“Lunch Keeps People Apart”: The Role of English for Social Interaction in a Multilingual Academic Workplace
Journal article, 2015
Research on the role of language in multilingual workplaces, where English is often adopted as a lingua franca (ELF), shows that language practices influence socialization and interpersonal communication, frequently creating issues such as asymmetrical sharing of information, language clusters, or thin communication. Similarly to other organizations, academic workplaces are undergoing a process of internationalization. However, academia as a workplace has been largely ignored, particularly in terms of language practices in social situations. We address this gap by investigating multilingualism in an academic workplace; departing from the concepts of language clustering and thin communication, we focus on how language practices affect social interaction and the establishment of rapport. We report the experiences of five academics with various backgrounds and status in a science university department in Sweden. In-depth interviews and grand/mini tour elicitation techniques reveal how language practices – English and other languages – are experienced from different points of view. We identify lunch as the primary activity associated with social interaction and exchange of information: people and places connected with this activity seem to determine language practices. In the final section we discuss the presence of language clustering and thin communication in this academic workplace.