Multilingualism among Brussels based civil servants and lobbyists: perceptions, practices and power positions.

Attila Krizsan, Tero Erkkilä
University of Turku, University of Helsinki
attila.krizsan _arvaa_ utu.fi, tero.erkkila _arvaa_ helsinki.fi

This presentation explores the multilingual and multicultural aspects of community-building, networking and communication in the EU’s political and administrative system. Our focus is on the role of language use both as an instrument for community-building and as means of pursuing interests. In order to track these aspects we investigated the networking and communicative preferences of EU civil servants and lobbyists based on broad-scale survey data (277 surveys completed) and thematic interviews (17 hours of recorded materials). The topics cover our respondents’ working experiences in Brussels, their national versus European identities, and their communication and networking in a multicultural and multilingual environment.

The questions we seek to answer are: 1) In what ways do people living and working for EU institutions and interest groups in Brussels perceive this environment as multilingual (and multicultural)? 2) How are these perceptions reflected in their language use and networking? 3) Are power relations connected to the status and use of different languages in the EU’s administration system?

Our findings indicate that multilingualism appears on various levels in different social contexts. However, all of these contexts are heavily dominated by (Euro-) English even if the majority of the respondents are bilinguals at their work, bi/trilinguals in their free-time, and monolinguals at home. It also seems that in their professional routines our respondents are highly aware of the relationship of language(s) to power and they prefer the usage of more power-neutral language policies even if this comes with the cost of mutual intelligibility. This implies that multilingualism plays a less significant role in the social and working lives of our respondents and the construction of their cosmopolitan identities than previously assumed.

 

Keywords: Multilingualism; multiculturalism; European Union; politolinguistics; political discourse; language and power; language policy; English as lingua franca

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