Ideologies and practices of multilingualism in bureaucratic and legal advice encounters

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The increasing growth of foreign immigration to Spain has changed the communicative reality of various types of institutions. Civil servants, doctors, teachers, social workers and all sorts of service providers face new communicative challenges in their daily professional practice. The changing face and voice of their clientele calls into question habitualised forms of service delivery based on the homogeneity of practices and worldviews (Moyer and Marti ́n Rojo 2007). In this paper, we undertake a comparative study of the multilingual practices observed in two service contexts dealing with transnational migrants in Barcelona: a state legalisation office and a free legal advice service offered by a non-profit organisation. We use various types of interactional, observational and textual data. Our theoretical standpoint is that of critical sociolinguistics (Blommaert 2003; Heller 2007). We problematise the role of language in social life and try to shed light on the ways in which linguistic practices are deeply implicated in processes of stratification and social exclusion. The analysis of our data shows that, in spite of their different social missions and grounding ideologies, the two institutions examined reproduce hegemonic stances towards service communication which problematise multilingualism and ignore the exclusionary effects that overlooking communication-related matters have for certain groups of migrants. Both organisations assume Spanish to be the normal, logical and natural language of communication and neglect the need for more fluid and unproblematising forms of multilingual practice. © 2010, EQUINOX PUBLISHING.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-332
JournalSociolinguistic Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2010


  • Globalisation
  • Intercultural communication
  • Migration
  • Multilingualism
  • NGO
  • Service encounters


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