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See detailExploiting linguistic resources for self-employment: Workplace practices and language use of Thai immigrant entrepreneurs in the German periphery
Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

Doctoral thesis (2015)

This thesis is about immigrants in self-employment in Germany. More specifically, it is about immigrants who make a culturally-endowed practice or knowledge economically available in their new home. These ... [more ▼]

This thesis is about immigrants in self-employment in Germany. More specifically, it is about immigrants who make a culturally-endowed practice or knowledge economically available in their new home. These immigrant business owners are generally referred to as ethnic entrepreneurs. Yet, according to research and widely-held public opinions in Germany, a problem that hampers the success of these businesses is the owner's lack of proficiency in the German language, which apparently impedes them from accessing institutional support and from offering their services to the majority population. However, the ways that language competence actually affects the entry of immigrants into self-employment and the execution of their daily work as business owners has received only insufficient attention, including from a sociolinguistic perspective. Hence, this thesis aspires to examine the pathways of immigrants into self-employment and how these pathways are shaped by the owners' language knowledge. Secondly, by analysing the workplace practices in close empirical detail, it aims to understand how the owners' language knowledge impacts the execution of their work and whether these practices constitute sites of language learning for the owners. Thirdly, it intends to document the challenges that the business owners face at their workplaces, in order to understand to what extent they are due to insufficient levels of language knowledge. In order to answer these research questions, this study focuses on three businesses owned and operated by first-generation female immigrants from Thailand in the federal state of Saarland in southwest Germany. Businesses by Thai immigrants are particularly interesting for the purposes of this investigation, because they have flourished in recent years and because they offer their services in markets that target the majority, primarily German-speaking population. The ventures are typical examples of ethnic small businesses created by Thai immigrants in Germany: Thai massage salons and food retails stores. The first is a large Thai massage salon run by Kanita, the second a small Thai massage salon managed by Patcharin, and the third business is a food retail store owned and operated by Wipa. The three owners (and their staff) differ in terms of their competence in German. Kanita has only minimal competence in German, Patcharin has partial competence, while Wipa has maximum competence in the language. The analysis of the pathways into self-employment of these three owners exhibits a number of similarities. In all three cases, their migration to Germany was triggered by marriage to a German national. Previously, they all had professional careers which were directly connected to their appropriation of English, a language that later enabled communication with their German husbands. While their move to Germany was generally motivated by prospects of a better future, they were unable to find work due to a lack of German proficiency. German was primarily learned informally. Informal learning was fostered by their prior experience of language learning, their individual engagement in the form of self-study and reflexivity, a deliberate exposure to German through media, and their engagement with native speakers in practices towards which that they had developed an affinity. Interestingly, these practices were either their previous professional practices or activities that they took up after migration and later on developed into their own businesses. Realising the demand for their services in the open market and among the majority population kindled Kanita's, Patcharin's and Wipa's flame to enter self-employment. They deliberately adapted their services to the requirements of their customers, but also in reaction to prejudices about their professions. The support of their husbands and other associates was also significant, as they handled tasks that were difficult to perform linguistically, as, for example, the registration of the businesses and the preparation of administrative paperwork. In sum, these findings suggest that an advanced standard level of German was no prerequisite for these owners to enter self-employment, but that the prospects of engaging in self-employed work acted as an incentive to improve their German language skills. A detailed analysis of the workplace practices at Kanita's Massage Salon shows that working with minimal competence in German is possible, but that its success depends on several factors. To complete their workplace actions, Kanita and her staff draw on both resources in their linguistic repertoires, Thai and German. In addition, all workplace actions are designed as routine actions with discursive routines that all staff members are able to master quickly. Their successful accomplishment also depends on the customers' familiarity with these actions. Therefore, formal inconsistencies in German do generally not impede the performance of work, but problems are primarily due to the staff's or the customer's inexperience with the routines. If problems occur, they tend to be solved in cooperation with colleagues or by drawing on the material resources available to the staff members. In comparison to Kanita, Patcharin and her staff have partial competence in German, which is instrumental for the performance of the key practices at their workplace. The analysis shows that their restricted competence in German is important for their work, as it provides the tools for Patcharin and her staff to perform discursive practices during the massage treatment, such as finding out about their clients' health problems, building rapport with clients, giving instructions or clarifications about the treatment, or providing assessments of their customers' health issues. Talk is an important part of the massage treatment at Patcharin's salon and it aids to construct the professional identity that Patcharin claims for herself, namely to provide a high-quality and personalised service to her customers. Thai is less relevant, but in interactions between Patcharin and her staff it serves to exchange information and coordinate work. Wipa has maximum competence in German and Thai, which allows her to manage her store and serve her customers independently and competently in line with her professional aspirations. The key practices at her store of explaining and ordering stock illustrate how Wipa relies on both the use of Thai and German to effectively perform these actions. Her maximum competence in German and in Thai permits her to make 'rational' choices about the suitability of her suppliers and to provide her customers with advice that is tuned to their linguistic and cultural background. The conclusions drawn from these findings are that an advanced competence in German in not a prerequisite for immigrant entrepreneurs to start their businesses. The owners attune their workplace actions to the level of competence in their linguistic repertoires and operate effectively. Moreover, self-employed work provides the owners with the necessary motivation and the need to appropriate German. On the other hand, the data suggest that a greater proficiency in German becomes important, if the immigrant entrepreneur wants to differentiate her business from direct competitors, as it allows them to move beyond the concrete performance of routine actions. [less ▲]

