DiO Workshop on CMC and style

24 11 2009

A successful conference in September 2009, a new logo and invitation template and a new workshop series. Things are looking up for Discourse in Organizations. On 11 December, Michael Opgenhaffen (Lessius/K.U. Leuven) will give a DiO talk on presentation style in computer-mediated communication. Participation is free as of this year. Drop us a line if you’d like to attend the workshop at the Modern Chinese Art Foundation.





Deconstructing Martha Stewart’s style

19 11 2009

Lovely paper by Jennifer Sclafani in the latest issue of the Journal of Sociolinguistics. Sclafani investigates “parodies of a linguistic style that has been attributed to the ideological construct of the ‘Good Woman’ (Eckert 2004), as it is used by lifestyle entrepreneur Martha Stewart” (2009: 615).

Using Lakoff’s list speech elements typical of Woman’s Language (which I am reproducing below, just for the fun of it), Sclafani illustrates how Martha Stewart parodies exploit these features to expose Martha Stewart’s ‘Bad Woman’ alter ego.

1. lexical items related specifically to women’s interests (e.g. dollop, mandolin);
2. hedges (you could, if you like);
3. hypercorrect grammar (British pronunciation of herb with initial /h/ aspirated intervocalic /t/);
4. superpolite forms (double-thanking guests, i.e. ‘thank you, thank you very much’);
5. no joking;
6. speaking in italics (i.e. using emphatic stress);
7. the use of intensive ‘so’ (these are so tasty);
8. empty adjectives (gorgeous, utterly fantastic);
9. wider intonation range; and
10. question intonation in declaratives.

(Sclafani 2009: 617)

Sclafani, Jennifer (2009). Martha Stewart behaving Badly: Parody and the symbolic meaning of style. Journal of Sociolinguistics 13 (5): 613-633.





Presenting: DiO Workshops 2009-2010

12 11 2009

DiO2009-2010





Negotiating client No. 9 news discourse

7 11 2009

I am one of the 28,492 people who follow NYU Professor of Journalism Jay Rosen’s tweets. Jay is well-known for launching the People Formerly Knows As The Audience acronym and for mindcasting instead of lifecasting on Twitter. He also has a knack for curating content.

The Gawker story Jay recently linked to is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism (in itself a practice many ‘journalism-is-dead’ advocates never thought would be possible online). The story reconstructs the off-the-record email traffic that ensued when the Eliot Spitzer story broke. Mark Peterson calls it “unwriteable discourse”, Gawker calls it a “the inside of a PR meltdown”.  A recommended and surprisingly cordial tale of news management:

You’d think that, with blood in the water, the traditional coziness that develops between official flacks and the beat reporters who have to talk to them every day would break down into some kind of last-man-standing slugfest. But in the Spitzer case, the opposite happened. The revelations upended the worlds of both reporter and flack alike, and the uncertainty, long hours, and breakneck pace of the scandal actually seemed to throw them together as they worked toward what seems, if you read the e-mail exchanges, like a common goal of getting the news out and behind them.





Michael McIntyre on indexical order

12 10 2009

I have written about this before, but Michael Silverstein’s concept of indexical order is so good it makes me smile. Indexical order refers to the normativity of meaning relations: it is the ‘principle’ that bestows discourse with a particular meaning in a particular context.

Registers are a case in point. For instance, Jane Hill (2005: 114) has illustrated that mock Spanish has at least two indexicalities: a first-order indexicality that is usually associated with qualities of speakers of Spanish. However, when used by English speakers, words like ‘mañana’ can take on a pejorative second-order indexicality of laziness and ‘taking it easy’.

This sort of stereotyping also works in posh English, as illustrated by British comedian Michael McIntyre.

Hill, Jane (2005). Intertextuality as source and evidence for indirect indexical meanings. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15: 113–24.
Silverstein, Michael (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23 (3-4): 193-229.





Hope for a generation (of sociolinguists)

7 10 2009

I think the world of sociolinguistics and other forms sociocultural scholarship on language. And so I am pleased to learn of languageonthemove.com, “a collaborative space where research on language and communication in multicultural and transnational contexts can be shared, brainstormed, discussed and disseminated.”

The ‘portal’ is managed by Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi and comes with a blog, conference announcements, resources, and an award for aspiring sociolinguists:

Each year we would like to present two young researchers in the field with the chance to “play” with us on Language on the Move. We will feature the awardees’ work prominently on the site and mentor them over the course of one year to take your research (and your research writing!) to “the next level” – whatever that “next level” may be. The mentoring relationship is designed to be informal, related to the dissemination of your work, and to complement and support your existing supervision arrangements but not to infringe upon those in any way. Oh, and we’ll also throw in a book voucher at the end of the year.

Lovely idea. Then again, so is this.





DiO Workshop day III: final plenaries

18 09 2009

Four, yes four, plenary presentations were scheduled on the Friday afternoon. Two corpus linguistic studies kicked off the written corporate communication theme. Birgitta Meex & Heidi Verplaetse (Lessius/KULeuven) compared German and English corporate mission statements. Berna Hendriks & Margot Van Mulken (University of Nijmegen) then presented an analysis of CEO communication.

