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New perspectives on language and gender: Linguistic prescription and compliance in call centres

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2017

Anna Kristina Hultgren*
The Open University, UK
Address for correspondence: Dr. Anna Kristina Hultgren The Open UniversitySchool of Languages and Applied Linguistics Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA,


Despite a shift to service-based economies, male-dominated, high-status workplaces have been the predominant focus of research into language and gender in the workplace. This study redresses this shortcoming by considering one female-dominated, low-status, highly regimented workplace that is emblematic of the globalized service economy: call centres. Drawing on 187 call centre service interactions, institutional documents, interviews, and observations from call centres in two national contexts, the study employs an innovative combination of quantitative and qualitative discourse-analytic techniques to compare rule compliance of male and female workers. Female agents in both national contexts are found to comply more with the linguistic prescriptions despite managers and agents emphatically denying the relevance of gender. The study offers a new perspective on language and gender, pointing to the need to expand the methodologies and theories currently favoured to understand how language perpetuates occupational segregation in twenty-first-century workplaces. (Call centres, language and gender, new perspectives, male/female differences, globalized service economy)*

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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This manuscript has benefited significantly from comments from Deborah Cameron, Jenny Cheshire, Theresa Lillis, Karen Littleton, Joan Swann, and anonymous reviewers. I also wish to acknowledge the participating call centres and funding from the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Any errors are my own.


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