In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Language for Specific Purposes/Specialized Communication

  • Introduction
  • Journals

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Language for Specific Purposes/Specialized Communication
Jan Engberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0300


All work in the field of Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) has, as its basic assumption, that language use and the production of meaning is influenced by the relation between sender and receiver, and especially between the social factor of the degree of expertise of senders and receivers. Hence, a basic theoretical concept in such research is the assessment of degrees of knowledge asymmetries between the parties in a communicative interaction with a focus upon the fact that the involved expert belongs to a specialized domain of knowledge and discourse. To say that discursive domains are specialized means that it is possible to become a socially acknowledged specialist of the domain, through education, training, or experience. This covers primarily professional areas, but also in principle nonprofessional areas like hobbies. LSP research traditionally grew out of studies of linguistic variation especially from a sociolinguistic perspective and thus started out with a clear system linguistic and, to a large extent, lexical perspective, as reflected in the considerable influence of terminological standardization and its philosophical background in logical positivism. With the rise of the concepts of texts and genres in applied linguistics since the 1980s, a clear push toward widening the scope toward the communicative situation and its linguistic repercussions has been visible. Additionally, since the early 2000s, the general interest in linguistics for the role of cognition and knowledge in connection with language and communication means that especially aspects of knowledge structures of different participants in a communicative situation have been included in the realm of studies. Consequently, processes behind formulating and understanding experts’ communication are now in the focus of the discipline. The widening of the scope over time has had the consequence that the discipline is nowadays also called Specialized Communication in order to indicate that, although the concept of linguistic variety and terminological standardization has not disappeared from eyesight, it is only one among more applied-linguistic perspectives. Instead, the discipline looks at (in principle all) aspects of actual communication in specialized discursive domains.

General Overviews

The field of LSP/Specialized Communication in its modern form does not focus on a limited part of the human linguistic competence. Instead, the totality of aspects involved in communication in the investigated settings is the potential object of study, which means that studies into the field fall into a very wide range. The discipline is traditionally connected to the language-teaching side of applied linguistics, so much so that in English, the term ‘LSP’ or ‘ESP’ (English for Specific Purposes) is often used to designate the practical teaching of foreign languages for professional purposes. For instance, Anthony 2018 (cited under General Introductions) defines the object like this: “English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is an approach to language teaching that targets the current and/or future academic or occupational needs of learners, focuses on the necessary language, genres, and skills to address these needs, and assists learners in meeting these needs through the use of general and/or discipline-specific teaching materials and methods” (p. 1). However, there is also a branch of studies with a stronger focus upon understanding the theoretical basics of this type of language and communication, focusing upon terminology (specialized knowledge) and on text, discourse, and genre in experts’ domain-specific communication (functions and social relations). General introductions to the field tend to belong to one of the two branches, whereas reference works are often wider in scope and thus give a better overview of the discipline of LSP/Specialized Communication.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.