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The Official Language of Telefonica is English : Problematising the Construction of English as a Lingua Franca in the Spanish Telecommunications Sector

The Official Language of Telefonica is English : Problematising the Construction of English as a Lingua Franca in the Spanish Telecommunications Sector
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  —133—  ATLANTIS  Journal of the Spanish Association of Anglo-American Studies 34.1 (June 2012): 133–51󰁩󰁳󰁳󰁮 0210-󰀶124 “e Offi cial Language of Telefónica is English”: Problematising the Construction of English as a Lingua Franca in the Spanish Telecommunications Sector M󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁡 S󰁡󰁢󰁡󰁴󰃩 󰁩 D󰁡󰁬󰁭󰁡󰁵 Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona maria.sabate@uab.cat is article investigates the contradictions around the construction of English as a democratising lingua franca for intercultural communication and business in the Spanish telecommunications sector. From a critical sociolinguistic ethnographic perspective, I claim that this crucial segment of the market has embraced and mobilized a rhetoric through which, by presenting this language as an unproblematised added-value resource for everyone, multinationals make claims of modernity and ‘civic’ entrepreneurial relationships to target lucrative economic niches,  particularly multilingual transnational customers. However, these neoliberal celebratory discursive tropes on the effi ciency and inclusiveness of global English contrast with the actual  public language practices of the sector. English has become a pragmatic cover-up term for making claims of ‘multilingual competence’, but it is actually unsystematically offered only by key multinationals in specific spaces —usually call centres— and far less so by start-up operators. Overall, the sociolinguistic regime of the Spanish telecommunications sector fosters a Spanish-regimented market where English ends up serving the needs of an already connected dominant technoliterate elite, while those who do not have access to English or Spanish, basically non-literate migrant 󰁩󰁣󰁴 users, remain underserved and are forced to navigate society through these institutionalised language barriers.Keywords: English as a lingua franca; multilingualism; linguistic instrumentalism; language barriers; the new economy; telecommunications . . .“La lengua oficial de Telefónica es el inglés”:Una mirada crítica a la construcción del inglés como lingua 󰀀anca  en el sector de las telecomunicaciones español Este artículo analiza las contradicciones en torno a la construcción del inglés como una lingua   󰀀anca  para la democratización de la comunicación intercultural y del comercio en el sector de las  134  ATLANTIS.  Journal of the Spanish Association ofAnglo-American Studies. 󰀳󰀴.󰀱 (June 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲): 󰀱󰀳󰀳–󰀵󰀱· 󰁩󰁳󰁳󰁮 󰀰󰀲󰀱󰀰-6󰀱󰀲󰀴 󰁭󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁡 󰁳󰁡󰁢󰁡󰁴󰃩 󰁩 󰁤󰁡󰁬󰁭󰁡󰁵telecomunicaciones español. Desde la sociolingüística crítica de base etnográfica, analizo cómo este segmento del mercado ha movilizado la construcción del inglés como un valor añadido instrumental con el fin de presentarse como una entidad moderna y ‘cívica’ y poder así captar los nichos comerciales más lucrativos, en particular los clientes transnacionales multilingües. Sin embargo, esta retórica neoliberal sobre la eficiencia y la internacionalización de las comunicaciones a través del inglés global contrasta con las prácticas lingüísticas públicas reales del sector: esta lengua se utiliza para auto-atribuirse un alto grado de ‘competencia multilingüe’,  pero de hecho se ofrece de manera no sistemática y sólo por parte de las multinacionales —y de algunas operadoras start-up — en espacios delimitados,   básicamente en centros de llamada. De este modo, el régimen sociolingüístico del sector de las telecomunicaciones promueve un mercado unificado en español donde el inglés sólo cubre las necesidades comunicativas de una élite ya inmersa en la alfabetización tecnológica, mientras que los clientes sin acceso al inglés o al español, en particular los migrantes no alfabetizados usuarios de las 󰁔󰁉󰁃, se ven forzados a navegar entre estas barreras lingüísticas institucionalizadas.Palabras clave: inglés como  lingua 󰀀anca ; multilingüismo; instrumentalismo lingüístico; barreras lingüísticas; la nueva economía; telecomunicaciones   ATLANTIS.  