I’m sorry, my what?

Understanding caller clarification sequences in outsourced call center interactions


  • Eric Friginal The Hong Kong Polytechnic University




caller clarifications, outsourced call center discourse, corpus-based analysis, intercultural business communication


This paper explores caller clarification sequences in outsourced call center interactions, with the goal of categorizing distinguishable causes or reasons for their occurrence, as identified by third-party evaluators – i.e., raters who are not participants in the call. Caller clarifications are questions, requests, or follow-up statements raised by a caller after a call-taker’s turn while providing information or a procedure during call center interactions (Friginal, 2009a). These potentially unnecessary caller clarifications should have been avoidable if both speakers had been able to communicate and process simplified information effectively. Data were collected from a corpus of transactions, with 545 audio files from the same number of unique Filipino call-takers communicating with customers from the U.S. (N = 578, 511 words). Results show that there are 2.051 caller clarifications per 1,000 words in the corpus, based on a total of 1,186 raw instances of caller clarifications. Implications for agent training, the framework of analyzing and categorizing caller clarification, and understanding the nature of intercultural business communication are discussed.

Author Biography

Eric Friginal, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Eric Friginal is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Head of Department of English and Communication at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Before moving to Hong Kong, he was Professor and Director of International Programs at the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University, United States. He specializes in applied corpus linguistics, quantitative research, language policy and planning, technology and language teaching, sociolinguistics, cross-cultural communication, discipline-specific writing, and the analysis of spoken professional discourse in the workplace. His recent publications include The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Approaches to Discourse Analysis (2021), co-edited with Jack Hardy; Advances in Corpus-based Research on Academic Writing: Effects of Discipline, Register, and Writer Expertise, co-edited with Ute Römer and Viviana Cortes (2020); English in Global Aviation: Context, Research, and Pedagogy, with Elizabeth Mathews and Jennifer Roberts (2019); and Corpus Linguistics for English Teachers: New Tools, Online Resources, and Classroom Activities (2018). He is the founding co-editor-in-chief of Applied Corpus Linguistics (ACORP) Journal (with Paul Thompson).


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How to Cite

Friginal, E. (2022). I’m sorry, my what? Understanding caller clarification sequences in outsourced call center interactions. Sociolinguistic Studies, 16(1), 65–85. https://doi.org/10.1558/sols.42324