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See detail“Ohne Glutamat/Without MSG”: Shelf label design in a Thai supermarket
Serwe, Stefan Karl UL; de Saint-Georges, Ingrid UL

in Horner, Kristine; de Saint-Georges, Ingrid; Weber, Jean-Jacques (Eds.) Multilingualism and Mobility in Europe: Policies and Practices (2014)

Ethnic businesses are physical manifestations of the mobility of humans and goods around the globe. At the same time they constitute spaces for multilingual practices. One such practice is the design of ... [more ▼]

Ethnic businesses are physical manifestations of the mobility of humans and goods around the globe. At the same time they constitute spaces for multilingual practices. One such practice is the design of shelf labels: typically small, rectangular pieces of paper attached to the edge of a product display featuring the price and the product’s name. This paper intends to shed light on the use of German and Thai on handwritten shelf labels in a small immigrant-owned convenience store in rural Germany. The data are a set of photographs of shelf labels and the products they are tagged to, ethnographic observations and fieldnotes, as well as anecdotes and statements by the owner of the store. The use of Scollon and Scollon’s (2003) analytical framework of geosemiotics reveals that in producing the inscriptions on the labels the owner draws on her knowledge of various semiotic systems strategically. The production of shelf labels can be seen as a complex activity that demands of the producer to possess the competencies to navigate an array of social discourses in order to cater to her clientele in the most relevant way. [less ▲]

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See detailFrenglish shop signs in Singapore
Ong, Kenneth Keng Wee; Ghesquière, Jean François; Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

in English Today (2013)

Detailed reference viewed: 265 (8 UL)
See detailOhne Glutamat - No MSG: Shelf label design in a Thai supermarket in rural Germany
Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

Presentation (2013, July 11)

Ethnic businesses are physical manifestations of the mobility of humans and goods around the globe. At the same time they constitute spaces for multilingual practices (c.f. Collier, 2010, 2011; Hewitt ... [more ▼]

Ethnic businesses are physical manifestations of the mobility of humans and goods around the globe. At the same time they constitute spaces for multilingual practices (c.f. Collier, 2010, 2011; Hewitt 2008; Leung 2009). One such practice is the design of shelf labels: typically small, rectangular pieces of paper attached to the edge of a product display featuring the price and the product’s name. This paper intends to shed light on the language use on handwritten shelf labels in a small convenience store in rural Germany that offers products from Southeast and East Asia. The analysis shall elucidate the web of factors that leads to the mono- and multilingual materiality of these signs. The data are photographs of shelf labels taken during the on-going ethnographic investigation into the language practices of self-employed business owners with a Thai migration background. Oral accounts by the producer of these signs are also used. The signs will be analysed from a semiotic angle (Scollon and Scollon (2003), Jaworski & Thurlow (2010)), in order to attempt to account for the language use on these labels as part of a workplace practice. The analysis reveals that content and code preference on the shelf labels are the result of an interplay between the product on display, as well as assumptions about the clients’ language and conceptual knowledge. Therefore, the paper concludes that the production of these labels constitutes material evidence for practiced transculturality (Pütz 2003) exercised by many migrant businesspeople [less ▲]

