Corpus-based empirical approach to professionalism

Identifying interactional roles and dispositions in professional codes of ethics


  • Kenneth Kong Lingnan University
  • Phoenix Lam Polytechnic University
  • Winnie Cheng Polytechnic University



codes of ethics, communicative competence, corpus analysis, identity roles, identity virtues, professional communication


Although research on professional competence has has adopted a number of approaches that have highlighted the importance of practice and values in enacting a professional identity, there is currently no established framework for empirical investigations. Based on a discourse analytic framework, this paper demonstrates how ethical codes in a number of consulting professions (law, accountancy and engineering/surveying) can be analyzed empirically by focusing on the collocation patterns found in the genre. The analysis will focus on how professionals are expected to behave in relation to two identity components in their ideal conducts of behavior: identity roles (or identity shifts) and identity virtues (positive attributes associated with a particular role). The engineering profession is found to have a fairly even representation of most of the identity roles identified: provider to client, unspecified/general, professional peer, employer and professional association. The legal profession places greater emphasis on the roles of provider to client and professional peer, whereas accountancy professionals tend to represent their identity roles more generally, although the role of provider to client remains an important category. With regard to identity virtues, i.e., the ideal dispositions or values displayed, all three professions highlight the primacy of professional standards or competence, with integrity and responsibility also emphasized by some.

Author Biographies

Kenneth Kong, Lingnan University

Kenneth Kong is Associate Head of Centre for English and Additional Languages at Lingnan University. He has been teaching and researching professional communication for over 20 years and has published extensively in the areas of professional discourse, intercultural pragmatics and multimodal discourse. His most recent publication is Professional Discourse (2014, Cambridge University Press).

Phoenix Lam, Polytechnic University

Phoenix Lam is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. She is also a member of the Research Centre for Professional Communication in English (RCPCE) at the university. Her main research areas are corpus linguistics, discourse analysis and professional communication.

Winnie Cheng, Polytechnic University

Winnie Cheng is Adjunct Professor in the Department of English at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. She was formerly the Director of the Research Centre for Professional Communication in English (RCPCE) at the university, of which she is currently a member. She works closely with professional communities in her research and provides consultancy to professional practitioners. Her main research areas are English for specific purposes, corpus linguistics, conversation analysis, critical discourse analysis, genre analysis and intercultural pragmatics.


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How to Cite

Kong, K., Lam, P., & Cheng, W. (2020). Corpus-based empirical approach to professionalism: Identifying interactional roles and dispositions in professional codes of ethics. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 14(1), 3-28.