Episode 28: The language of Corporate Social Responsibility: Linguistic Discrimination


After this episode, we will take a break for the rest of the year to write the second edition of Erika’s and Veronika’s textbook Language in Business, Language at Work. The revised edition will have Bernard as the third author, and we anticipate it to be available for the start of the 24/25 academic year. 

We start episode 28 by critically reflecting on anti-discrimination efforts in the workplace, which,unless they change the organisational culture, all too often do not have the desired or even an adverse effect. A study providing evidence for this is:  

  • Täuber, S. (2019). Undoing gender in academia: Personal reflections on equal opportunity schemes. Journal of Management Studies, 57(8), 1718-1724.

We then move on to the notion of intersectionality, which linguist and writer Kat Gupta has likened to a deck of cards

Acronyms for diversity, equality (or, confusingly, equity) and inclusion, plus belonging and/or justice, keep changing, but the idea that belonging is the effect of DEI (to use one acronym) are often represented in a Venn diagram.

The fascinating finding that feelings of non-belonging are neurologically similar to physical pain is reported here:

  • Eisenberger, N. I. (2012). The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13(6), 421-434.

Moving on to the language aspect of workplace discrimination, Bernard entions Erin Carrie’s  and Rob Drummond’s Accentism Project, which, among other things, is a real treasure trove of testimonials.  

For a light touch, we look at how film characters are stereotyped through their accents – who could forget Babs and Rocky from Chicken Run?

In another corner of the cinematic universe, the villain with a British Received Pronunciation accent is so common that he has sparked parodies in advertising. Some thoughts on the stereotypes and intercultural relations  involved can be found here. In real life, however, this particular accent is nearly extinct:

  • Lindsey, G. (2019). English after RP: Standard British pronunciation today. Springer.

Linguistic stereotyping and accentism can have harsh consequences, for how competent someone is perceived to be to how much investor money they can attract or the severity of court sentences: 

  • Levon, E., Sharma, D., Watt, D. J., Cardoso, A., & Ye, Y. (2021). Accent bias and perceptions of professional competence in England. Journal of English Linguistics, 49(4), 355-388.​ See also the authors’ project website: https://accentbiasbritain.org 
  • Huang, L., Frideger, M., & Pearce, J. L. (2013). Political skill: Explaining the effects of nonnative accent on managerial hiring and entrepreneurial investment decisions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(6), 1005.
  • Romero-Rivas, C., Morgan, C., & Collier, T. (2022). Accentism on trial: Categorization/stereotyping and implicit biases predict harsher sentences for foreign-accented defendants. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 41(2), 191–208. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X211022785

As is usually the case, language-based stereotyping and discrimination, too, diminishes the more familiar an accent becomes: 

  • Rovetti, J., Sumantry, D., & Russo, F. A. (2023). Exposure to nonnative-accented speech reduces listening effort and improves social judgments of the speaker. Scientific Reports, 13(1), 2808.

Our second guest, Annelise Ly, mentions the metaphor of culture as an onion with layers. This idea goes back to Geert Hofstede’s work on national cultures in the workplace:

  • Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s Consequences: International differences in work-related values. London: Sage.

While still influential, Hofstede’s work has been the subject of much criticism, and other metaphors have been proposed:

  • Fang, T. (2005). From “onion” to “ocean”: Paradox and change in national cultures. International Studies of Management & Organization, 35(4), 71-90.

The complete report is available both in Chinese and in English

In the final part of the episode, we use Mats Deutschmann’s RAVE resource to test our own stereotypes around accents. Mats and his colleague Anders Steinvall have written about how to use the resource to counter prejudice: 

  • Deutschmann, M., & Steinvall, A. (2020). Combatting linguistic stereotyping and prejudice by evoking stereotypes. Open Linguistics, 6(1), 651-671.

We encourage you to give it a go yourself, it’s quite an eye-opener. 

If you would like to know more about accentism and language discrimination, in the workplace and elsewhere, you could watch back this webinar that Veronika gave together with sociolinguist and consultant Maame Nikabs in November 2022. We also recommend the Lexis podcast, which often discusses accentism, e.g. in their episode 26.

Although we are now off to write the new version of the textbook, we will still be on Facebook and Twitter – and of course you can explore our by now quite substantial back catalogue. See you for episode 29 next year! 

Listen to the episode here

Full transcription of the episode


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