pragmatic functions of such pro-forms has suggested that they are important indexical expressions that serve to establish roles and relationships in situated interaction, and therefore act as markers of identity. Text analysis software was used detect first person pro-forms as particularly prominent features of the Q&A sessions and then to investigate patterns of usage through cluster analysis. Follow-up qualitative analysis of the most frequently used pro-forms in their context of usage revealed a range of nuanced identities that involved both institutional and organizational identities (plural forms), as well as individual and professional identities (singular forms), which allowed the executives to effectively interact with the financial analysts, in order to respond to challenging questions and convey a message that promotes both the company and themselves as successful business leaders. The findings of the analysis can be applied in financial communication courses to help aspiring executives acquire competence in the effective use of first person pro-forms.


DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v39p67

Keywords: inancial discourse; earnings calls; first person pro-forms; identity; corpus methods


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