The final two presentations were on…journalism. Ha! Martina Temmerman & Els Belsack (Erasmus University College Brussels) talked about positioning and self-representation during televised political interviews. Finally, Ellen Van Praet (Ghent University) and yours truly went the reflective/methodological route. We opted not to present micro data and instead focus on the pros and cons of secondary analysis.

Thank you: Geert, Katja, Craig, Chris, Sylvain, Priscilla and all the delegates for coming out. Hope to see you again at a DiO event.





DiO Workshop day III: PhD colloquium

18 09 2009

Third and final DiO day. The morning slots were dedicated to a PhD colloquium (in collaboration with the Association for Business Communication). Ten people presented their research in five parallel sessions. Each participant was appointed one or two mentors.

I attended four presentations: first up was Kristian Hursti (Helsinki School of Economics). His talk on financial forecasts doubled as Kristian’s maiden speech, but it did not show. Kristian previously worked as a financial journalist at Reuters and has only recently embarked on a PhD project. My future colleague Jasper Vandenberghe (University College Ghent) then gave a presentation on self-justification in press releases.

Sabine Rettinger’s (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München) talk on competence displays in – to quote Chris Braecke – Socratic coaching interactions illustrate, among other things, how coaches position themselves interactionally vis-à-vis their clients. The final presentation I attended was by Hana Blazkova (University of Birmingham) on involvement strategies in so-called business development network presentations.





DiO Workshop Day II: plenary talks

17 09 2009

The second day of DiO was kicked off by Gerlinde Mautner (University of Vienna). Her presentation showed how (neo-liberal) marketing and entrepreneurial discourses have penetrated both the religious and the secular in organizations. Gerlinde has a book coming out on market discourses.

Next, Sarah Scheepers (KULeuven, Public Management institute) talked about competency discourses in diversity management of the Flemish public sector. Looking at diversity action plans, Sarah found that competency discourses are full of administrative neologisms, do not mention notions like inequality and discrimination and are geared towards homogenizing (and de-politicizing) individual differences.

Three presentations then followed on meetings. Jo Angouri (University of West England) took a Community of Practice approach to how professional identities are performed during meetings – “the practical alternative to work” – at a British multinational engineering company. Harry Mazeland (University of Groningen) took a meticulous conversation analytic approach to Dutch-language business meetings. Finally, Jonathan Clifton (Université Lille 3) and Dorien Van De Mieroop (Lessius University College) focused on identity construction in decision-making talk (based on audio records made in 1962) between President John F. Kennedy and a NASA chief.

The afternoon was organized around two thematic slots: communicative competence in language learning settings and oral interaction in institutions. I took a program break to practice my own presentation and prepare for my ahum ‘mentoring’ role (more on that tomorrow). Birte Pawlack’s (University of Hamburg) talk on ad-hoc interpreters in healthcare settings deconstructed a number of ‘knowledges’ (reflective, interpretive, linguistic). Holger Limberg (University of Oldenburg) concluded the plenary sessions with a presentation on student talk during academic office hours.





DiO workshop Day I: Celia Roberts

16 09 2009

Celia Roberts kicked off the first DiO session with a keynote on how ethnic diversity gets squeezed into institutions, in particular during job interviews. What exactly goes on in these interviews? Why do ethnic minority groups have persistently lower success rates during job interviews?

Many companies nowadays use “competency frameworks” during interviews. For instance, one of the five competencies that were used during the selection of junior management positions in a large British corporation was the notion of ‘taking ownership’. This a somewhat vague concept referring to ‘skills’ like

  • owning up to responsibility for a manager’s impact on team performance;
  • maintaining high personal standards;
  • being honest about personal strengths, etc.

The rationale of competency frameworks is that it looks structured and fairer (“equal opportunities”) than questions such as “why do you want to work here”. Paradoxically, these frameworks produce disadvantages for candidates because they assume mastership of a register that is foreign to many applicants.

Job interviews blend three discourses: analytic talk, work-based talk and personal talk. These discourses are embedded and evaluated in a bureaucratic routine (it has to fit a certain ‘box’). In addition, there is a particular penalty associated with the interview that is inherently linguistic (cf. Bourdieu’s notion of ‘linguistic capital’). ‘Taking ownership’ is one such example of an abstract formulation that has been judged a suitable competence.

Crucially, some ethnic groups do not have access to these forms of linguistic capital and hence are almost systematically unsuccessful at job interviews. Celia looked primarily at low-paid jobs using an interactional sociolinguistic approach and video recordings of 76 interviews.

Celia’s data really drove home how successful candidates blend discourse modes (“customer-focused, deadline driven, “) and manage specific narrative structures (eg. the STAR structure – Situation, Task, Action, Result). Celia also looked at management interviews, in particular how some narratives are judged “acceptable” and others are not. Interestingly, successful candidates blended direct quotations with subtle, vivid and economic descriptions that display (analytic) agency and “responsible”, “professional” identities. Unsuccessful candidates used verbatim quotations and did not use self-evaluative descriptions.

So, if job interviews are indirectly discriminatory, one solution is to get rid of job interviews and substitute it with trials and more active mentoring for aspiring managers. Alternatively, educational materials in which the implied conversational rules are explained could be produced (e.g. DVDs).

“Job interview”, Flickr.com (Susanne13)








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