In the past, workers in Indian call centres were trained to speak with American and British accents. Today, however, they are trained to speak with a ‘neutral’ global accent. This accent allows call centre workers to serve different markets without extra training.
Claire Cowie is a linguist. She explains that many businesses believe that there is a ‘neutral’ global English accent. These businesses want call centre workers in India to speak with this accent. But she doesn’t believe that such an accent exists.
There are now specialized institutes that teach a ‘neutral’ accent in India. Kiran Desai is an accent trainer. She explains that she teaches students ‘to get rid of the influence of their ‘mother tongue’. Students practise pronunciation. They learn to avoid Indianisms such as ‘will do the needful’. They learn to roll their r’s and soften their t’s.
Desai says that some students object to the training. ‘They say, “I’m an Indian and I speak fairly well. Why do I need to change?'” Some people believe that teaching a ‘neutral’ accent leads to a loss of cultural identity.
The issue is not just about neutral accents. Call centre work involves ‘emotional labour’. Workers have to be friendly and show certain emotions to customers. Workers are told that customers can see their smile and sense their mood.
So there are two sides to businesses outsourcing their call centres to India. They give people work but the work brings problems.
‘Global callers want “accent neutralization”‘ by Shehzad Nadeem
Copyright The Guardian
This adapted text Copyright Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011
Food for thought!
- What do you think about the idea of a ‘neutral’ global English accent? Do you think it is possible to have a ‘neutral’ accent? Do you think it is a good idea? Explain your answers.
- Is your language or accent important for your cultural identity? Give examples.
- Is there an English accent that is preferred in your country? If so, why is it preferred?