Journal of the Spanish Association ofAnglo-American Studies. 󰀳󰀴.󰀱 (June 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲): 󰀱󰀳󰀳–󰀵󰀱· 󰁩󰁳󰁳󰁮 󰀰󰀲󰀱󰀰-6󰀱󰀲󰀴 󰁴󰁨󰁥 󰁯󰁦󰁦󰁩󰁣󰁩󰁡󰁬 󰁬󰁡󰁮󰁧󰁵󰁡󰁧󰁥 󰁯󰁦 󰁴󰁥󰁬󰁥󰁦󰃳󰁮󰁩󰁣󰁡 󰁩󰁳 󰁥󰁮󰁧󰁬󰁩󰁳󰁨135 1. I󰁮󰁴󰁲󰁯󰁤󰁵󰁣󰁴󰁩󰁯󰁮e globalised new economy, increasingly based on the services and information and communication technologies (󰁩󰁣󰁴) sectors (Harvey 2005; Castells 2009), has placed language and communication at the epicentre of economic processes (Heller 2003, 2010; Pujolar 2007a). 1  Simultaneously, the new ways of organising business on the part of leading multinationals have put the management of linguistic diversity at the forefront of international competition for the targeting of new economic niches (Duchêne 2009), noticeably, multilingual mobile citizens, including transnational migrants. is is particularly so in the Catalan context in Spain, where migrants now account for 15.7% of a total population of 7,535,251 people (Idescat 2011) and show a remarkably higher connectivity rate when compared to non-migrant clients (Castells et al. 2007: 52-53). Migrants aged between 15 and 29, for instance, actually make twice  as many calls, 󰁓󰁍󰁓 and Internet connections as non-migrant youth (Robledo 200󰀸), which may explain why the private sector has started to realise that, as Vegas, head of the ‘immigrant’ customer department of Orange, puts it, “immigration in Spain is the most important emerging market”(Ciberp@ís 2007: 1). 2 In Spain, the telecommunications sector is one of the most powerful segments of the  private market targeting migrant customers and managing the linguistic diversity that they bring with them. is sector today presents English as a lingua franca, frequently ideologised as an enabling tool, with an added value for, on the one hand, intercultural communication in a growingly multilingual society, and, on the other, business within the global marketplace in times of serious economic crisis.In this paper, I investigate the contradictions around this construction of English as an equalising or instrumental lingua franca in the Spanish telecommunications sector, and describe and analyse the sociolinguistic regime of this market in order to link it to situations of linguistic difference and marginalisation, particularly among unconnected migrants. In the next section, I briefly describe the theoretical underpinnings that informed my analysis, as well as the types of data that I collected and the methodology that I employed in order to have a consistent linguistic landscape of this segment of the  private sector. In the third section, I analyse the entrepreneurial discourses which present the use of English as a form of democratising linguistic capitals in order to connect the unconnected. More specifically, I unveil ‘globalisation-cum-development’ discourses on the English language (Pennycook 199󰀸, 2007) which contribute to the reproduction of given sociolinguistic orders and linguistic regimes that rest upon the politico-economic interests of a Western-literate elite, to the exclusion of most non-literate clients. 