The Role of English as an Organisational Language in International Workplaces

Ivan Olav Vulchanov

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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The English language has spread as a lingua franca to professional contexts where employees and organisations do not share the same native language. This role has been questioned, since English often automatically assumes the common language function in cases where alternative language solutions exist, and the social assumptions behind the taken for granted function remain downplayed and underexplored. The present thesis contributes to this discussion by examining which ideas lie behind the role of English in international organisational settings and how this role is legitimated. Furthermore, the current work investigates the inter-employee implications of English as an organisational language in an international workforce.
By focusing on English as an organisational language in international workplace settings, the present thesis studies language in multilingual settings, where the roles of languages may vary across the domain and the status of language may be contested. A critical realist ontological stance motivates three papers, each with a central role in the theorisation and contributions of the thesis. The papers are based on: a thematic literature review of 181 publications within language-sensitive international business and management studies; a qualitative singe-case study of English as an organisational language in the Germanic context of a recently merged multinational corporation; and finally, questionnaire data from 171 pairs of expatriate academics and their local peers based in predominantly Nordic universities. The thesis finds that: language as a factor transcends and connects the actors, processes and structures of global work; that the interrelated relationship between the legitimation of English and language ideologies produces and reproduces the role of English as an organisational language; and that, in a sector and geographic context where English holds the position as a key common professional language, peer perceptions of English language proficiency facilitate positive evaluations of performance in collaboration activities. Thus, in the empirical contexts studied here, English is established structurally, both formally and informally, as an organisational language supported by, but also affecting, employee agency.
The findings of the current thesis contribute to the language-sensitive literature in international business and management studies by demonstrating the explanatory power of a critical realist approach and the theoretical relevance of concepts, such as legitimation from organisational studies, language ideology from sociolinguistics and Bourdieu’s linguistic capital from the sociological tradition. The qualitative case study theorises the format and content of micro-discursive practices which legitimate English in a post-merger context, while the quantitative study theorises the mechanism and enabling factors of linguistic capital and its positive role in performance evaluations. Thus, the critical realist ontological framework aids the conceptualisation of the social and interpersonal role of language. On the one hand, language – in this case English – is a structural element which, through ideological bodies of thought, motivate individual action. On the other hand, the use and legitimation of English is an individual and collective form of agency which maintains this role. Organisational members enact the role through expectations towards the language practices and abilities of their peers.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages278
ISBN (Print)9788775680757
ISBN (Electronic)9788775680764
Publication statusPublished - 2022
SeriesPhD Series

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