Work diversity programmes have altered how middle-class professionals speak, study finds

Colleagues hold a meeting in a modern office
Colleagues hold a meeting in a modern office

Workplace diversity programmes have led to middle-class professionals speaking differently to how they did in the 1990s, a study has found.

However, individuals in working-class jobs that have had less influence from equality initiatives still talk in the same way now as they did in the mid-90s.

Linguistic experts have found that people working in middle-class jobs such as managerial roles, in politics or within the university sector have adopted more “resonance” in the way they speak since the advent of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) programmes around the turn of the Millennium.

Resonance is a feature of conversations where people imitate and adopt the words of others in their own language.

It is a well-established aspect of human conversations and more common in some cultures than others. It is also a trait often absent in how autistic people speak.

Analysis of more than 1,600 real-life conversations of British people in 1994 and in 2014 reveals more resonance in white-collar jobs in the modern world than last century.

However, there has been no change in how working-class people speak, with resonance not altering over the 20-year study period for those in more working-class professions.

Dr Vittorio Tantucci, the study’s lead author and a senior lecturer at Lancaster University, told The Telegraph: “Before the end of the 90s, there was not a significant mismatch in the type of professions concerning the way we reuse one another’s language.

“Towards the end of the century, there have been a lot of new interesting implementations in place such as corporate social responsibility and EDI policies in several institutions, such as universities, and in the corporate world.

“One argument of the paper is that these new ideologies that have been implemented institutionally also had an effect on how people interact with one another.

“We found that in the professions where these ideologies were implemented towards the end of the century, there has been a significant increase in resonance.”

‘Social grades determine way we speak’

He added that it is unknown if the increase in resonance and the more engaged conversational approach in corporate jobs is conscious or unconscious.

Scientists analysed millions of words spoken in the UK and found that resonance had changed, but only in those in higher-status jobs.

Statistical analysis ruled out this being caused by gender, age, accent or any other factor except for the social grade of a person’s vocation.

“It is not farfetched to suggest that the sudden propagation and institutionalisation of participatory ideologies in higher sectors of British society may have affected the contents of conversations in the workplace, but most crucially in how people ‘enact’ inclusivity ‘at talk’,” the scientists write in their paper, published in the Applied Linguistics Journal.

Equality and diversity initiatives have been at the centre of the ongoing culture wars, as a push towards a more fair and equitable society has been met with criticism over a so-called “woke” takeover.

The study did not look at the impact of this ongoing debate, but Dr Tantucci said that diversity initiatives could have played a role in how people in the modern world struggle to talk across the class divide.

“It’s a possibility that when you’re excluded from the language of a particular community of practice, people literally resonate less with you,” he told The Telegraph.

“The social grades that we belong to determines the way we speak and the way we speak with the people within our social grades.

“As a result, there is perhaps a conversational mismatch when we interact with people doing different professions.

“Some people might expect more acknowledgement of what they say, which is perhaps not there to some degree, and this may lead to perceptions of impoliteness to some degree.”