For various reasons, the relationship between language policies and practices is a very complex one. Of course, policies affect practices, which in turn have an impact on policies. However, the details of this interaction depend on how “policies” are defined. In particular, if we accept the existence of “implicit language policies”, then the two fields merge into each other. Moreover, even allowing communication practices to develop completely free from language-policy constraints reflects, in a sense, certain policy assumptions. At the same time, widely-used practices always have potential normative power. Thus language policies and practices are inevitably intertwined, and both are closely connected to the notion of “needs” (see Chapter 12 and our Fig. 13.1).
Originally, certain social and applied-linguistic concepts, such as language policy, di- and polyglossia, were applied almost exclusively to political units (states, regions, etc.). However, for some time now they have also been increasingly applied to organisations and companies. Furthermore, discussion of the role of languages in business is no longer confined mainly to the export context. Instead, the “language(s) factor”, including its power and identity aspects, is today given very serious consideration throughout internal and external communication - and in management research, which, thanks to the “linguistic turn”, is now addressing the question of which languages are or should be used in companies. Some management scholars (as well as linguists) tend to use the term language management; others prefer the notion language policy in companies. As a result, the two concepts often describe similar phenomena and can be regarded in some cases even as synonyms. Nonetheless, the connotation of language management may be primarily of economic efficiency, which is why in this contribution we have preferred to use language policy even in the business context.
Leaving aside these terminological or theoretical considerations, it is possible to identify a number of empirical studies of “language practices” that provide insights into how living and working with several languages actually functions in companies and organisations. Through a mixture of planning and bricolage, the choice of language is determined by a wide variety of internal and external factors (the participants in discussion, the situation, the discourse types concerned, the medium used, etc.). To date, exporting and communication with stakeholders have been the most researched areas of external language choice, while most studies of internal choice have dealt with the particular context of mergers and acquisitions.
In looking to the future, we wish to distinguish between theoretical aims and practical, or applied goals. Since this is a relatively young research field, the first priority is to continue investigating empirically which languages are actually used in which corporate settings. To that end, the means of capturing language practices already in use and set out in this chapter (questionnaires; qualitative interviews) must be supplemented by others, such as participant observation or audio/video recording. More detailed investigation of the role played - or not played - by explicit and implicit language-policy measures in actual corporate language use is also required. Here it would be interesting to know whether, and to what extent, companies’ language policies are influenced by the attitudes of their top managers towards multilingualism, be they positive or sceptical. Of course, “ideology” always plays a role. Researchers with a linguistic background, in particular, tend to favour cultural pluralism, and so to see multilingual language policies as preferable to monolingual ones (e.g., English as corporate language). Hence the crying need for empirical research that would provide a sound basis for evaluating different types of language policies.
At the same time, as we emphasised in Section 4, applied linguistics could gain much by taking into account the theoretical concepts, methodological approaches and empirical results of other disciplines - management and organisation studies, political science and economics - that deal with the same phenomena. We have presented the main approaches, perspectives and research interests of these domains, with the aim of fostering interdisciplinary reception and cooperation such as that increasingly apparent in some pluridisciplinary conferences, publications and research projects.
Finally, in line with the declared aim of applied linguistics to help in solving real-life language and communication problems, this contribution has implications not only for research, but also for business practice. Of course, we cannot at this point identify once and for all the “optimal” language policy, nor do we wish to. Rather, it is a question of persuading more and more companies, and their managers, that the “language question” is crucial for both external and internal communication. Even if the “linguistic turn” is constantly referenced and invoked, it is by no means as widely accepted by society and business as might be desirable.