Negotiating language barriers

Customer care delivery practices of a selected telecommunication company in Ghana


  • Grace Diabah University of Ghana



code-switching, customer care, language barrier, language choice, telecommunication, Ghana


The primary aim of telecommunication companies is to provide customers with services that address their communication needs. It is, therefore, ironic if customers cannot communicate with the same people who should help them communicate with others better. Eliminating such barriers is important since research has shown that one determinant of service quality is listening to customers and keeping them informed in a language they understand. This paper, therefore, investigates how X-Telco (not its real name) customers and customer care agents negotiate language barriers. Through Myers-Scotton’s Markedness Model, the strategies participants employ in these contexts are analyzed. Data was sourced from interviews and non-participant observations. Findings show that agents typically use four strategies to resolve communication barriers: ‘shopping’ for possible languages, offering other languages, requesting for interpreters, and transferring the call. Considering that only two out of ten customers could access help, the paper recommends, among others, policies that will require agents to log language barrier calls by displaying on a screen the language in which help is needed and not a pre-assigned code since minority languages are not pre-coded. 

Author Biography

Grace Diabah, University of Ghana

Grace Diabah is a Senior Lecturer of Applied Linguistics at the Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana, Legon (Ghana). She has a PhD in Applied Linguistics from Lancaster University (United Kingdom). Her teaching and research focus on language use in specific domains like business, politics, education and media, with special interest in language use and the construction of gender identities. Some of her works include ‘Sexist discourses in Ghana’s 2019 National Science and Math Quiz’; ‘Code-switching at inter-ethnic traditional marriage ceremonies in southern Ghana’; ‘The role of women’s representation in students’ profane language use’; ‘The Modern Man in Ghanaian Radio Adverts’; and ‘Liberia’s “Iron Lady” vs. George Weah’.


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How to Cite

Diabah, G. (2021). Negotiating language barriers: Customer care delivery practices of a selected telecommunication company in Ghana. Sociolinguistic Studies, 15(2-4), 177–199.