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Englishization in offshore call centers: A postcolonial perspective

Abstract

The spread and use of English as the lingua franca of international business (IB) – “corporate Englishization” – has received increasing scholarly attention in recent years but the focus has mostly been on the communication benefits and challenges of using English as a shared language inside multinationals. In this article we examine how English is used externally in the provision of business services and apply a postcolonial perspective to frame our analysis. Drawing on fieldwork in India within the call center units of two outsourcing organizations serving Anglo-American firms, we show how corporate Englishization (1) relies on, and contributes to producing, comprador managerial cadres; (2) serves to construct a transnational intra-linguistic hierarchy of power and privilege; and (3) undercuts its own effectiveness by simultaneously eliminating and maintaining the alterity of the “Other” through processes of mimicry. We thus show how corporate Englishization does not merely overcome or, conversely, worsen transnational communication problems; it also (re-)produces colonial-style power relations between the “Anglosphere” and the “Rest”. Our analysis deepens our understanding of corporate Englishization and opens a new avenue for postcolonial research on the role of language in IB. Our analysis also advances the field of postcolonial organization studies and has implications for IB scholarship more generally.

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Figure 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The terms “Englishization” and “Anglicization” are often used interchangeably in the IB literature and more generally. Neeley (2012) also reports on the use of the term “Englishnization” (with an “n”) in Japanese firm Rakuten. We prefer “Englishization” as this is more elegant and grammatically correct than “Englishnization” and more accurate than “Anglicization”, which is generally defined as the process of making “someone or something English in nationality, culture, or language” (McArthur, 1998), and hence used to refer to a broader phenomenon. We employ the term “corporate” to signal that our focus is on Englishization in the specific context of the corporate world (see Dor, 2004, for a more general discussion of Englishization).

  2. 2.

    The concept of the “Anglosphere” was introduced by Bennett (2004) to describe a loose coalition of English-speaking nations based on a common language and cultural heritage. Such coalition includes a former colonial power – Britain – and today’s economically and politically most dominant nation – the United States.

  3. 3.

    Quotes have been slightly edited for clarity.

  4. 4.

    The term “sitcom” is a widely used abbreviation for “situation comedy”, which refers to a (mostly) television program in which characters share a common environment (e.g., a home or a workplace) and engage in humorous dialog. Notable sitcoms include The Office in the United Kingdom and Friends in the United States.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the three anonymous reviewers and Special Issue Editor Rebecca Piekkari for their incisive and constructive comments on earlier drafts of this article. A debt of gratitude also goes to those who helped us gain research access and who agreed to be interviewed for the study. Thanks also to Iva Kostova for converting our hand-drawn “Figure 1” into a PowerPoint version.

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Correspondence to Mehdi Boussebaa.

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Accepted by Rebecca Piekkari, Guest Editor, 20 March 2014. This article has been with the authors for three revisions.

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Boussebaa, M., Sinha, S. & Gabriel, Y. Englishization in offshore call centers: A postcolonial perspective. J Int Bus Stud 45, 1152–1169 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/jibs.2014.25

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Keywords

  • call centers
  • imperialism
  • India
  • language (language design, silent language, translation)
  • offshoring
  • postcolonial theory