Detailed reference viewed: 32 (1 UL)
See detail“Bon Appétit, Lion City”: The use of French in naming restaurants in Singapore
Serwe, Stefan Karl UL; Ong, Kenneth Keng Wee; Ghesquière, Jean François

in Gerhardt, Cornelia; Frobenius, Maximiliane; Ley, Susanne (Eds.) Culinary Linguistics: The chef's special (2013)

In multilingual Singapore, French can frequently be found in the names of local food retailers and restaurants. This study attempts to investigate the form and function of French in these business names ... [more ▼]

In multilingual Singapore, French can frequently be found in the names of local food retailers and restaurants. This study attempts to investigate the form and function of French in these business names. By considering which meanings French expresses in the local corporate context, the reasons behind the use of French will be discussed. At the heart of the analysis is a corpus of 47 names found on shop signs in different locations of Singapore. Results suggest a link between form, the type of food retail business, and the food served. Functionally, French expresses cultural and social meanings, while stressing individual and collective identities. We present evidence for the use of French as an emergent commercial register peculiar to Singapore. [less ▲]

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See detailGetting the job done: Truncated multilingualism among Asian small business owners in Europe
Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

Presentation (2013, June 12)

The traditional concept of individual multilingualism in linguistics as the balanced competence in multiple monolingual norms has received its fair share of criticism throughout the last two decades ... [more ▼]

The traditional concept of individual multilingualism in linguistics as the balanced competence in multiple monolingual norms has received its fair share of criticism throughout the last two decades (Rampton 1995, Blommaert et al. 2005; Pennycook 2012). Multilingual competence is more adequately captured as domain-specific and practice-centred knowledge. This is particularly so for the multilingualism of migrants, which Blommaert (2010:23) describes as “repertoires composed of specialized but partially and unevenly developed resources”, or truncated multilingualism. Such multilingual repertoires comprise various language resources at different degrees of competence. While some resources may be maximally developed to include a range of receptive and productive skills, others may only be partially or minimally developed. Consequently, an individual’s truncated repertoire represents “a patchwork of skills” (Blommaert & Backus 2011). However, there is still little empirical evidence on how such patchworks are constituted. The aim of this paper is to trace how truncated multilingualism develops in relation to professional practice. More specifically, we present an investigation into the construction of linguistic repertoires of self-employed small business owners from Asia in the borderlands of Germany, France and Luxembourg, a population generally overlooked in workplace studies. First, we attempt to clarify the types of communicative competence required at these workplaces. Second, we identify how immigrant entrepreneurs use and develop the resources in their multilingual repertoires to complete work tasks. Our focus here is on two case studies of entrepreneurs from Thailand. Biographical interviews, participant-aided visualisations of professional practices, as well as participant observations of these entrepreneurs at their workplaces constitute the data. We are thus able to investigate and construct each entrepreneur’s multilingual repertoire following Blommaert & Backus (forthcoming). The results show that language resources are applied and developed within the affordances of workplace practices. [less ▲]

Detailed reference viewed: 75 (8 UL)
See detailMultilingualism as capital: Linguistic repertoires of immigrant entrepreneurs
Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

Presentation (2012, December 17)

Integrating migrants into national labour markets is arguably of perennial concern for governments across Europe. Self-employment or entrepreneurship has been identified as a possible route to active ... [more ▼]

Integrating migrants into national labour markets is arguably of perennial concern for governments across Europe. Self-employment or entrepreneurship has been identified as a possible route to active professional participation (Light & Gold 2001, Leicht et al. 2012). Studies of immigrant businesses identified multilingual language proficiency as an important aspect of their success (Light 2007). On the one hand, heritage language proficiency may provide the means to maintain advantageous social network ties to coethnic business partners (Aldrich & Waldinger 1990). On the other, sustainable growth is apparently directly related to certain levels of proficiency of the main language of the economy (Nekvapil 2009, Kloosterman 2010). While studies in applied linguistics have stressed the pragmatic impact of multilingualism in service encounters in entrepreneurial contexts (e.g. Leung 2009, Collier 2006, 2010, 2011), I believe that more work needs to be done in accounting for the value of multilingualism across the whole range of linguistic practices that self employment requires. The aim of this presentation is to take a first step into this direction by investigating the ways immigrant business owners navigate professional practices linguistically. For this presentation I intend to examine autobiographic narratives of five successful female business owners with Asian roots who have set up businesses in the borderlands of Germany, Luxemburg and France, so as to reconstruct the ways these individuals employ and develop their linguistic repertoires in connection to their workplace practices. The paper shall thus shed some empirical light on commonly held assumptions about heritage language use as an asset and majority language(s) use as a problem in such professional settings. [less ▲]

