Doctoral defense: Kamilla Kraft
Kamilla Kraft defended her PhD dissertation Constructing migrant workers: Multilingualism and communication in the transnational construction site on May 26.
Photo: Nadia Frantsen
Until Kraft's research project, there had been virtually no studies on language use in Norwegian construction sites. Kraft sheds light on up the stratification between the Norwegian construction workers and the non-permanent Polish ones, and how this relates to the language policies, ideologies, and practices on the construction site.
Because of the clear division between the two workforces, the Norwegian construction site is an interesting place for linguistic research. The stratification seems to be partly based on who possesses the “right” language skills, since some of the Polish workers are considered to have too poor language skills to communicate properly with all the workers, which may be a safety hazard. This assumption makes Polish workers who speak Norwegian a valuable asset at the construction sites, and makes them elligible to act as “language brokers” between the Norwegian and the Polish workers.
The language broker is someone who can do both the manual and linguistic work on-site, to reduce work-related errors and hazards. These brokers are constructed by the management as essential to communication in the workplace, even if these workers sometimes see themselves as poor Norwegian speakers. The high status of the language brokers makes them more eligible for rehire than other Polish workers, and they can be rewarded for their Norwegian competence with paid-for language courses in Norwegian and English.
In other words, even though language is not the primary work tool at the construction site, the linguistic diversity of the manual work force makes multilingualism and its perceived effect on communication a salient part of everyday work. Mainly, the management constructs multilingualism in the workplace as a potential safety hazard, as they worry some of the Polish cannot understand all instructions, which could lead to injuries. Those who learn Norwegian can be rewarded, but there is also the sense that if you do not know Norwegian—or Swedish or Danish—in the first place, you are not an equal worker, irrespective of your skills in construction work.