Managing transitions through discourse at work


  • Janet Holmes Victoria University of Wellington
  • Meredith Marra Victoria University of Wellington
  • Keely Kidner Victoria University of Wellington



discourse, intercultural communication, sociopragmatics, transitions, workplace


Workplace transitions provide rich material for understanding intercultural interaction. Research on transitions has typically focussed on the sociocultural effects of moving between nations and/or on examples of career change. Boundary crossing at this macro level has provided insight into how newcomers negotiate novel cultural expectations. As workplace discourse analysts our particular interest is the interactional negotiation that occurs as these newcomers move from one environment to the next. In this paper, using the reflections of those who have experienced such transitions, along with an analysis of recordings of professional migrants in new workplace contexts, we demonstrate how micro-level instantiations of these transitions offer a lens on the contrasting and sometimes conflicting societal norms and sociocultural practices which must be managed in these contexts. The analysis makes use of our social realist model for understanding workplace talk (Holmes, Marra and Vine 2011) and our interpretations are supported by ethnographic observations and discussion with those who have observed or experienced these transitions. We conclude by outlining ways in which this approach to understanding interaction can be used to help prepare newcomers to navigate new workplace contexts.

Author Biographies

Janet Holmes, Victoria University of Wellington

Janet Holmes is Emeritus Professor in Linguistics at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. She is Associate Director of the Wellington Language in the Workplace project, an ongoing study of communication in the workplace which since 1996 has described small talk, humour, management strategies, directives, and leadership among other topics in a wide range of New Zealand workplaces.

Meredith Marra, Victoria University of Wellington

Meredith Marra is Director of the Wellington Language in the Workplace Project team and has been involved in collecting and analysing naturally-occurring data in New Zealand organisations since 1998. Her primary research interest is the language of business meetings, and she has published in the areas of humour, gender and ethnicity in workplace interactions.

Keely Kidner, Victoria University of Wellington

Keely Kidner recently completed her PhD in applied linguistics at Victoria University of Wellington. Her research interests include environmental discourses, critical discourse analysis, and multimodality.


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How to Cite

Holmes, J., Marra, M., & Kidner, K. (2018). Managing transitions through discourse at work. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 13(1-3), 122-144.