1  is project was partly funded by grants 󰁨󰁵󰁭󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀷-6󰀱86󰀴/󰁦󰁩󰁬󰁯 and 󰁨󰁵󰁭󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰-󰀲6󰀹6󰀴/󰁦󰁩󰁬󰁯 (󰁭󰁩󰁣󰁩󰁮󰁮), 󰁐󰁉󰁆 󰀴󰀲󰀹-󰀰󰀱-󰀱/󰀰󰀷 (󰁕󰁁󰁂) and 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀹 󰁂󰁅󰀱 󰀰󰀰󰀳6󰀲 (Catalan Government). e data gathered belong to a much larger ethnography of a migrant-tailored call shop (a locutorio ) which investigates the management of multilingualism by the Spanish telecommunications sector and the migrants’ networking practices from a critical sociolinguistic perspective (see Sabaté i Dalmau 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰). I󲀙m grateful to the 󰁣.󰁩.󰁥.󰁮. research group for their support. Any shortcomings are, of course, mine. 2  Original quote: “La inmigración es en España el mercado emergente más importante”.  13󰀶  ATLANTIS.  Journal of the Spanish Association ofAnglo-American Studies. 󰀳󰀴.󰀱 (June 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲): 󰀱󰀳󰀳–󰀵󰀱· 󰁩󰁳󰁳󰁮 󰀰󰀲󰀱󰀰-6󰀱󰀲󰀴 󰁭󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁡 󰁳󰁡󰁢󰁡󰁴󰃩 󰁩 󰁤󰁡󰁬󰁭󰁡󰁵 In the fourth section, I show how the presumed provision of services in English indexes a high degree of ‘multilingual competence’ and of technological leadership on the part of multinationals trying to find their place in an already saturated Spanish 󰁩󰁣󰁴 marketplace. 3  is self-attributed multilingual competence, however, is simply an entrepreneurial tool, a marketing leitmotif. An in-depth analysis of the language  practices of the 30 mobile phone companies operating in Spain at the time of fieldwork in their call centres, offi cial websites and advertising campaigns shows that ‘being multilingual’ and publicising a post-modern “multilinguistic model” (Tan and Rubdy 200󰀸: 2) basically means offering, unsystematically, an English alternative to the services massively circulated in and through Spanish, disregarding the migrant customers’ non-elite allochthonous languages. In the face of this linguistic regime, in the conclusion I argue that the Spanish telecommunications sector participates in the neoliberal discourse on welcoming linguistic diversity and in presenting English as the pragmatic ‘everybody’s’ language of intercultural communication. While English is mobilised in discourse for the sake of gaining a space in the global stage through an inclusive façade, the actual practices show that this lingua franca, in fact, operates within the constraints of a Spanish-monolingual framework. Consequently, those who do not have access to Spanish or who expect to be able to mobilise their capitals in English remain underserved and, in fact, find themselves navigating through these linguistic constraints and language barriers from the apparently multilingual Spanish telecommunications sector. 2. A 󰁣󰁲󰁩󰁴󰁩󰁣󰁡󰁬 󰁳󰁯󰁣󰁩󰁯󰁬󰁩󰁮󰁧󰁵󰁩󰁳󰁴󰁩󰁣 󰁡󰁰󰁰󰁲󰁯󰁡󰁣󰁨 󰁴󰁯 󰁧󰁬󰁯󰁢󰁡󰁬 E󰁮󰁧󰁬󰁩󰁳󰁨: 󰁴󰁨󰁥󰁯󰁲󰁹, 󰁭󰁥󰁴󰁨󰁯󰁤󰁳 󰁡󰁮󰁤 󰁤󰁡󰁴󰁡is article approaches issues around global English and multilingualism in the telecommunications sector from a critical sociolinguistic ethnographic perspective  (Heller 200󰀶). is means that I understand social life as orchestrated by, through and in language , a key powerful resource —that is, material and symbolic capital— which is constitutive of our everyday life (Bourdieu 1990, 1991; Duranti 1997).  Discourse  is also seen as social  practice —or social action— and as an indicator in social contestation, reproduction and change. at is, discourse is the terrain where the competition for resources is played out and where the investments in given sociolinguistic orders unfold and can be empirically observed in the here and now (see Duchêne and Heller 2007).  Linguistic ideologies  are indices of the norms, attitudes, judgements, thoughts and interests which govern both institutional —corporate/entrepreneurial— and individual sociolinguistic behaviours. ey are the mediating link between social forms and ways of 3  In February 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀹, 󰀵󰀱,󰀲6󰀳,󰀳88 mobile phone lines were registered in Spain, an average of 󰀱󰀱󰀱.