LINGUIST List 28.3843

Tue Sep 19 2017

Review: Sociolinguistics: Meier, Yanaprasart, Lüdi (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 20-Jun-2017
From: Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky <>
Subject: Managing Plurilingual and Intercultural Practices in the Workplace
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Georges Lüdi
EDITOR: Katharina Höchle Meier
EDITOR: Patchareerat Yanaprasart
TITLE: Managing Plurilingual and Intercultural Practices in the Workplace
SUBTITLE: The case of multilingual Switzerland
SERIES TITLE: Multilingualism and Diversity Management 4
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky, Budapest Business School



This publication entitled ‘Managing Plurilingual and Intercultural Practices in the Workplace: The case of multilingual Switzerland’ edited by Georges Lüdi, Katharina Höchle Meier, and Patchareerat Yanaprasart, is the fourth in the John Benjamins Publishing Company’s Prestige Series “Multilingualism and Diversity Management”, which sets out to show in what way and under what conditions multilingualism can be an advantage for companies, European institutions, and higher education. The contributions in this volume stem from different lines of research conducted in Switzerland and represent both a continuation and an advancement of the European DYLAN project. As a quadrilingual country where massive immigration, workforce mobility, and globalisation coexist, Switzerland offers an ideal laboratory for studying phenomena linked to multilingualism and cultural diversity. The book’s six chapters look at various multilingual settings from different perspectives and with a focus on various topics, from multinational companies to individual migrant women, from vocational training to websites and power relations in interaction. This book will prove useful to company managers, professional trainers and students of business and intercultural communication.

Chapter 1, ‘Introduction’ by Georges Lüdi, Katharina Höhle Meier, and Patchareerat Yanaprasat explains the context of their research, the relationship with the DYLAN-project as well as the conceptual framework and key concepts (e.g., endolingual vs. exoliningual and monolingual vs. plurilingual strategies), language choice in multilingual settings, cultural diversity in the workplace, social representations and ideologies in relationships and the multiplicity of voices in corporate culture. Their aim is to understand how managers and employees meet the challenge of communication in professional contexts and how it forces the analyst to combine different methods and to develop a multifaceted conceptual grid.

Chapter 2, ‘Power in the Implementation of Plurilingual Repertoires’ is a collaborative work by Georges Lüdi, Katharina Höhle Meier, Fee Steinbach Kohler and Patchareerat Yanaprasat on oral interactions in various DYLAN terrains. The focus lies on the ways participants make use of their linguistic repertoires in order to regulate the exercise of power and to maximise participative processes at section, scientific and editorial meetings, as well as at other various communication events. The authors conclude that when discussing the enhancement or reduction of the status of languages, it is concern for efficiency rather than fairness that dictates accommodation to speakers of other languages.

In Chapter 3, ‘From language regimes to multilingual practices in different settings’, five smaller studies on a variety of topics are collated. In Subchapter 3.1, ‘The case for multinational companies’, Georges Lüdi presents a case study on aspects of language management in <Pharma A> that revisits and expands the findings collected throughout the DYLAN period. The areas discussed include the dominant discourse of the company, alternative communicative strategies in mixed teams and the variability of language choice in a multilingual setting. What emerged from the analysis is that language-mixing turns out to be a common mode of communication in this international workplace despite the fact that top-down language management do influence individual’s linguistic behaviour and perceptions.

The purpose of Subchapter 3.2, ‘Interactional negotiation of linguistic heterogeneity: Accommodation practices in intercultural hotel service-encounters’ by Stefano A. Losa and Peter Varga is to understand the real relationship work in front desk service encounters involving linguistic and cultural diversity between service providers and customers. By adopting an interactional perspective and by taking into account verbal dimensions, they aim at highlighting the interactional and communicative work that service providers and customers jointly accomplish in order to achieve successful service transactions in intercultural and multilingual service encounters.

In Subchapter 3.3, ‘Language regime in the Swiss armed forces between institutional multilingualism, the dominance of German, English, and situated plurilanguaging’, Lüdi takes up the results of a research project by a Basel team in the framework of the National Research Program (NRP) 56 and those of the Master’s thesis by Gabriele Wittlin at the University of Fribourg (2011) about an emblematic multilingual Swiss institution: the armed forces. It combines reflections on the language regime as far as regulations exist and on the ways plurilingual members cope with settings where people from different language regions have to cooperate during training and exercises.

