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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Doing business in many languages

Date Released: Tue, 22 May 2012 16:12 +0200

At a Departmental Research Seminar on Tuesday 15 May, Rhodes Linguistics Master’s student Sanne Lauriks talked about her plans to compare the ways in which languages are used in two small businesses: one in Grahamstown and one in Amsterdam.

Later in the year, Sanne, who is originally from the Netherlands but has done her Honours degree in Linguistics at Rhodes, will be spending four weeks working in a bicycle rental and repair shop near Amsterdam’s central train station, where tourists come to hire bikes.  Following that, she will spend four weeks working at a car repair shop in Grahamstown.  As she works in these small businesses, she will record and write down notes about the conversations around her: between customers and staff members in the front of the shops, as well as between different staff members in the shops’ back rooms. 

Her aim is to find out not only what languages are used in these businesses, but what different varieties of language the people use to do business in different ways.  For instance, do they greet each other in formal English and then switch to Xhosa slang to discuss what needs to be done on the customer’s vehicle, or the other way around?  And what is the significance of choosing those particular varieties of language at those particular times?

Applied linguistic theory suggests that we use the different varieties of language we command strategically to manage our relations with other people.  So Sanne will look at what she has called “strategic rapport management” to find out how and why these different languages are used, and ultimately, how they entrench or change the relationships between people in the workplace.  For instance, are staff members using a foreign language to subvert the boss’s authority? 

She hopes that comparing two businesses, one in Amsterdam and one in Grahamstown, will show her how different strategies are used in different business settings.  Ultimately, she also hopes to find out what sort of effect globalization has on the way we do business in both countries.