The evolution of language ideological debates about English and French in a multilingual humanitarian organisation

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This article traces the evolution of the ideological construction of elite multilingualism, with a focus on the values accorded to French and English, under transforming socioeconomic and institutional conditions at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC, a major humanitarian agency based in Geneva, opens a window onto the construction of “internationalisation” and its accompanying language ideologies, resulting in fuctuating hiring requirements for “delegates” (expatriate representatives). The data include job advertisements for delegate posts from 1989 to 2020 complemented by interviews with diferent generations of delegates and ethnographic feldwork in a recruitment fair. The analysis of language ideological debates at the ICRC illuminates the articulations and tensions between “roots” in Geneva, symbolised by French, and “routes” in its delegations worldwide, with English as a lingua franca, in dominant discourses about multilingualism. The requirements for ICRC delegates include English as a must and at least a second ICRC working language. Concerning the latter, there are tensions between the desired language regime at headquarters, privileging French as the “parent” language, and the current needs in key operations, with a shortage of Arabic speakers. The analysis shows that French requirements for generalist delegates have fuctuated from perfect command and good knowledge to an optional second working language. In the 2020 recruitment campaign, elite multilingualism is hierarchically stratifed into English as a global language, other “working languages” including Arabic, and non-European languages such as Pashto or Dari as newly-introduced “assets”.
Idioma originalEnglish
Pàgines (de-a)47-73
RevistaLanguage Policy
Estat de la publicacióPublicada - 2022

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