Subchapter 3.4, ‘The plurilingual challenges at the workplace for Spanish-speaking migrant women’ is authored by Linda Grimm-Pfefferli, who wrote a Ph.D. thesis on linguistic loyalty and the forms of plurilingualism of Hispano-American women living in bi-national partnerships in Basel (Grimm-Pfefferli, 2014). Despite the stereotyped notion that migrants end up speaking only the host language (see Appel and Muysken, 1987; Bright, 1992), each of the women interviewed in her study makes use in her work environment of a broad repertoire that includes the native language, the host language, and other languages.

Finally, Subchapter 3.5, ‘Doctor, are you plurilingual? Communication in multilingual health settings’ by Georges Lüdi, Nathalie Asensio and Fabia Longhi, analyses plurilingual communication between different stakeholders in the healthcare process from the participants’ perspective as documented in questionnaires administered to nurses, interviews between staff members and patients, and audio-recorded interactions. The fact that many doctors and nurses do not speak the local language well constitutes a number of complications, namely, language difficulties in linguistically mixed medical teams and between staff members and local patients, who require the medical staff to speak the local language.

Chapter 4, ‘Visual manifestations of institutional multilingualism’ focuses on two distinct visual manifestations of multi/-plurilingualism. In Subchapter 4.1, ‘Diversity management on corporate websites’, Yanaprasart analyses the language choices of multinational companies and the way they cope with the multilingual reality of global business expansion and an increasingly multilingual public through their websites. The analysis concerns the commercial aspect of the Internet, a link between the marketing strategy and language policy, multilingual communication on the web, and the website localisation. The author shows that there is a growing challenge for companies to decide if, and under what conditions the choice of a mono- or multilingual corporate websites may not impede the effectiveness and expansion of businesses.

Subchapter 4.2, ‘The Semiotic landscape of a company between linguistic management and practice’ by Lüdi deals with the meaning actors attribute to language choices in four SMEs, how social actors conceive the mostly multilingual semiotic space in the workplace as part of their professional practice, and whether, and how, companies regulate, prescribe, enforce or reduce its dynamics. The focus lies on the presence, design and meaning of signs of different types (verbal inscriptions, icons) on the premises of companies. It is argued that signs are ways of organising the workplace for users as they are more or less explicitly overlaid by linguistic ideologies, “with value, be it social, cultural, political, moral, economic or otherwise” (Javorsky and Thurlow, 2009, 11).

In Chapter 5, ‘The challenge of the management diversity’, Patchareerat Yanaprasart presents the partial results of a follow-up project lasting two years funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation under the supervision of Anne-Claude Berthoud. Her research set out to identify the advantages and drawbacks of linguistic diversity in the Swiss multilingual business context and to understand the development of local diversity management initiatives and practices as described by the social actor. Subchapter 5.1, ‘Organisational diversity management’ deals with the following questions: Under what conditions can diversity and inclusion provide a strategic business advantage for companies? How can organisations best manage and balance the need for divergence and convergence? While acknowledging that “mixing” is a great breeding ground for creativity, the informants all agree that an environment made of tolerance and respect has to be created. In terms of people management, organisations must not only be clear and convinced of their values (institutional dimension) but also select their members for their task-related abilities (operative dimension).

Subchapter 5.2, ‘Language diversity management’ addresses the questions how companies cope with the multilingual reality of today’s business contexts, whether they develop any formal language policy and strategies to facilitate effective communication internally and externally, and if so, with what philosophy and what form of management. Even if language is person-bound, the language issue is too important to be left at the individual level, and managerial actions can influence individual action, which strongly relates to specific settings. Subchapter 5.3, ‘Diversity management: Language and culture’ explores the relationship between language and culture when promoting multilingual inclusiveness in such a way that the mixed teams’ members best exploit their diverse skills. The findings demonstrate that a ‘multilingual inclusiveness culture’ is the one that better values people who are capable of speaking many languages, thus overcoming unconscious biases and naturalising stereotypes.

Chapter 6, ‘The perspective of professional training’ links research on distinct workplaces with an educational perspective and didactic outcomes, which implies a close interaction between researchers and practitioners. Subchapter 6.1, ‘Transnational vocational traineeships in the multilingual Upper Rhine region’ by Katharina Höchle Meier aims to analyse in depth the representations of traineeships by various actors, i.e. the discourses of trainees and company managers, the status of apprenticeship, how vocational traineeships can be encouraged, why young people take part in traineeships, the benefits of traineeships, language acquisition as well as intercultural experience during exchanges. The analysis shows that what mattered to managers mattered less to trainees; what mattered to a French manager mattered less to a Swiss one; and what mattered to apprentices mattered less to students. All in all, the traineeships were a learning experience for all the trainees that was manifested in a polyphonic discourse.

