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Review of  Multilingual Encounters in Europe's Institutional Spaces

Reviewer: Lelija Socanac
Book Title: Multilingual Encounters in Europe's Institutional Spaces
Book Author: Johann Wolfgang Unger Michal Krzyzanowski Ruth Wodak
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 26.2374

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This edited volume unites different theoretical and methodological approaches to multilingualism in institutional contexts. The common denominator to a variety of different approaches is the discursive turn in multilingualism, which has occurred in two ways in recent research: first, scholars in discourse studies have taken an interest in multilingualism and, second, some scholars already working on multilingualism in other frameworks have emphasized the discursive dimensions of their data. In many discussions of multilingualism the concept of language ideologies has been redefined.

The focus of all contributions in this book is on practices rather than varieties, and on linguistic repertoires instead of (or in addition to) linguistic identities, approached in a variety of different ways, with some contributions extending the methodological scope to include multimodal analysis. Discursive aspects of multilingual encounters in institutions are considered to be a vital entry point into understanding how institutions and individuals regulate and are affected by multilingualism.

Institutions are seen as key sites for empirical research because they are the spaces where policy decisions are made and implemented, and where the individuals who are affected by these decisions interact with the individuals charged with enforcing them. These interactions in present-day Europe are increasingly likely to involve individuals with different first languages, so that the encounters may take place in the first language of one or the other of the interlocutors, in a language that is not the first language of either, or in several languages.

The book is divided into three parts: 1. Private-sector Institutions, 2. National and Supranational (Political) Institutions and 3. Educational Institutions.

Part 1: Private-sector

In ''Language Management Measures and Their Impact in Companies Operating in a Context of Linguistic Diversity“, Georges Lüdi presents the results of a study into the linguistic practices of Swiss workplaces based on fieldwork carried out in the international and national companies operating in multilingual contexts. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, different types of data were collected and analyzed, such as official documents, interviews, job advertisements, websites, the linguistic landscape, tape recordings of multilingual and monolingual interactions, etc. What is original in the research is that researchers did not concentrate only on the corporate culture of companies, language representations, or actual language use, but they tried to relate the three dimensions to each other. The study is based on conversation analysis, ethnography of communication, and discourse analysis of the language philosophies and management measures of the observed companies. The common assumption that everyone speaks English was disproved. Participants adopt a wide range of strategies, and they do so in an extremely variable, flexible and dynamic way, constantly re-assessing and readapting the solutions chosen in the course of an activity. 'Monolingual' strategies alternate with 'multilingual' ones. Like other contributors, Lüdi finds that common-sense understandings of 'language' as monolithic and static are not matched by real-world practices. Plurilingual individuals in multilingual companies assemble the linguistic repertoires they require to match functional needs and ideological inclinations.

Vassiliki Markaki, Sara Merlino, and Florence Oloff present results of their research in the contribution entitled ''Language Choice and Participation Management in International Work Meetings“ by adopting a conversation-analytic and ethno-methodological framework which allows for examination of linguistic and gestural practices. Choices about which language to use can be made, negotiated, changed and challenged in various ways, and participants draw both on local contingencies and institutional expectations in making those choices. Language choices in international work meetings are never to be taken for granted; even if they have been previously planned and announced, they remain a local practical accomplishment.

While the first two contributions deal with spoken interaction, Alexandre Duchȇne and Alfonse Del Percio, in their contribution entitled ''Economic Capitalization of Linguistic Diversity: Swiss Multilingualism as a National Profit?“ analyze written promotional material of an organization charged with attracting inward investment in Switzerland. The chapter deals with (meta) discourse on multilingualism which is used to construct Switzerland as an ideal place for business due to its well-trained, highly qualified workers who are markedly multilingual, as an example of economic capitalization of linguistic diversity.

