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.

If culture is a tree, the health of the trunk is composed by the practices of codeswitching among languages.

If culture is a tree, the health of the trunk is composed by the practices of codeswitching among languages.

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).


Presented by co-author Jeffrey A Kappen in Copenhagen, Denmark at GEM&L 2017

“Revisiting Multilingualism at Work:

New Perspectives in Language-Sensitive Research in International Business”

GEM&L, Groupe d’Etudes Management & Language, is the French Research Group on Management & Language.

“I want to know, what is human conscience.”

“Human consciousness?” I asked, not hearing him correctly.

“No,” he said. “Con-sci-ence. When I search for this word in the English dictionary, I find that it is from Latin. Con means ‘with’ and science means ‘knowing.’ So conscience means ‘with knowing.’ With science.”

“I’ve never quite thought about it that way,” I told him. “But I’m sure you’re right.”

"Conscience means 'with knowing.' With science."

Conscience means ‘with knowing.’ With science.”

He continued. “But this does not make sense.” He pulled out a piece of paper. “The dictionary says ‘A knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right.’”

He held up the piece of paper for me to see, so I took it. “That seems like a reasonable definition.”

“But I do not understand. Knowledge and sense are not the same thing. Knowledge I understand, but how about sense? Is sense the same as feeling? Is conscience a fact that I can learn and know, or is it more like an emotion? Is it related to empathy? Is it different than shame? And why is it a compulsion?”

I must have looked as baffled as I felt, because he went on to explain.

“I’m afraid that even though I am trained in computer science, I have never felt such a sense or feeling. This is a big disadvantage for my work. I would like to ask you, can I learn to feel such a feeling? At my age, is it too late?”

~ from A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, 2013, p 306-307 (italics in original).

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