In Subchapter 6.2, ‘PluriMobil meets DYLAN-Practical resources for supporting plurilingual and intercultural learning in vocational student mobility’, Mirjam Egli Cuenat and Katharina Höchle Meier present ready to use pedagogical resources, so called lesson plans or learning scenarios, geared towards fostering sustainable plurilingual and intercultural learning in mobility. These are available for five educational levels: teacher training, primary, lower secondary, upper secondary school, and upper secondary vocational school. The PluriMobil resources brought together with the DYLAN’s results may help to clarify the learning objectives for the instructors and/or other persons in charge of the training of the apprentices as well as for the learners themselves by reinforcing the link between research and practice.

Finally, Chapter 7, ‘Conclusions’ by Lüdi, Höchle Meier and Yanaprasart highlights selected results and discusses their political and economic relevance. The authors claim that the approach to the question of languages in the workplace has been basically ethnographic (tape recordings, interview excerpts and official documents), but also multi-methodological. The focus of the different pieces of research in the book was manifold; it concerned, among others, the various ways in which plurilingual repertoires are mobilised in linguistically mixed settings, the forms of how linguistic diversity – and the cultural diversity in which multilingualism is rooted – can be managed by organisations, the language representations or ‘ideologies’ underlying language management and use and the growing importance of English and the way it is perceived.


This volume undoubtedly represents a major contribution to the understanding of plurilingual practices in the workplace. The book's preface clearly outlines and underscores the rationale for a volume of this nature, and the authors have successfully achieved the goals set for the publication of this book as it opens the way to new ways of acting, in terms not only of research but also of disseminating knowledge among institutional and political actors. In analysing numerous highly relevant examples, the volume helps to create a new paradigm in which multilingualism is seen less as a subject for analysis than as a resource, an instrument that enhances the quality of both processes and their output.

The chapters presented in this volume are multiple, allowing reference to a wide variety of communication strategies in contexts of linguistic diversity. On the one hand, a special focus is put on the best practices of diversity management and language regimes with particular attention paid to the interplay between official languages and English, and to the ways of leveraging diversity awareness, fostering cultural inclusiveness, and enhancing intercultural learning in vocational education and training. On the other hand, the chapters examine at close range the ways actors’ plurilingual repertoires are developed and how their use is adapted to particular objectives and specific conditions. Being observed in several types of multilingual professional settings, the plurilingual strategies, including English as lingua franca, are particularly examined in terms of power relations and processes of inclusion or exclusion.
I find the visual manifestations (i.e. photos of signs) of institutional multilingualism in Subchapter 4.2 very impressive, as they show clearly the linguistic landscape (German, French, Italian, English) that surrounds the members of the company in the workplace.

One of the most interesting sections of the book is Chapter 5, which demonstrates language and cultural diversity at a pharma multinational company with the “diversity dimensions wheel” (p. 222.). In the wheel, each dimension adds a layer of complexity to individual identity displayed with different colours, and it is the dynamic interaction among all the different layers within the dimensions that exerts an impact on the values, expectations and beliefs that a person has. This wheel was adapted and used afterwards as a benchmark by Public Service to deal with its own organisational diversity.

The link between theoretical hypotheses and language practices is fully observed in Chapter 6, where an example of a lesson plan (p. 299) and a mobility-learning scenario (p. 303) are presented indicating the targeted competences and the tools used, which will be very useful for future vocational trainers.

The findings in the book demonstrate that in our globalised world where professional mobility is considered a key feature, companies and their employees must find solutions to cope with diversity, not only linguistic but also cultural.

Overall this edited volume is an asset to the field of professional communication to a wide range of subjects dealing with institutional multilingualism and intercultural practices.


Appel, R. & Muysken, P. 1987. Language Contact and Bilingualism. London: Edward Arnold.

Bright, W. (ed.) 1992. International Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Vols 1-4. New York: Oxford University Press.

Grimm-Pfefferli, L. 2014. Loyauté(s) linguistique(s) et forms du plurilinguisme dans des familles binationales:des femmes hispano-américaines á Bâle, une étude de cas. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Basel, Institute d’études françaises et francophones.

Javorsky, A. & Thurlow, C. (eds.). 2009. Semiotic Landscapes: Language, Image, Space. London: Continuum.

Wittlin, G. 2011. Et si l’armée Suisse était plurilingue? MA Thesis, Université de Fribourg/Freiburg.


Zsuzsanna Zsubrinszky is Associate Professor in the English Department at Budapest Business School, Faculty of International Management and Business. Her research interests include ESP (English for Specific Purposes and EAP (English for Academic Purposes, diplomatic discourse and intercultural communication. She has published on business communication, intercultural communication and politeness issues in business emails.

Page Updated: 19-Sep-2017