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Language practices and policies in conflict: an ELF perspective on international military communication

Prácticas lingüisticas y políticas lingüisticas en conflicto: La comunicación militar internacional desde la perspectiva del ILF
Concepción Orna-Montesinos


Ensuring linguistic operability in supranational organizations has led to the de facto imposition of an English-only policy in otherwise lingua-culturally diverse environments. This paper uses a combination of a literature review of military-related language policy documents and semi-structured interviews to explore the impact of those policies on the use of English as the working language of a professional context, the Spanish military. Broadly, the findings show that the standardization of linguistic certification procedures, a requirement for their participation in international operations, places these professionals in a disadvantage scenario in which lack of linguistic proficiency translates into the questioning of their personal, professional and institutional validity. The analysis of Spanish soldiers’ perceptions and attitudes helped to shed light on the conflicting interaction of language policies, practices and beliefs. Although English is valued as the language of work and therefore as a vehicle for interaction with other armies, for socialization or for contact with the local population, it is nonetheless viewed as an imposition of the globalized world, accepted with pragmatic and instrumental criteria, which entails the requirement of language certification standards they struggle to meet.


La necesidad de asegurar la operabilidad lingüística de organizaciones supranacionales ha significado de hecho la imposición de una política que favorece el uso único del inglés en contextos que por otro lado se caracterizan por su diversidad lingüística y cultural. Este artículo combina una revisión de los documentos de política lingüística del entorno militar con entrevistas semi-estructuradas para explorar el impacto de dichas políticas en el uso del inglés como la lengua de comunicación de un contexto profesional, el ámbito militar español. Los resultados demuestran que la estandarización de los procedimientos de certificación lingüística, un requisito obligatorio para su participación en operaciones internacionales, sitúa a estos profesionales en un escenario de desventaja en el cual la falta de dominio del idioma se traduce en el cuestionamiento de su validez personal, profesional e institucional. El análisis de las percepciones y actitudes de los militares españoles permitió conocer la difícil interacción de las políticas, prácticas y valores lingüísticos. Aunque el inglés es positivamente percibido como la lengua de trabajo y por tanto como un vehículo de interacción con otros ejércitos, de socialización o de contacto con la población local, es visto sin embargo como una imposición de un mundo globalizado, aceptado con criterios pragmáticos e instrumentales que implica la obligación de la certificación de su nivel lingüístico que les cuesta alcanzar.


The research conducted in this paper has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness projects “El inglés como lengua franca en los discursos especializados: Espacios alternativos de producción lingüística y cultrual a través del análisis crítico de género” (FFI2012-37346) and “Genre ecology and ecologies of languages: the dynamics of local, transnational and international research communication” (FFI2015-68638-R), the Centro Universitario de la Defensa de Zaragoza (Defense University of Zaragoza, Spain) project “Los retos de la internacionalización en una universidad military” (2015-11), the Government of Aragon and the European Social Fund. The author also wishes to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive comments that greatly contributed to improving the final version of the paper.


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Published Online: 2018-3-13
Published in Print: 2018-3-26

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