The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

English: Teaching English as a Second Language: M.A.




College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Ettien Koffi

Second Advisor

Ramon Serrano

Third Advisor

Paula Weber

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Intelligibility, Unintelligibility, Relative Functional Load, Call Centers, India, Outer Circle, Communication Breakdowns



Worldwide, most multinational companies have outsourced their call centers in India, the premiere outsourcing destination of services. However, some U.S. companies have brought back their outsourced services in response to U.S. customers’ complaints of communication breakdowns in their phone interactions with Indian call agents.

This thesis researches English intelligibility issues of outsourced telemarketing and call centers in India. The observations made in the thesis extend to all call agents originally from the Outer Circle of English countries, part of the three Concentric Circles of World Englishness model developed by Kachru (1975). English in Outer circle countries serves as lingua franca, though still spoken as a second language.

This thesis primarily focuses on Indian call centers’ interactions with customers. Essentially, it examines issues at the interface of English as lingua franca and business communication. It addresses the following research questions: 1) what are the intelligibility issues that consumers face when interacting over the phone with Indian accented English? 2) What are the specific features in the Indian accent that cause intelligibility issues for American callers? 3) What are outsourcing companies doing to meet these challenges?

The first question is regarding the types of intelligibility issues that consumers face when they interact with Indian English speakers over the phone. The second question examines the specific features in the Indian-accented English which cause intelligibility issues for American callers. The third question considers some specific training strategies, such as accent neutralization, that U.S. outsourcing multinationals have implemented to address issues of intelligibility as well as communication breakdowns.

Before tackling these questions, a brief background on outsourcing and call centers is presented. Next, economic ramifications of U.S. call centers in India as well as why some U.S. companies have brought back their call centers are examined. The main part of the thesis will focus on segmental issues that impede intelligibility. Confusion and phonological data will be presented and discussed.



First and foremost, I would like to thank my thesis committee: Dr. Koffi, whose immense patience has guided me through the elaboration of my thesis; Dr. Serrano, who has encouraged me and supported me; and Dr. Weber, whom I met by accident, and who graciously agreed to be part of my thesis committee. I would like to thank Dr. Robinson, my graduate advisor, who has made it possible for me to complete my graduate program. Also, I would like to thank Corey Fitzgerald, and Ms. Rhoda Fitzgerald.

I am grateful to have amazing friends who have asked about the progress of my thesis; especially, my best friend who has taken his time to read and proofread my thesis. I am most thankful to my family: my father; my mother, whom I hope to see again in Paradise Earth; my two wonderful sisters; my step-mother; and my brother. Hallelujah!