Language has become a serious issue for multinational corporations.
Research in this sub-field of international management has blossomed in the past decade, generating powerful data pointing to the need for interpreters within the daily operations of international business. However, there is a strong bias toward language standardization.
Arguments in favor of ‘one corporate language’ rely on a managerial imperative for control, and depend upon people’s (seemingly) natural discomfort with the interpreting process. While language standardization does appear effective in some contexts, in most situations there are adverse consequences . These side effects interfere with morale, teamwork, innovation, and the achievement of company goals.
Extrapolating from the work of Appadurai (1990), Steyaert, Ostendorp & Gabrois (2011) coined the term linguascaping to describe the discourse effects of the “ongoing negotiations among accounts of how to ‘choose’ between languages” (p. 277) in companies that have two or more official languages. Linguascaping occurs with reference to local, national and/or global spaces, and is temporally-oriented either to short-term situational fixes or long-term enduring solutions.
This study of an mid-size IT firm in Bangalore, India involved interviews and observations about language use in a multinational with no formal language policy. The linguascaping accounts of codeswitching and using interpreters provide a significant point of comparison with research about organizations with formal one-language policies.
A poster presentation at Baystate Health’s Celebration of Academic Research.
Research in Bangalore funded by a Business Language Research and Teaching grant from the Illinois Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). View the presentation on Misunderstanding and Innovation: English as Lingua Franca (2011).