Multilinguality and/or English as lingua franca?

In an interesting recent article in Babilonia (02/2013) – written by Georges Lüdi, a professor emeritus of linguistics of Romance languages from the University of Basel –  the author argues that the dominance of English in Swiss workplaces is, though undoubtedly very important, overemphasized on the whole. According to Lüdi’s (et al.) research, increasing global mobility (due to economic, poltical and private reasons) has led to large extraterritorial language minoritites which refer to various forms of individual multilingualism to make themselves understood in private as well as in business contexts.

In these communities, varied forms of communication are exercised. Some groups strive for pure monolingual communication  and/or others solve communicative problems by exploiting multilingual forms of communication. The latter’s form of communication can turn into mere approximations of ‘correct’ language, using differing language patterns based on (personally) available languages. This can be referred to ‘plurilanguaging’, the clear goal of which is meaning making in response to whatever a dynamic communicative situation may be asking for. Thinking of ‘plurilingualism’ versus ‘English as lingua franca’ as a dichotomy is hereby, as Lüdi points out, not sensible nor useful – which can be easily illustrated by the fact that English might be the only means of communicative meaning making if faced with vastly differing language patterns (Chinese, Arabic, etc.), in which plurilaguaging might not work.

According to Lüdi, multilingual communicators will utilize their language resources in compliance with situational needs, following a sort of continuum between a more monolingual to a more mutlilingual mode. Multilingualism should thereby not only be seen as a mere addition of knowledge of individual languages, but refers to a continually developing, integrated multicompetence which allows those exercising it to tackle the challenges of our modern world optimally and dynamically. This might apply especially well to a country like Switzerland, which boasts four different languages, sits in the centre of Europe and depends heavily on international contacts!