Article | Organization Science | March–April 2013

Language Matters: Status Loss & Achieved Status Distinctions in Global Organizations

by Tsedal Neeley

Abstract

How workers experience and express status loss in organizations has received little scholarly attention. I conducted a qualitative study of a French high-tech company that had instituted English as a lingua franca, or common language, as a context for examining this question. Results indicate that nonnative English-speaking employees experienced status loss regardless of their English fluency level. Yet variability in their self-assessed fluency—an achieved status marker—was associated with differences in language performance anxiety and job insecurity in a non-linear fashion: those who believed they had medium level fluency were the most anxious compared to their low and high fluency co-workers. In almost all cases where they differed, self-assessed rather than objective fluency determined how speakers explained their feelings and actions. Although nonnative speakers shared a common attitude of resentment and distrust toward their native English-speaking co-workers, their behavioral responses—assertion, inhibition, or learning—to encounters with native speakers differed based on their self-perceived fluencies. No status differences materialized among nonnative speakers as a function of diverse linguistic and national backgrounds. I discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings for status, achieved characteristics, and language in organizations.

Keywords: Organizations; Status and Position; Loss; Spoken Communication; Emotions; Attitudes; Behavior;

Citation:

Neeley, Tsedal. "Language Matters: Status Loss & Achieved Status Distinctions in Global Organizations." Organization Science 24, no. 2 (March–April 2013): 476–497.