Discretionary Power on the Front Line: A Bottom-up Perspective on Corporate Language Management

Guro Refsum Sanden, Dorte Lønsmann

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This paper investigates the communication practices used by front-line employees to cross language boundaries in the context of English language policies implemented by the management of three multinational corporations (MNCs) headquartered in Scandinavia. Based on an analysis of interview and document data, our findings show that employees face a number of different language boundaries in their everyday work, and that ad hoc and informal solutions in many cases are vital for successful cross-language communication. We introduce the concept of 'discretionary power' to explain how and why front-line employees diverge from the corporate language policies, and emphasise the role of individual agency in the implementation of language policy. With a focus on the communication practices of front-line employees, the paper contributes with a bottom-up, employee-centred perspective on corporate language management, emphasising the importance of paying attention to the micro level of everyday interactions in the study of language policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of International Management
Issue number1-2
Pages (from-to)111-137
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • English as a corporate language
  • Discretionary power
  • Linguistic diversity
  • Language policy
  • Front line
  • Employee perspective

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