A Catalyst for Change: Language Socialization and Norm Negotiation in a Transient Multilingual Workplace

Dorte Lønsmann

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This case study of a team in an international workplace investigates processes of language socialization in a transient multilingual setting. Using interview and observational data, the analysis shows how social and linguistic norms are negotiated, with the newcomer positioned as a catalyst for changing language practices toward more English, with the ultimate aim of creating a 'global mindset' in the organization. Language socialization in a transient multilingual setting is shown to focus on and assign positive value to new linguistic norms that experienced members are socialized into in a process that hinges on new members functioning as tools for management to bring about the desired change. The article shows that while the newcomer is used as a catalyst for increased use of English and for the creation of a 'global mindset,' she is at the same time socialized into the existing Danish egalitarian workplace culture. The analysis also highlights the vulnerable position of the catalyst. While her status as an expert English speaker with the right 'global mindset' may confer power in an internationalizing workplace, the position of catalyst is also linked with feelings of exclusion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Linguistic Anthropology
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)326–343
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Transient multilingual community
  • Language socialization
  • Language choice
  • Global mindset
  • Workplace interaction

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