Part 2 National and Supranational (Political) Institutions

In ''Multilingual Communication in Europe's Supranational Spaces: Developments and Challenges in European Union Institutions“, Michal Krzyżanowski examines the history of multilingualism in the EU and its predecessors and points out that multilingualism in institutional contexts should be perceived as flexible and open to negotiation. In the EU, institutional multilingualism rests on 'a continuum of (more or less) multilingual practices that are highly context-dependent and serve a range of manifest and latent functions' (Wodak et al. 2012: 179). Following extensive fieldwork in different EU institutions, the author analyzes the EU multilingual policies and points to several challenges the EU will have to face to improve its multilingual communication.

In ''The European Parliament: Multilingual Experiences in the Everyday Life of MEP's“ Ruth Wodak elaborates on some aspects of recent interdisciplinary research on multilingualism in EU institutions, focusing primarily on Members of the European Parliament language ideologies and multilingual practices by integrating discourse analytical and sociolinguistic theories and methodologies. She focuses on power relations and negotiation of power positionings when analyzing multilingual interactions in EU institutions. In her analysis of language ideologies, she draws upon three interrelated semiotic processes: iconization, fractal recursivity and erasure. Iconization implies the naturalization of specific patterns of monolingual or multilingual language use due to power relations and/or language ideologies. Fractal recursivity implies the discursive construction of antinomies via referential and predicational strategies. Erasure implies the process in which ideology renders some persons or activities 'invisible' (Irvine and Gal 2000).

In ''Multilingualism in the European Commission: Combining an Observer and Participant Perspective“, Bernhard Forchtner presents the results of a study of meetings in the European Commission based on quantitative and qualitative analyses, drawing on semi-structured interviews and combining an 'observer' and 'participant’ perspective. In his analysis of code-switching, he shows that although national and/or institutional language policies and ideologies are relevant in the context of EU expansion, they recede in importance in ''closed” spaces such as the European Commission. Pragmatism dictates how and when participants draw on their multilingual repertoires.

Part 3 Educational Institutions

In ''Discourses of Aspiration and Distinction in the Local School Economy“, Adrian Blackledge, Angela Creese and Jaspreet Kaur Takhi conduct a linguistic ethnographic study of Panjabi heritage students in complementary schools, drawing on Bourdieu's concept of habitus and on Bakhtin's heteroglossia. Habitus, a product of history, produces practices that shape aspirations for the future in the present (Bourdieu 2000). A heteroglossic analysis enables us to better understand the tensions and conflicts within and between signs, and asks how multiple voices are represented in discourse. The study draws on interviews, combined with audio-recordings and observational field notes in a linguistic ethnographic approach which affords a detailed understanding of processes of negotiation and transformation in family discourses about education. The authors show the importance of aspiration in students' lives, as they negotiate their home, mainstream school and complementary school experiences.

In ''The Genealogy of Educational Change: Educating to Capitalize Migrant Students“, Luisa MartÍn Rojo critically examines how schools contribute to social inequality by managing the language use and linguistic resources of the descendants of migrants. Her approach is based on Bourdieu's three dimensions of capital: economic, cultural and social, whose ownership is legitimized through the mediation of symbolic capital, which gives legitimized forms a taken-for-granted character, concealing the arbitrary way in which forms of capital are distributed (Bourdieu 1986). The data analysis is interactional-based. The analysis also includes other kinds of data: institutional documentation of the school, educational programs, etc. The ethnographic investigation ultimately led to changes in teaching methods and procedures in a secondary school in Madrid.

In ''Negotiating Multilingualism in Flemish Higher Education“ Frank van Splunder uses a multimethod approach to compare national/regional language ideologies with those found within a higher-education institution. Flemish monoglot ideology based on essentialism contrasts sharply with the conceptualization of language as a social construct. The author draws on language policy research, discourse analysis and language attitudes research in his analysis of three levels of discourse: top-down discourse (government and university policy), bottom-up discourse (semi-public discourse, including an on-line debate), and academic practices. The analysis is based on text and policy analysis, questionnaires and interviews. The author finds a mismatch between the political and academic discourses on language use in Flanders: while the former is based on a monolingual ideology, the latter is based on multilingual practices and a market-driven demand for more English in an international context of university education.

In the final chapter entitled ''Building a Multilingual University in Institutional Policies and Everyday Practices“, Emilee Moore and Luci Nussbaum discuss the role of English as a lingua franca in European higher education. In their research, they adopt an ethnographic approach as well as results accumulated through fieldwork (conversations with actors, participant observation, reading websites, policy documents, press reports etc.) They contrast official policies and specific practices at a Catalan university with respect to the internationalization that has become an important part of the identity formation of many universities. They examine how local and international are articulated in service encounters and official ceremonies and find that participants have to negotiate multiple language ideologies during these encounters and mobilize plurilingual resources in accomplishing often overlapping goals.


With globalization and increased mobility, the primacy of national languages has been increasingly challenged, while multilingualism has come to the fore as a research topic. In this book, multilingualism has been redefined, opposing the traditional views based on a conception of languages as idealized, timeless and decontextualized objects. Exemplifying the discursive turn in the studies of multilingualism, this book successfully presents different research methods that can be applied in the analysis of the discursive dimension of multilingual encounters in institutional settings and critically examines their relevance to policy, politics and society as a whole.

The contributions represent a broad cross-section of theoretical approaches, with an emphasis on critical and interdisciplinary approaches to discourse and communicative interaction, and on language policy and planning. The special value of this book is in its presentation of a wide variety of methods, ranging from conversation analysis, ethnography of communication, language attitudes research, critical discourse studies and critical approaches to sociolinguistics. Another strength of this book is its interdisciplinary orientation, bringing together linguists of various traditions, ethnographers, sociologists, educational researchers and political scientists.

The book is well organized, but I have not found an explanation for the order in which the contributions are presented. I would probably place the topics differently and start with educational institutions as Part 1, continue with private-sector institutions as Part 2 and end with the national and supranational (political) institutions as Part 3. This, however, is only a minor consideration.

Overall, this is a highly interesting, well-researched and well-edited book. It is very useful for scholars interested in multilingualism and discourse studies, and it provides an excellent methodological tool-kit for future research. In its practical implications, it is also highly relevant for policy makers both on the national and EU levels.


Anderson, B. 2006 Imagined Communities: Reflections of the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso Books.

Blackledge, A. 2005 Discourse and Power in a Multilingual World. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Bourdieu, P. 1986. The forms of capital. in J.G Richardson (ed.). Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood Press, 241-58.

Bourdieu, P. 2000. Pascalian Meditations. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Irvine, J.T. and Gal, S. 2000. Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In P.V. Kroskrity (ed). Regimes of Language: Ideologies, Polities and Identities. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 35-83.

Van Dijk, Teun A. 2008. Discourse and Power.- Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wodak, R. et al. 2012. The interplay of language ideologies and contextual cues in multilingual interactions: Language choice and code-switching in European Union institutions. Language in Society, 41 (2): 157-86).

Wodak, Ruth; Chilton, Paul (eds.). 2005. A New Agenda in (Critical) Discourse Analysis: Theory, methodology and interdisciplinarity. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins. (Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture (DAPSAC).

Wodak, Ruth. 2007. History in the making/The making of history: The 'German Wehrmacht' in collective and individual memories in Austria. In: Anthonissen, Christine; Blommaert, Jan (eds.). Discourse and Human Rights Violations. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins . (Benjamins Current Topics; 5), p. 115-142.

Wodak, Ruth; de Cillia, Rudolf; Reisigl, Martin; Liebhart, Karin (2009). The Discursive Construction of National Identity .- 2nd ed.- Edinburgh University Press. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Lelija Socanac is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb. She is the head of the Center for Language and Law and the Foreign Language Department at the same Faculty. Her research interests include multilingualism, contact linguistics, (historical) sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis (discourse historical approach) and legal linguistics.

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