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Professor Dr RUTH WODAK is emeritus professor of linguistics at the Universities of Vienna and Lancaster (UK). A recipient of the Wittgenstein Award and many other accolades, she is the author of numerous publications on identity and prejudice.

IN INTERVIEW: RUTH WODAK, WITTGENSTEIN AWARD WINNER

Apart from the way in which we communicate, has digitalisation also changed our language?

Not our language in general, not in face-to-face conversations with others, but certainly some traditional types of text. New means of communication require a different language. People no longer write lengthy letters; they simply send a brief e-mail with an attachment. People are writing more succinctly, more directly and less politely. What is happening is a development of the kind that has always taken place: the transition from one type of text to the next. There have been times when people wrote mainly essays, then poetry, then certain forms of poetry. And at some point, SMS, e-mails and Twitter arrived.

Do you see this as enrichment?

Absolutely! You just have to make sure that you use these enriching and functional forms in the correct manner. You should not, for instance, send an SMS full of emoticons to your boss. You must never get out of the habit of expressing yourself politely. You simply need to know when you have to be polite to a given person, and what that degree of politeness should be. As long as we retain the skill to judge each situation appropriately, we will experience an enrichment of our linguistic culture that is highly efficient. In addition, technology reveals completely new possibilities, as well as new participatory forms of direct democracy. Unfortunately, the reverse of the coin is the world of anonymous hate posts. But both are simply different aspects of the same phenomenon.

What do you associate with the term “efficiency”?

My immediate reaction is to think of pragmatic, useful solutions. How do I organise my time? Despite too many deadlines and complex content, how can I capture the essence of what I want to say in a way that is effective and contemporary? That’s efficiency for me. In some ways, this seems to run contrary to the scientific ideal, which implies that innovative science requires a lot of time and should provide as firm a foundation as possible.

But?

But science is simply a job like any other, not only something that you do because you have a passion for it. This means you have to be able to manage a lot of different things at once: teach, administer, carry out research, look after students, deal with university politics, etc. You can’t do this unless you plan your time well. In the UK, for instance, meetings have a cut-off point. If something has not been decided within an hour, then it won’t happen. This imposes efficiency on everyone, makes them have to arrive at the meeting very well prepared and have a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Those who don’t will end up on the losing side?

Apart from time, what else does good research need?

Discussion, dialogue and debates: talking to people. Periods where you can jointly reflect on something without any clear end in sight. This is essential for dialogue and creativity. Just as important (and secondly) are rest and recovery phases to clear your head. For managers, just as for scientists, this means taking enough time out to reflect. Efficiency is not about speed, and it is not in any way inconsistent with quality. And thirdly – and this is something that is perhaps not welcome in businesses – you have to be allowed to make mistakes, go up blind alleys. If you want to create something that is really new, you have to be prepared to take risks. If you make science and research risk-averse, they remain banal.

Professor Dr RUTH WODAK is emeritus professor of linguistics at the Universities of Vienna and Lancaster (UK). A recipient of the Wittgenstein Award and many other accolades, she is the author of numerous publications on identity and prejudice.

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