Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

When the Language Bonus Becomes an Onus: A Belgian Case Study

Academic journal article European Journal of Language Policy

When the Language Bonus Becomes an Onus: A Belgian Case Study

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The general focus of this research is the official regulation of the so-called language bonus in Belgium and how it affects the employees of the state-owned company X. At the request of the company we have left out its name and any references potentially indicating its business activities. We can say, however, that it is a public service company, which has many international customers and has locations all over the country. The job of the Flemish window clerks of company X consists of selling certain products and providing information to customers, with whom they are in direct contact. They are the focus of our survey study, which we performed in 2014. We wanted to know how they deal with the daily multilingual challenges and how they view the language bonus. The financial benefit creates dissatisfaction among them because they are not entitled to it. Only their colleagues working in Brussels, the official bilingual area, have the right to claim it. The implementation of the language bonus thus leads to undesirable effects and to a discrepancy between the language policy (LP) of the Belgian government and company X.

To understand this language regulation and its implications, one has to understand the political and linguistic situation of Belgium, which we will discuss in the first section. Afterwards, we will explain the theoretical framework of Spolsky (2009), which we used to create our survey. In a next section, we describe the method of our research and give the results. In our conclusion, we discuss whether the implementation of the language bonus is effective and we give concluding remarks.

1.1Belgian language laws

Let us first discuss the political situation of Belgium and the related language laws.2 In 1830 Belgium was founded as a francophone country, although a majority of the citizens were Dutch-speaking (Belgium, Ministre de l'Intérieur 1849).3 This meant that governmental affairs, such as justice, were exclusively conducted in French (De Troyer 1999). The consequences of this practice could be disastrous for the Dutch-speaking citizens because it prohibited them from having access to a Dutch-speaking judicial system, such as in the case of Coucke-Goethals.4 This caused ample conflict and discussion, which resulted in several language laws, such as the Equality law of 1898, the law on the language use in judicial affairs (1935) and the law on the language use in the army (1938). The main language legislation, which is important for our discussion, is the law for language use in administrative affairs of 1966, which is valid for primarily governmental issues and applies to public services of the State throughout the country® This law embodies the concept of territoriality, which means that multilingualism is divided into (primarily) monolingual areas. More specifically, Belgium has four language areas, namely three monolingual areas, i.e. the Dutch, the French, and the German regions, and one bilingual Dutch-French-speaking part (Brussels). The Brussels-Capital Region is the exception as only in this area are Dutch and French official languages with a similar status.6

The 1966 law applies to public services of the State and reads for the three monolingual areas as follows:7

Every local service, which is located in the Dutch, the French or the German language region, uses the language of its region exclusively for its affairs with private citizens, without prejudice to the possibility to communicate with certain private citizens, who are located in another language region, in the language chosen by those private citizens. (Our translation, Law on the Language Use in Administrative Affairs 1966: article 12)

For the region of Brussels, the official bilingual area, the 1966 language law is expressed as follows:

Every local service, which is located in Brussels, communicates in the language which is used by the private citizen, insofar that language is Dutch or French. …

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