Labour from the Baltic Sea region: Language, migration and daily working life among Polish and Estonian citizens in Sweden
In the Swedish political debate, the key to the labour market is commonly considered to be proficiency in Swedish. At the same time there is an extensive periodical labour migration to Sweden (in particular from Poland), which would indicate that migrants do get work – even though they do not always fully master the language. How these EU nationals from the Baltic Sea Region linguistically manage their professional life in Sweden is not yet studied. For instance, how do they cooperate and interact at work when linguistic repertoires do not overlap? For what functions do they need Swedish? Can competence in Polish, in fact, be considered as capital in the Swedish labour market (cf. Bourdieu 1977)?
The project investigates multilingual professional discourse in Sweden among Polish and Estonian citizens, who periodically live and work in Sweden as carpenters, electricians or tile setters. Ethnographic observations and micro analyses of workplace talk are used for understanding and describing how key participants in at least two teams of craftsmen linguistically organise their daily working life in Sweden. Particular attention is paid to the use of different languages, hybrids of languages and bits of linguistic varieties (i.e. “truncated” linguistic repertoires) in relation to situations, tasks and participants. Also, body language and the use of artefacts are included in the analyses.
The project aims to contribute empirically to the knowledge of transnational labour in the Baltic Sea Region as a part of the EU Single Market, and theoretically to sociological and linguistic understandings of the relations between language use, globalisation and migration (Bauman 1998, Coupland 2003, Blommaert 2010). Expanding on earlier studies in linguistics, the project analyses multilingual professional discourse in an unexplored sector of working life where physical and practical team work is essential, and where shared meaning must be achieved through multilingualism and/or bits of linguistic repertoires.
The results can also contribute to a more general understanding of the relationship between language skills and access to the Swedish labour market for migrants. With this in mind, the project team will collaborate with representatives from SFI’s working life preparatory courses, in order to discuss policy recommendations (when do migrants need language courses in relation to work?), as well as practical recommendations (how should preparatory courses be designed?).
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