󰀱 lines per 󰀱󰀰󰀰 registered citizens —󰀳󰀥 more than in February 󰀲󰀰󰀰8 (󰁃󰁍󰁔 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀹: 6-󰀷). In Catalonia the penetration rate was even higher. In Barcelona city, for instance, there were 󰀲.󰀳 mobiles per household in 󰀲󰀰󰀰8 (L󲀙hiperbòlic 󰀲󰀰󰀰8: 󰀱󰀲-󰀱󰀳).   ATLANTIS.  Journal of the Spanish Association ofAnglo-American Studies. 󰀳󰀴.󰀱 (June 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲): 󰀱󰀳󰀳–󰀵󰀱· 󰁩󰁳󰁳󰁮 󰀰󰀲󰀱󰀰-6󰀱󰀲󰀴 󰁴󰁨󰁥 󰁯󰁦󰁦󰁩󰁣󰁩󰁡󰁬 󰁬󰁡󰁮󰁧󰁵󰁡󰁧󰁥 󰁯󰁦 󰁴󰁥󰁬󰁥󰁦󰃳󰁮󰁩󰁣󰁡 󰁩󰁳 󰁥󰁮󰁧󰁬󰁩󰁳󰁨137 talking which plays a crucial role in the social construction of meaning (see, for example, Schieffelin, Woolard and Kroskrity 199󰀸 and Blommaert 1999). Finally, multilingualism  is here approached as both theory and practice (Heller 2007); that is, as a set of empirically graspable ideologies and discourses surrounding issues of language, as well as analysable real language practices which are messy, hybrid, multi-valued and ever-changing. e data presented in this article include an in-depth ethnographic analysis of the management of linguistic diversity and the construction and treatment of multilingualism by the Spanish telecommunications sector, with a particular emphasis on the English language. is includes an exhaustive and systematised analysis of my record of the  public language practices by the 3󰀰 󰁩󰁣󰁴 ventures operating in Spain  at the time of fieldwork, over a span of two years (2007-2009): three key multinationals (Movistar, Orange and Vodafone), 20 󰁩󰁣󰁴 ventures and Spanish-based start-up businesses, 4  and, finally, seven more recently launched migrant-oriented operators which exclusively target migrant  populations (Happy Móvil, Lebara Móviles, Talkout Móvil, MundiMóvil, Hong Da Mobile, Digi.mobil and LlamaYa, all of which set up between 200󰀶 and 2009). Following pioneering studies on the role of language in the market and on the workings of commercial multilingualism  in private 󰁩󰁣󰁴-related domains (see Kelly-Holmes and Mautner 2010; Duchêne 2011), I analysed the languages that each of these companies employed in (1) their call centres, (2) offi cial websites and (3) advertising campaigns. I will place the main focus on the first research space, the call centres. During the data collection process I called each company on at least three occasions, established a record of the languages spoken by the agents working there, and maintained contact via email as well. Simultaneously, I coded the languages used by each company in their websites and checked the systematised linguistic patterns that emerged from those pieces of data. Finally, I also gathered the leaflets issued during advertising campaigns, and visited several of their phone shops in the Barcelona area to gather written information when this was available. I contrasted the languages chosen and offered to the general public —and  particularly, to migrant populations— in these three different domains, and was thus able to provide an empirical, consistent and broad picture of the linguistic landscape of the Spanish telecommunications world in Catalonia. I complemented the information gathered on the 30 󰁩󰁣󰁴 ventures’ language practices  with  participant observation  in key 󰁩󰁣󰁴 events where I could observe and approach 󰁩󰁣󰁴 specialists onsite, like the Mobile World Congress (14-1󰀸 February, 200󰀸), the biggest event of its kind, or the 7 th  Telecommunications Day (30 September, 200󰀸), organised by the Offi cial Association of Telecommunications Engineers in Catalonia (󰁣󰁯󰁥󰁴󰁴󰁣). ese  were crucial social spaces of the telecommunications sector which proved highly useful for contextualising the approach to linguistic diversity by the 󰁩󰁣󰁴 world and its agents. 4  ese were: Yoigo, MásMóvil, Carrefour Móvil, Día Móvil, Euskaltel, R Móvil, Eroski Móvil, Pepephone, Simyo, Bankinter, 󰁂󰁔 Móvil, Jazztel Móvil, 󰁘󰁌 Móvil, Telecable, Blau, Hits Mobile, Vuelingmóvil, 󰁒󰁁󰁃󰁃 Mòbil, FonYou, and Sweno.
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