Dienstag, 09. Oktober 2018, 18:30 - 20:00 iCal

Guest Lecture: Dr Maria Rosa Garrido

(University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Faculty of Arts, English Department)


Fluctuating values of Arabic among mobile, multilingual communicators at a humanitarian agency

Institut für Sprachwissenschaft, Hörsaal 1 (1. Stock)
Sensengasse 3a, 1090 Wien

Antrittsvorlesung, Public Lecture

This presentation investigates the values that are attributed to Arabic by mobile, multilingual “Arabophone communicators” at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an international humanitarian agency with headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland). ICRC mobile communicators are in charge of public communication with the media and on the institutional webpage, as well as operational communication with war victims in the field. They are initially tested for English and Arabic competences and should not be nationals of the country that they are assigned to, with further nationality restrictions imposed by the belligerents. Drawing on focus groups and interviews as well as institutional documents, I will show that Arabic has a fluctuating and ambivalent value for these humanitarian workers’ careers in terms of progression, security and safety. My analysis will first look into the complex mobility regime that allocates multilingual workers to over 80 delegations worldwide. The value and shortage of Arabic speakers might have influenced their repeated assignment to “hardship” posts like Iraq or Syria. Second, I will discuss the ambivalent construction of Arabophones as culturally close to their interlocutors in the Middle East as a positive trait that facilitates communication without interpreters and as a potential lack of professional neutrality in an armed conflict linked to their identities as Arabs. The intersection of valued linguistic competences and “easy” nationality explains the hierarchisation of Arabophone communicators, with an institutional preference for dual national Arabic speakers and for arabisants with a European passport over Arabs with a single nationality.


Zur Webseite der Veranstaltung


Wiener Sprachgesellschaft


Jonas Hassemer
Institut für Sprachwissenschaft
Angewandte Sprachwissenschaft