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Misunderstanding and Innovation: English as a Lingua Franca

2011 Award Presentation, Business Language Research & Teaching, CIBER
by

Stephanie Jo Kent

on 23 November 2012

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Transcript of Misunderstanding and Innovation: English as a Lingua Franca

Context Results Research Re-Calibration
Required Innovation? Communication
is social, interactive,
"connecting" language sensitive research in international business is emerging and gaining momentum
(Piekkari & Tietze 2010)
~ Special Issue: Journal of World Business ~ "Language is the first and foremost means and source through which the 'connecting' of different socio-cultural, institutional and individual worlds occurs."
(Piekkari & Tietze 2010: 267) "Language" = Communication "You Are What You Speak" is only
1/2 the story Misunderstanding and Innovation "When we're arguing about language,
it's usually about something else."
- Lane Greene
(overheard at the booksigning) No evidence for the hypothesis Research Proposal:
Executives and employees negotiate misunderstandings arising from thinking in different languages as well as having different levels of English fluency. Moments of repair and explanation after so-called ‘communication breakdowns’ or ‘odd’ or ‘funny-sounding’ instances of English usage can serve many functional uses within workgroups, providing the basis for valuing intercultural differences as an intra-organizational social norm and cultivating innovative thinking. (a critical review of the literature) frames "language" as an individual achievement Innovation as a measure of
change in historical terms Scope of the Research:
Business Community, Business Language(s)
& Time Parameters: use of non-native
English(es) and other native languages/mother tongues Method: Action Research
Ethnographic Fieldwork (mainly interviews)
Observations
Critical Discourse Analysis ------------ debate conversation The scope, parameters and method are in English. Chronotope (Bakhtin 1939/1981): the functional outcome of language in the social construction of reality Surprises expressed by participants:

linking language(s) with innovation
realizing lapses in mother tongue memory
novelty of this research "Communication as Culture"
(James Carey 1989) Communication maintains societies "in time - not [through] the act of imparting information but [by] the representation of shared beliefs." (Carey 1989) "Communication is a process whereby messages are transmitted and distributed in space for the control of distance and people." (Carey 1989) “The long-term benefits of learning more slowly . . . by taking on complex projects that pushed them to solve problems they wouldn’t have been exposed to had they taken on only projects that required simple solutions.” (Rockert 2012: 8) Business Conflates Time & Control "...assume everyone will get to the same capacity endpoint eventually and focus on how fast they get there” Scott Rockert, R.O.I. Winter 2012: 8 this is a chronotope - the social construction of reality through ritualized (repeated, interactive) discourses of speed (efficiency, control, etc.) Debate:
language standardization
versus
language contextualization Misunderstanding and Innovation different than a linguascape: "a term that captures the study of language on languages and the discursive negotiations through which multilingual organizations try to resolve the complexity of their multilingual context" (S,O&G 2011:271) standardization: "seen as a simplistic step in dealing with language diversity" (Steyaert, Ostendorp & Gaibrois 2011: 271, re: Welch, Welch & Piekkari 2005) contextualization: "the need to capture the 'complexity and subtle dynamics'...as well as the substantial 'heterogeneity and complexity' ... involved in performing multilingualism"
(S, O&G 2011: 272) Research Question: Can misunderstanding be used to build an innovation culture? Hypothesis: Multilingual individuals working within a supportive environment handle language difference in ways that enable people to say old things in new ways, or entirely new ideas that have not been expressed before. Ahadi
Avaehi
Bengali
Bhojpuri
English
French
German
Gujarati
Hindi
Iranian
Kannada
Konkani
Malayalam
Malvi
Manipuri
Marathi
Oriya
Punjabi
Rajasthani
Sambulpuri
Sanskrit
Tamil
Telugu
Tulu
Urdu 28 interviews
25 languages
12 mother tongues
10 most fluent languages Mother Tongues:
Bengali
English
Gujarati
Hindi
Kannada
Malayalam
Malvi
Marathi
Oriya
Tamil
Telugu
Urdu Most Fluent:
Bengali
English
Gujarati
Hindi
Kannada
Malayalam
Malvi
Marathi
Oriya
Telugu Match:
Mother Tongue & Most Fluent?
@ 50% Bangalore Research
Site They don't know!
"We never tried it." Initial Emergent Categories for Observation:
"What's the word for _______?"
Enhancement or Defect?
Misunderstanding: Linguistic or Technical?
What counts as evidence for doubting another's comprehension
Verifying mutual comprehension Emergent patterns:
Joy with speaking mother tongue
Struggle to recall word(s) for "interpreting" or "translation"
Use of English unquestioned English: a common language (for control)

