[lg policy] Discussion: What are you thoughts on a workplace language policy?

Humphrey Tonkin tonkin at HARTFORD.EDU
Mon Mar 12 14:13:08 UTC 2012

I have been trying to get information on how UN peacekeeping forces
communicate with local populations and whether the UN has policies on such
matters.  Can anyone help?


Humphrey Tonkin


From: lgpolicy-list-bounces at groups.sas.upenn.edu
[mailto:lgpolicy-list-bounces at groups.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Kate Brett
Sent: Monday, March 12, 2012 7:00 AM
To: lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
Subject: Re: [lg policy] Discussion: What are you thoughts on a workplace
language policy?


I suppose it's a question of what the policy is for and how far it goes. 

I never thought I would find myself posting about the practice of the
British army back in colonial times, but I think this may be of
interest/relevance, so here goes. During WW2 my dad was a junior officer
(white British, of course, back then!) in charge of West African engineers
doing infrastructure work in Burma/Myanmar. He explained to us that the
language of the army was English (as far as giving instructions, making
reports etc. was concerned) but when I quizzed him about whether this
applied to the Africans when they were working, marching, cooking etc. he
said of course not, amongst themselves they would speak their own language
and sing their own songs (he was emphatic about the importance of singing).
He contrasted this with an experience when they were working with a South
Asian unit, whose officer (indigenous Indian) seemed unable or unwilling to
pass on orders to his troops, so a task was not properly performed, and
eventually the poor man broke down in tears and said they spoke a different
language from him so communication was impossible. 

All sorts of lessons to be learnt here: communication is essential, so
obviously a lingua franca is needed, whatever it might be; but there needs
to be common sense applied to when the lingua franca is to be used and when
(much of the time) language choice is left up to the individual. 'English
only' (better, 'English encouraged'?) is only acceptable in so far as it
helps promote necessary communication and should not mean 'nothing but
English' in my view as that devalues other individuals and their languages. 

Kate Brett

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