Detailed reference viewed: 106 (9 UL)
See detailSuper-diversity and self-employment: The language use of ethnic entrepreneurs
Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

Presentation (2012, August 23)

In the wake of globalization, technological and infrastructural changes have substantially increased the mobility of migrants all over the world. Across Europe these developments have added more variety ... [more ▼]

In the wake of globalization, technological and infrastructural changes have substantially increased the mobility of migrants all over the world. Across Europe these developments have added more variety to migration populations, a fact that has been identified as super-diversity (Vertovec 2007, 2009). Studying linguistic diversity and variation, sociolinguists have begun the examination of language in super-diverse settings, in order to describe the interweaving and meshing of languages, identities, and language practices (Creese & Blackledge 2010, Blommaert & Rampton 2011). One particularly interesting field within which migrants make use of these transnational and ethnic resources is self-employment (Light & Gold 2000). In this professional domain the knowledge of (multiple) languages and ways of communicating has been presented as an asset and a challenge. To date studies that investigate the linguistic life worlds of migrant entrepreneurs in detail are only few in number. Focusing on the border region between Germany and Luxembourg, this paper aims to explore two aspects of the link between language use and self-employment among non-EU migrants. Firstly, I intend to understand the entrepreneurs’ linguistic trajectories into self-employment. Another aim is to explore how the professional endeavour has shaped each migrant’s linguistic repertoire. The analysis is part of a dissertation research project investigating the language practices of non-EU ethnic entrepreneurs. Following the approach of linguistic ethnography (Creese 2008), oral narrative interviews were part of the data generation. The analysis was informed by the study of language biographies as described by Franceschini (2002) with the aim of focusing on the entrepreneurs’ everyday reasons and experiences using and learning languages at and for their professional practices. The results show that for these migrant entrepreneurs the workplace becomes a site of informal acquisition of the majority languages. On the other hand language practices linked to business activities are sites of language maintenance of heritage languages. The data thus reveals patterns of language diversity management that is directly connected to the entrepreneur’s practical, occupational needs. Moreover, it shows the usefulness of employing language biographies as one of the methods to explore language use and learning in super-diverse workplace settings. [less ▲]

Detailed reference viewed: 75 (1 UL)
See detailAn ethnographic comparison of glocalized French/French-inspired shop names of food and beverage and beauty businesses in Singapore
Ong, Kenneth Keng Wee; Ghesquière, Jean François; Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

Presentation (2012, July)

Detailed reference viewed: 176 (2 UL)
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See detailLanguage use and language shift among the Malays in Singapore
Cavallaro, Francesco; Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

in Applied Linguistics Review (2010), 1(1), 129-169

With active language planning policies in force since its independence as a na- tion, the linguistic situation in Singapore has received a substantial amount of scholarly attention. Yet, the focus has ... [more ▼]

With active language planning policies in force since its independence as a na- tion, the linguistic situation in Singapore has received a substantial amount of scholarly attention. Yet, the focus has traditionally been on Singapore English, with issues regarding maintenance and shift of the other official languages of the republic attracting much less interest. Malay Singaporeans have often been enviously described as guardians of their ethnic language, apparently resisting the push and pull factors of English more successfully. This study aims to inves- tigate to which degree the Malays are indeed still maintaining their community language. In this study a total of 233 participants from 12 to 72 years of age were asked to report on their language use across different domains, topics and inter- locutors in semi-structured interviews. The results indicate that for Singaporean Malays the age of interlocutor is the most important factor when deciding on the language(s) of interaction. While Malay is still unrivaled in interactions with senior members of the community, English is making inroads everywhere else. The influence of English is particularly strong for young adults (18–24 years), young women and people of high socio-economic and educational status. This leads to the conclusion that domains that were traditionally considered safe havens for Malay in Singapore are slowly being eroded. [less ▲]

Detailed reference viewed: 117 (10 UL)
See detailModelling the English Learning Process of Foreign Students in Singapore: Thematic Analyses of Student Focus Groups
Sng, Bee Bee; Pathak, Anil; Serwe, Stefan Karl UL

in Humanising Language Teaching (2009), 11(4),

Detailed reference viewed: 44 (0 UL)