"official," "formal," "a must," "the language that will get you into places," "required," "preferred," "that you are expected to know"

"the only common ground," has "acceptability," to be used "if it's serious"

technical words, globalization

Also "a constraint [to] logic it out [in a more fluent language]," "disciplin[ing]": "[we] are used to speaking in our non-native language" English is the "functional parent language" (Luo & Shenkar 2006)

by default - not by design (Kent 2012) Mother Tongues and Local Languages are for Social Purposes (relational, entertainment)

"just a language of communication"

"We try to avoid as much as possible...so the other guy doesn't feel an alien."

for 'having fun," being "friendly," "informal," "healthy," for "entertainment" (movies, music, folk songs), "to make fun of," "to greet," to build or "establish rapport," "bonding," "irrelevant," "meaningless"

used with job tasks? "It's bad," "never happens," "rarely happens," "seldom," there is a "conscious dispreference" and "technical words we cannot use," "It's hard to find people with the same language in the same team." The language of thinking:

"Language is immaterial [during lunch], whatever idea is in our minds we just speak it out."

"It just comes more naturally."

"Hindi words come very fast in your mind."

"...wantingly or not wantingly, you go..."

"There are a few thought processes you can do more in your mother tongue."

"I'm able to express what I'm thinking."

"I would prefer [to use my mother tongue], I would do it well."

"I can explain better because it is compatible to me."

You can say more well in Hindi, more better"

"My preference is mother tongue."

"I can do anything with that language." What is English good for?

a leveler - "makes it so easy," "removes all those [cultural] barriers...[of] respect"

can "feel not in an alien place"

"same page," "same level of understanding"

"that's where we get connected" BUT - speaking English . . .

"It's dangerous."

"wrong words, wrong time, it goes very wrong"

"top shot guy - he got very angry with me"

"make a fool out of you"

"could lead to a misunderstanding"

"could lead to something else"

"I'm so stressed about what I'm supposed to say" "You have to be cautious." "It could be dangerous." You could be disciplined. "My app went for a toss."
"Is rare," "management talk"

"We don't have a free hand [ with clients]..."

Requires "an Einstein" or "a critical mass of out-of-the-box thinkers"

"not an Einstein," "daily improvement"

"improvise a better definition of the function" Using languages:

"If you understand multiple languages, you can understand another point [of view]"

"If I can't in English...a learning space...try
to make it clear..."

"If I have to really explain technical stuff to a junior person"

Guidance "could happen in any language"

"Try to tell it in other languages so they understand what I'm gonna talk" with Clients:
"It's not even on the table" (to use other languages)
a "liberty"
"It's tricky."
"They are very goal-oriented"
"Keep it simple."
"...we ignore Hindi"
"We never speak [mother tongue]" The best client
"is more concerned with
what I design
than what I talk." communication gaps occur between QA & Dev, about defining scope, between levels (e.g., tech lead & coder)
"misunderstanding happens often" and
"may be not taken well"
"clients' greatest complaint is communication" The Heteroglossic Edge:

"I never had a chance to think like that."

"We don't know. It hasn't been tried."

"I also don't know."

"Obviously in some situations you need an interpreter."

"Never had a reason to [try or] think like that."

"That would be better!" Findings D
A
T
A 2 Top Mgmt
4 Upper/Mid Mgmt
7 Middle/Low Mgmt
15 IT Workers Cosmovisions
IT product engineering
3000+ employees
@150 clients
a dozen countries
excellent reputation Implications/Further Research Inspired by Yeonhee Yoon
Interaction Effect: Do Korean norms of politeness appear in English of Americans who use Korean as a business language? Christine Grosse
Transcultural Leader Carlos Ghosn: “If you’re curious …. listening … they’re going to forgive you a lot of things.” Business Lacks a Purpose
for Multilingualism as the word is used in discourse about intercultural business
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