Transnational Linguistic Capital. Explaining Multilingualism and English Proficiency in 27 European Countries

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: Booth 62
Oral Presentation
Jurgen GERHARDS , Free University Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Since the second half of the twentieth century, the extent, frequency, and speed of exchange and interconnectedness between different nation states and different world regions have increased enormously, a process described in the literature as globalisation. As the world system consists of multiple nation state containers and as most nation states have different official languages participation in globalisation is among other things dependent on people’s ability to speak the languages of others. Those who only speak their native language are, in contrast, tied to their home country and can only take slight advantage of the perks of a globalised world. Transnational linguistic capital therefore might become a new measure of social inequality in today’s increasingly globalised world.

The question central to our study is to what degree citizens in different countries possess transnational linguistic capital and how to explain the differences in multilingualism both between and within the countries. Using a survey conducted in the 27 member countries of the European Union we analyse the respondents’ proficiencies in foreign languages.

We present a general explanatory model for foreign language proficiency, create hypotheses from this model and test them empirically by using multilevel techniques. We find that the size of a country, the prevalence of a respondent’s native language, the linguistic difference between one’s mother tongue and the foreign language affect foreign language acquisition negatively, whereas a country’s level of education has a positive influence. Using Bourdieu’s theory of social class, we show that besides other factors a respondent’s social class position and the level of education are important micro-level factors that help to increase a person’s transnational linguistic capital.