Policy and planning in organisations: why language matters

This post was contributed by Dr Lisa J. McEntee-Atalianis from Birkbeck’s Department of Applied Linguistics and Communciation. Dr McEntee-Atalianis is organising a conference on Language Policy and Planning in Multilingual Organisations: Exploring Language Regimes on Monday 3 July 2017.

un_language-policyIncreasing debate about the impact of international contact on language use has given rise to broadly binary accounts of its effects:  as a nurturing arena for multilingual diversity and creativity in communication practices; or as a stymieing force, leading to the dominance of linguae francae, particularly English. Themes of power, politics and economics, inter alia, play into analyses of some multilingual contexts, with calls for changes to language policy often made to combat inequity, injustice and/or to assess the ‘cost’ (financial or otherwise) of maintaining more than one language.

Traditionally the field of language policy and planning (LPP) has focused on national concerns, however in recent years research has also focussed on community, family and organisational scenarios. It is recognised that we must move beyond a nationalist paradigm to accommodate the networks, structures and flows apparent in post-national societies and inter/transnational contexts. As we move into ever-increasing global connectedness many of us are now interwoven in professional and personal networks which transcend the nation (virtually and physically), leading to complex patterns of interaction and the emergence of fluid linguistic repertoires. We are also subject to multiple layers of governance and influenced by the burgeoning economic and political might of transnational corporations and supranational organisations, which far exceed the influence of our local communities or states. How issues are debated and decisions made within these organisations and whether or not we are given a voice is of importance to us all. Language matters!

While there is still comparatively limited research on LPP in organisations, studies on supranational organisations (e.g. the EU and UN) and public administration of multilingual states (e.g. Canada, Switzerland, Belgium) have shown that they experience great difficulty in implementing and sustaining multilingual provision and this can lead to marked inefficiencies and inequities for those functioning within them and those affected by their work. This is an issue addressed in my own research on the work of the United Nations.

Current language regimes in some multilingual organisations no longer necessarily reflect the practices or needs of individuals who work within them or the people they are trying to reach. Moreover, there is demand for scientific modelling of established and newly emerging multilingual organisations to assess their effectiveness. For further developments in the field of LPP and for academics to be able to inform policy makers, concerted interdisciplinary collaboration is needed – not least the combined efforts of linguists, economists and political scientists. In a step towards this goal, I am convening a symposium with Michelle Gazzola (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) bringing together some of the leading scholars in the field of LPP who work across a range of disciplines (education; economics; linguistics; politics) and research sites.

We will consider the unique challenges faced by multilingual organisations working within different sectors (e.g. business; diplomacy; economics) and identify and evaluate the socio-economic and political effects of alternative ways of managing multilingual communication adopted by public administrations and organisations (e.g. political representativeness, democratic participation, social exclusion). By looking at different methods of investigating language regimes and the challenges faced by researchers who work in these areas we hope to reshape current priorities for LPP research and increase its impact on policy makers working in multilingual organisations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *