Levels of language policies

Language policy decisions and activities can be located at the levels of the supra- state and the state, as well as at regional, institutional and organisational levels (see Table 1 in Chapter 12 of this volume, as well as Truchot 1994 and Boyer 1997). In the workplace context, to cite Spolsky (2004: 52), “[m]any of the language- management policies come from a higher level”. Thus a state policy on bi- or multilingualism might influence language policies in businesses. At the same time, local adaptations of organisational language policy are very likely to play a role, as when products and services are sold in a foreign market, and customers do not share a common language with the seller. Similar conclusions were reached by the DYLAN project, which sought to discover and “identify the conditions under which Europe’s linguistic diversity can be an asset for the development of knowledge and economy” (DYLAN 2006). Its results showed that corporate language management/policies and practices are permeated and determined by context factors set at higher levels. A specific regional or state language policy will strongly influence the design of organisational language policy by means of laws and other language-related regulations and decisions. Here, different histories and legal contexts play an important role. For instance, companies that operate in bilingual Wales or the bi-/trilingual Swiss cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Valais and Grisons) are very likely to develop linguistic practices and policies that differ from those of French companies in bi-/trilingual regions such as Brittany or Alsace (Ludi et al. 2009: 3-4; Grin, Sfreddo, and Vaillancourt 2010:123; Barakos 2014).

A three-level-model of factors affecting code choice (Back 2004:126)

Figure 13.3: A three-level-model of factors affecting code choice (Back 2004:126)

The notion of levels also plays a role in the code choice model developed by Back, which is illustrated in Figure 13.3. He applied it in his study of Austrian-based companies exporting mainly to the Romance-speaking world (which explains the examples given of adaptation, non-adaptation and standardisation). The model suggests that language-choice factors operate at three different levels, all of which may influence choices in a specific organisation: a macro-level (e.g., state language policies), a meso-level (e.g., the activities and language policies of a particular sector or company) and a micro-level (e.g., individual employees with their language competences and preferences, the customer involved in the interaction, the specific situation: what Back calls “dispositional”, “motivational” and “situational” factors). For example, employees entering an organisation may possess foreign language skills previously acquired in the education system of the country concerned (macro level); they are recruited because they have certain language skills required in the sector in question (meso level); and in each individual situation, they choose their language according to the particular demands, their own preferences and those of their partner(s) (micro level). Back’s conceptual framework incorporates interactional and feedback effects between the different levels, and points, like our reflections above, to possible interferences between these. It posits that, provided information about all factors is complete and accurate, future code-choice behaviour should be predictable. As regards the main code-choice strategies, Back follows Vandermeeren’s (1998: 21) classification and distinguishes three types: adaptation (use of the customer’s or supplier’s language), non-adaptation (use of one’s own first language) and standardisation (use of a third language, i.e., a lingua franca).

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