Maid of memory: the trajectories of scripts of servitude

Author: Beatriz Lorente (Department of English, University of Bern)
Speaker: Beatriz Lorente
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Scripts of servitude are templates of language practices that index being a domestic worker (Lorente, 2017). As a form of conduct of conduct (Foucault, 1982), these templates link particular personhoods, relationships between speakers and interlocutors, and social practices to moral questions of what constitutes good, appropriate and responsible conduct (Dean, 2010). This process produces consequential imaginaries of racialized and gendered Others estranged from a moral order and subject to containment, linguistic and otherwise.

This paper examines and compares artifacts of such scripts of servitude, namely texts that describe and prescribe the linguistic practices of female domestic workers and their female employers. The texts are drawn from different historical moments: (1) the ‘era’ of British and American colonization in Asia when phrasebooks, household manuals and memoirs for and about American and British memsahibs were produced , and (2) the contemporary ‘era’ of transnational migration where phrasebooks for transnational domestic workers (e.g. Arabic language and culture for transnational Filipino domestic workers), and for employers of domestic workers (e.g. Household Spanish for English speakers who employ Spanish speakers in their households) circulate.

By tracing the discourse trajectories (Blommaert, 2005) of these texts, this paper shows to what extent and how changing definitions of what it means to be a (‘good’) employer or a (‘good’) domestic worker or servant are can be tracked across time and space in the linguistic practices represented in the texts. In doing so, it hopes to contribute to an understanding of the strange continuities of colonial presence (Stoler, 2016).


Blommaert, J. (2005). Discourse: A critical introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dean, M. (2010). Governmentality: Power and rule in modern society. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Foucault, M. (1982). The subject and power. Critical Inquiry 8 (4): 777 – 795.
Lorente, B.P. (2017). Scripts of servitude: Language, labor migration and transnational domestic work. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Stoler, A.L. (2016). Duress: Imperial durabilities in our times. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Keywords: Scripts of servitude, Domestic workers, The Philippinos, Discourse trajectories