Feminine voice in workplace: phonetic variation in Seoul women’s speech
This talk explores the role of “feminine voice” in workplace, in contrast to speech in non-work-related settings. While young women’s sweet, friendly voice has always been valued in service industry, it is even more salient in the post-Fordist market of South Korea, where customers are kings. Young female professionals use their polite voices and feminine charms known as aegyo—a term for a manipulated cute and pleasing attitude—as linguistic commodities and construct a “compliant and professional” persona to balance professionalism and femininity.
Based on the data collected from fieldwork in a call center in Seoul, South Korea, I examine the use of two prominent phonetic variables—raising of (o) and LHL% (rising-falling tone in Intonation Phrase final position)—by young female consultants. The acoustic and experimental analysis focus on the stylistic use of these variables on Intonation Phrase (IP) final position, a focal site of prosodic/grammatical structure and pragmatic meaning in Seoul Korean. This talk thus reveals social meanings of phonetic properties of variables, and argues for the necessity of investigating a prominent language-specific site of variation.