Talking the talk: The confusing, conflicting and contradictory communicative role of workplace jargon in modern organizations

Neal Lloyd Jones, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

The use of jargon or buzzwords, as they are popularly known, in modern corporate organizations is well known, yet little research exists to shed any communicative light on this linguistic phenomenon. While it is commonly derided among business journalists, "communications consultants" and others within the organizations themselves, whether or not this specific form of language has any proven and demonstrable positive or negative effects on organizational communication or broader organizational culture has yet to be determined. Also, given the documented and important role of language in shaping the culture of an organization and the function of language in instilling organizational identification among members, understanding the specifics of this language at work could provide a new mechanism by which to study and understand the function, role and effect of language and communication in organizations and broaden our understanding of organizational culture, its formation and management. ^ This study explores the use of this jargon in a modern, global corporation to shed new light on the role of this shared, jargon-ripe language in a modern organizational setting. Using ethnographic observation of routine organizational member conversations and meetings, usage of this language is recorded and analyzed. A survey is used to gauge frequency and familiarity of specific words and phrases. Q-sort methodology is also employed to determine if shared understanding of specific words and phrases exists. Post-Q-sort interviews further explore the participant's understanding, usage and perceptions of this language, its role in their day-to-day organizational functions, and the effects of this jargon on both communication and the speakers who use it. ^ A thorough review of literature highlights existing research on the role of language and shared languages in organizational settings. This review also explores previous studies on the role of jargon in facilitating communication among organizational members in individual, group and computer-mediated settings, paying particular attention to the functional role of language in these various scenarios. The function of language as an artifact by which to study, understand and identify organizational culture is also discussed. The role of language in shaping organizational culture and instilling and maintaining organizational identification among members is also explored. ^ In analyzing the results, research reveals that the use of this jargon is overwhelmingly commonplace among organizational members and its use has a positive effect on communication within the organization. While results show these words and phrases are rarely used outside of the organizational or corporate setting, research reveals that this jargon is routinely used across organizations and corporations, either in day-to-day communication with members of other organizations or to describe, market and sell products or services to other corporations who share usage and familiarity of this language. ^ However, despite its widespread use and acknowledged effectiveness, research shows that organizational members share negative opinions of the language itself. Further analysis demonstrates that this negativity permeates organizational member perceptions of the speakers who employ it, though those who decry it also readily admit to using it and are quick to acknowledge its effectiveness. Role and status within the organization are also shown to be important aspects in understanding the use of jargon, the perceptions its usage creates, and the specific messages imbedded within the words and phrases that comprise this language. ^ The implications of these and other findings are discussed against the backdrop of the topics outlined in the literature review, and areas for future study are identified.^

Subject Area

Speech Communication

Recommended Citation

Neal Lloyd Jones, "Talking the talk: The confusing, conflicting and contradictory communicative role of workplace jargon in modern organizations" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1503305.
http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI1503305

Share

COinS