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Methodological Challenges

Asking the Right Questions

How things are talked about is one of the major discursive processes by which our worlds are constructed, legitimated, ratified and contested (Scollon and Scollon 2004, 9). This is why language management as a practice in multinational companies may remain hidden since it is not verbalised as such (Hult 2015) by managers at headquarters, and this requires a careful approach while negotiating access to the company. In the context of the present study, this means that in order to detect language management activities and discourses in the company, I had to gather a lot of data through observations of communication, interviews and analysis of mediated discourses (in existing policy texts or regulations) before I was able to ask informed questions. Corporate language management as a field of study aims to offer insight into globalised new economies and into how language, in interaction, features in who gets to decide what and how things should be done in multinational companies (Lauring and Selmer 2012). The focus in these studies is often on how macro-level decisions on language impact micro-level language practices: a research interest that is inherent in most language policy and planning research (Hornberger and Johnson 2011; Spolsky 2009). The issue of hyper-control or organised management from above versus non-organised non-management or on-site management of language on the grass-roots level, and the consequences of these choices, is therefore central to language management studies in MNCs (Ludi et al. 2013; Van den Born and Peltokorpi 2010). However, as demonstrated in the latest developments in language policy and planning research, similar to the ethnographic approach to language policy and planning (Shohamy 2006; Hornberger and Johnson 2011), this two-scale, micro-macro understanding of the complex social phenomenon of managing multilingualism is too narrow, since it removes the possibility of studying language management as a multidimensional phenomenon, for which data from multiple scales need to be gathered and discursive relations between these scales analysed.

Spolsky (2012, 15) has remarked that rather than offering handy solutions, language policy as a field that studies dynamic and changing systems should re-evaluate its methods and theories so that researchers can better explain the complexities of human behaviour regarding language. Adopting English as the lingua franca in communication between people with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds may serve multiple purposes (Cogo 2012), some of which may remain hidden because the processes that lead to the decision to use English are complex and at times contradictory. Also, since they are not explained or articulated, they also remain hidden from researchers looking for traits of organised management, and researchers thus apply analytical tools that are not suitable for uncovering the covert language policy and planning processes (Spolsky 2004). As established policy representations can contrast with personal, dynamic and fragmented positions in individual representations, an ethnographic approach is most suitable for mapping these contradictions. In 2006-2011 the research project DYLAN (www.dylan-project. org) studied how linguistic diversity in Europe affected the development of knowledge-based societies. Studies of multilingual practices in EU institutions and MNCs were largely carried out by applying ethnographic methods. DYLAN’s research results demonstrate how well-established policy concepts such as multilingualism clash with actual language choices, as well as attitudes towards languages, on the micro level of everyday language use (Grin and Gazzola 2013). While multilingualism is valued as a tool of internationalisation on the managerial level in international institutions and companies, ethnographic observations and interviews have revealed that the use of different languages is important for employees in MNCs for many other reasons, from socializing to being able to construct and transfer complex knowledge. These tensions revealed language management in companies to be a complex and contextual social phenomenon that different employees in different positions have different understandings of (Bothorel-Witz and Tsamadou-Jacoberger 2013).

 
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