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Autumn - Winter 2007

Informationalism, globalisation and trilingualism. An analysis of the statistics of Linguistic Practices in Small and Medium Companies in Catalonia, by Amado Alarcón

Based on the data from two surveys conducted by the Secretariat of Linguistic Policy of the Department of the Presidency of the Generalitat of Catalonia, (1) this article makes an analysis of the effects of globalisation and informationalism on the linguistic behaviour of small and medium service companies in Catalonia. It concludes with the ambivalent effects of the growing importance of English over the use of Spanish and Catalan in these companies.


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1. Introduction
2. Informationalism and linguistic intensity
3. Method and analysis goups
4. Results
4.1. Linguistic intensity of the study and linguistic practices
4.2. Origin of the capital
4.3. International distribution of customers
5. Conclusions
6. Bibliography

1. Introducction

This article analyses the linguistic behaviour of the small and medium service companies in Catalonia (2). This behaviour is explained on the basis of the processes of globalisation and informationalisation of the economy. For this reason we have chosen three main independent variables: a) the degree of linguistic intensity in job performance, as an indicator of the degree of importance of information management and knowledge production in the productive activity; b) the national origin of the capital and c) the degree of internationalisation of customers, as indicators of the internationalisation of the economic activity.

In regard to linguistic behaviour, we concentrate on the differentiated use of Catalan, Spanish and English in the different communicative functions of companies. Catalan and English represent better than any other language in Catalonia the new dialogue relationship between what is local and what is global in detriment of the traditional centre-periphery relationship and which is articulated around the Spanish and Catalan languages. In the context of globalisation each language has a differentiated use in each activity, time and place (Coulmas, 2005). According to the data available, we defend that in the social and economic environment of Catalonia, Catalan and English are gaining in use and functions in detriment of Spanish. In fact, this affirmation adapts to the so-called the language crisis of modernity (Graddol, 2004), where monolingualism and the language of nation states have more and more difficulty in satisfying the communicative needs of citizens.

2. Informationalism and linguistic intensity

Industrial companies are taking a new step towards a new post-industrial order based on global, flexible. customer-adapted production and distribution. The central elements of competitiveness are to be found in the application of science, technology and knowledge management. Industrial activities lose importance in the face of activities that produce services, often in the form of information. In this context there is an increasing need to produce and manage symbols. Information and knowledge are linguistically coded, and so there is an increase of the linguistic component required for production. A growing number of workers are dedicated to the manipulation of symbols to ensure better services, maintain the rhythm of innovation, and resolve complex new problems (Reich, 1993).

This orientation produces new social divisions linked to the intensity of knowledge. More specifically, a growing inequality is being produced between those that posses technological control and mass media resources and those that do not (Carnoy, Castells, Cohen, & Cardoso, 1993). According to Reich (1991), the growing importance of knowledge and in particular the manipulation of symbols in economic activity has influenced the unsuitability of the traditional classification of white-collar workers (office workers) and blue-collar workers (factory labourers).

Reich (1991) goes on to say that nowadays there are three groups of workers: 1) routine-production service workers, a category that includes industrial labourers, as well as workers of the information sector with very routine, repetitive and processing functions such as data processors; 2) in-person service workers, referring to workers who, even though their tasks may be routine and repetitive, are in direct contact with the final customer. This group includes jobs such as doormen, hospital orderlies, drivers, and 3) symbolic analysts, workers who dedicate much of their time to analysing the information contained in numeric and textual symbols; this group includes engineers, consultants, planners, lawyers, scientists. The required or crucial qualifications for a group of workers include analysis, evaluation, experimentation, collaboration, abstraction, systematic thinking and communication. The admission, status and opportunities for symbolic analysts are growing whereas the admittance, status and professional opportunities of the other two categories are waning.

The number of workers affected by linguistic diversity in the performance of their jobs has increased significantly during the second quarter of the 20th century. The evolution of working methods and of the nature of the goods produced, computerisation and the importance of services in the economy have transformed the nature of employment and made language a working instrument at all company levels. Heller (2005) indicates that what is new in the new globalised economy from a sociolinguistic point of view is not so much the globalisation but the economic conditions of the new economy, where if before we saw our physical work, we now see our intellectual and communicative work, both as a skill and a cultural artefact. This process means a mercantilisation of language and the growing development of the role of the linguistic worker in different business areas.

The effect of internationalisation of the markets and of the origin of capital are other key aspects that influence linguistic diversity. As companies develop operations in multiple foreign locations, their work force becomes more linguistically diversified. Companies have to manage vertical internal communication (between parent and subsidiary companies) and horizontally (between working groups of different subsidiaries), as well as external communication. Obviously, the new forms of organisation, more plain, with new hierarchical structures, imply greater communication between all members of the organisations. New practices and forms of organisation such as networked structures have extended linguistic needs to different levels of the hierarchical structure. Not only do executive directors often communicate in multiple languages, but so also do personnel at different levels of the organisation, such as secretaries or technicians (Charles i Marschan-Piekkari, 2002).

More decentralised and more independent organisational structures are more intensive from the linguistic point of view as they imply more volume and complexity of linguistic exchanges which, furthermore, involve a higher percentage of workers at different hierarchical levels. Janssens, Lambert and Steyaert (2004) pointed out that international communication is no longer the exclusive heritage of a group of executives expatriated from the parent company towards subsidiary companies. Supported by new technologies and increased mobility, a larger number of people on the staff regularly interact with colleagues and customers that speak languages other than their own(O’Hara-Devereaux i Johansen, 1994; Harris, 1998).

The growing need for communication and manipulation of symbols leads us to define the concept of linguistic intensity (3) of the workplace. This is the component of communication required for the production and commercialisation of products that determines the linguistic costs of internal (in the management of production) and external transactions (in relation to suppliers and markets). Linguistic intensity in the context of economic activity can be defined through three elements: 1) the number of languages required for job performance (intensity by diversity), 2) the need of language or languages as an instrument for working in the business activity (intensity by extension) and 3) excellence in use understood as the evolution of requirements regarding knowledge of the language (intensity by quality).

3. Method and analysis groups


The empirical basis of our analysis and conclusions is comprised of the survey on linguistic practices in small and medium companies in Catalonia (2003), made available for statistical analysis by the Secretariat of Linguistic Policy of the Generalitat of Catalonia. The questionnaire is a multilingual adaptation for companies of the Indexplà indicators.(4). Our analysis, even though the data provided by the survey covers far more, is limited, as explained in the introduction, to only three languages: Catalan, Spanish and English. On the other hand, the exceptionally low use of other languages in the companies analysed means that the data relative to these languages has little statistical significance.

he empirical analysis is an original treatment based on the secondary sources elaborated by the Secretariat of Linguistic Policy (Generalitat of Catalonia). It is a survey of linguistic practices in small and medium companies in Catalonia (10 to 99 employees), conducted in 2003 among service companies located in Catalonia. The survey was carried out in two phases. The first addressed to companies providing “services to other companies” (363). The second addressed to companies providing “other services” (391 companies). The total sample is of 754 companies.

Table 1. Company details




Error (%)

Period of the survey

Business and financial services




Octuber 2005 to february 2006

Other services




February to June 2005






Source: adapted from the information provided by the Secretariat of Linguistic Policy of the Generalitat of Catalonia



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