Bilingual Call Centers at the U.S.- Mexico Border: Location and Linguistic Markers of Exploitability

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Alarcón, A., & Heyman, J. (2013). Bilingual call centers at the US-Mexico border: Location and linguistic markers of exploitability. Language in Society, 42(1), 1-21. doi:10.1017/S0047404512000875


Bilingual call centers in El Paso, Texas, an extensively bilingual US-Mexico border setting, provide a valuable opportunity to examine empirically what occurs with respect to language shift reversal of Spanish in the context of new information economy. Interviews were conducted with thirty-nine call center operators and managers, and twelve translators and interpreters. Call centers provide an important occupational performance of and recognition to the Spanish language. Nevertheless, bilingual call centers mainly rely on uncompensated, socially provided language skills in Spanish, a freely available “heritage language” in the border setting. Spanish is not valued as a technical competency, worth specific attention to training, management of language features, and extra compensation. Bilingualism is used in the labor market as a sign of cheap and flexible labor, rather than as economically and socially valued “skill,” even though in the new information workplace it serves the latter role. (Call centers, new economy, language and workplace, bilingualism, Spanish, borders)