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Cameron2000_Styling_the_Worker - d/3socio/4-3/cameron.3d...

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# Published by Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2000 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden MA 02148, USA. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4/3, 2000: 323–347 Styling the worker: Gender and the commodification of language in the globalized service economy 1 Deborah Cameron Institute of Education, London This paper discusses some sociolinguistic characteristics of the speech style prescribed to workers for interacting with customers in service contexts, focusing in particular on the linguistic and vocal ‘styling’ prescribed for operators in telephone call centres in the U.K. Attention is drawn to the similarities between the preferred style of speech and what is popularly thought of as ‘women’s language’. The intensive regulation of service work- ers’ speech and the valorization of ‘feminine’ communication styles are analysed in relation to changes occurring as a consequence of economic globalization. KEYWORDS: Language and gender, globalization, institutional talk, call centres INTRODUCTION Sociolinguists are increasingly recognizing that the phenomenon of globaliza- tion, a set of far-reaching, transnational, economic, social and cultural changes, has implications for patterns of language-use, linguistic variation and change (Cope and Kalantzis 2000; Fairclough 1992; Heller 1999). One aspect of globalization on which a number of researchers have focused is the ‘new work order’ (Gee, Hull and Lankshear 1996) in which new (‘post-Fordist’) ways of working make new demands on the linguistic abilities of workers. Comment- ators on this subject (e.g. many contributors to Cope and Kalantzis 2000; Gee, Hull and Lankshear 1996; Gee 2000) place emphasis on the new forms of linguistic and other agency that workers must in principle develop to meet the demands of the new capitalism. There is also an argument, however, that new linguistic demands on workers may in practice entail new (or at least, newly intensified) forms of control over their linguistic behaviour, and thus a diminution of their agency as language-users. The question of control is raised explicitly in the literature of business and management. In her book Corporate Speak: The Use of Language in Business , for
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instance, Fiona Czerniawska (1998) explains that the adoption of new manage- rial approaches in a context of intensified global competition has sharpened awareness of language as a valuable commodity, potentially a source of ‘competitive advantage’, which therefore needs to be ‘managed’ rather than simply left to take care of itself. Particularly in the service sector of the economy, whose growth is one feature of globalization, one may observe an increasing tendency for employers to regulate even quite trivial details of workers’ talk (Cameron 2000; du Gay 1996).
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