negotiating languages not known by everyone

Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at
Sun Jan 18 10:31:19 UTC 2009

The first-line assumption that 'those people jabbering away in some foreign language are saying something nasty about me' does seem to be an assumption only possible in places where there is a single dominant language. Not just America, btw -- it's certainly a common assumption in the UK and I am sure in lots of other places too.  The first line assumption in a multilingual context is probably that the conversation simply relates to the participants' personal repertoires and preferences. In multilingual contexts there are no constrains whatever on the use of multiple languages in public places: the language repertoires of people from other social groupings who might overhear you are not usually considered.,
However, even in multilingual contexts, there are also issues of participants and overhearers.  If a group of people are seen as being together conversationally then bilingual participants are expected to make efforts towards including everybody and will do various things, including interpretation from time to time, summaries, and also apologies. The social rules are complex
Also, lets remember that sometimes people really do switch languages in order to say something that they hope others in the area won't understand...... Most of us have probably done this from time to time!

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Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr) 
School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT <> 
NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at 
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From: owner-lgpolicy-list at on behalf of Christina Paulston
Sent: Sat 17/01/2009 22:24
To: lgpolicy-list at

Some of the language-rights literature is based on law cases and quite a few of them is based on the defendants being sued for speaking their mother tongue at the work place.  One of the latest involved of all people the Salvation Army.  The employer usually loses the case.  Christina

On Jan 17, 2009, at 3:01 PM, Don Osborn wrote:

	Has anything been written on this perspective of multilingual interaction?...  Is it universal that people assume that speech they do not understand between others is negative and about them? Having lived in multilingual societies, I don't remember that sort of general reaction, though the context might make a big difference, and often someone in a multilingual group conversation will take it upon themselves to brief someone who obviously is not going to understand a particular discussion.


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