Speech accommodation in international workplaces

On 16 November, Claire Cowie will give a lecture on speech accommodation theory and phonetic convergence in professional settings, especially outsourced call centres. Her abstract can be found below.

Accommodation theory predicts that in service encounters, the agent is likely to converge
linguistically towards the customer (Coupland 1984). Yet this prediction has not been tested in the more recent context of outsourcing which has brought about new situations of dialect contact on the telephone.

In this study speakers of Indian English complete a maptask (Anderson et al 1991, Brown 1995, Lindemann 2002) on the telephone with a speaker of American English, in order to determine whether they converge towards American English variants. This is tested for a phonological variable for which there is a distinct American English variant and a distinct Indian English variant, namely the BATH vowel. These variables appear in the landmark names of the maps (staff room, biology class etc.). Sixteen Indian participants from an IT company based in Pune described a route around a map to an American (based in the UK) and a fellow Indian in the control. Half of the Indian participants regularly deal with customers or colleagues in the US on the telephone (the “exposure” group), and the other half do not work with Americans at all. For each Indian-American call the American English speaker read out a list of the landmarks prior to the task to prime the Indian participant.

Most speakers showed some convergence in the BATH vowel, after taking phonetic environment and word frequency into account. For certain speakers fronting was consistent, but for most there was evidence of some “shadowing” without actual convergence. Level of fronting did not depend so much on time spent on calls as attitudes towards the American interlocutor, and interaction with Americans in and outside of India.

This experimental setting allows us to assess convergence in the absence of any explicit instructions to adopt American pronunciation, which are sometimes directly or indirectly present in Indian call centres (Cowie 2007, Cowie and Murty 2010, Poster 2007). There is also value in determining whether convergence is likely in an essentially co-operative encounter between these two groups of speakers.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the pub afterwards!

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.


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