Scripts of Servitude: Language, Labor Migration and Transnational Domestic Work

Author: Beatriz P. Lorente

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This book examines how language is a central resource in transforming migrant women into transnational domestic workers. Focusing on the migration of women from the Philippines to Singapore, the book unpacks why and how language is embedded in the infrastructure of transnational labor migration that links migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries. It sheds light on the everyday lives of transnational domestic workers and how they draw on their linguistic repertoires, and in particular on English, as they cross geographical and social spaces. By showing how the transnational mobility of labor is dependent on the selection and performance of particular assemblages of linguistic resources that index migrants as labor and not as people, the book provides a powerful lens with which to examine how migration contributes to relationships of inequality and how such inequalities are produced and challenged on the terrain of language.

This is simply one of the most profound and revealing studies in language, globalization and social issues I have ever read. The author and the women with whom she worked become one in this textbook example of contemporary sociolinguistic ethnography, and the issue of what counts as English in the world, and how it counts, has rarely been more delicately illustrated than in this book.

Jan Blommaert, Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Scripts of Servitude offers a compelling and nuanced analysis of the centrality of language in the manufacturing and exporting of transnational Filipino domestic workers. It is an important contribution to our understanding of the macro and micro politics of inequality. It unequivocally shows that servitude is never voluntary.

Cécile B. Vigouroux, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Lorente offers a nuanced portrait of key nodes in the interactional infrastructure which shape transnational labor migration and racialized care work. She deftly shows how states and labor brokers work to shape the way domestic workers from the Philippines understand space, time and language, while the women resourcefully and laughingly craft alternative identities, and better futures. The most brilliant sociolinguistic ethnography I've read this year – it sets a new standard for our field.

Bonnie McElhinny, University of Toronto, Canada

Scripts of Servitude delivers more than just an academic treatise on the intersection of language, migration, and domestic labor. At its heart, it gives voice to the countless women who for many years have been forced to live conscripted lives, those who have been 'constructed and produced as "languaged workers" of the world by themselves, by institutions, and in and through social processes'. This book will make us think more deeply, indeed more critically, of the power that inheres in language to make and unmake lives.

Asian Englishes, 2018

The book deserves praise for the insight it gives into a powerless but lively community that caters to the needs of the middle classes in industrialised nations [...] It will be of interest to students of sociolinguistics, gender studies, and international labour and migration, but especially those in places with large numbers of FDWs such as Hong Kong and the Arabian Gulf.

The Asian Journal of Applied Linguistics Vol. 6 No. 2, 2019

Scripts of Servitude constitutes an enjoyable read and I whole-heartedly recommend it to sociolinguists interested in World Englishes, globalization and migration.

Journal of Sociolinguistics, 2018: 1–4

Following script analyses of language work in call centres (e.g., Cameron 2000), fast food and insurance outlet (e.g., Leidner 1993), and accounting (e.g., Choo 1989), Lorente provides a relevant update to available literature by contextualizing it in a critical labour export occupation, that is, domestic work. Further, what makes her work stand out is the comprehensive portrait it offers the readers, who are made aware of the drawbacks (e.g., diminution of agency), benefits (e.g., index of quality service), and grey areas (e.g., authority) of scripting and being scripted in work contexts.

Multilingua, 2018

Beatriz P. Lorente is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Bern and a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Institute of Multilingualism at the University of Fribourg and the University of Teacher Education Fribourg. 

1. Language and Transnational Domestic Workers
2. The Making of 'Workers of the World': Language and the Labor Brokerage State
3. Assembling the 'Supermaid': Language and Communication Skills for 'Vulnerable Occupations'
4. Marketing Domestic Workers: Maid Agencies in Singapore
5. The English-Speaking Other Looks Back
6. Translating Selves: The Trajectories of Transnational Filipino Domestic Workers
7. Conclusion

Postgraduate, Research / Professional
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