When language becomes the subject of work: multilingualism in Biel/Bienne’s call centres
The city Biel/Bienne is experiencing an economic boom. Alongside the traditional watch industry, Biel/Bienne has set its sights on diversification and is now exploring the service and communication sector. This recent development is particularly interesting due to its link to the city’s bilingual character which in turn, is regarded as a major factor in the economic upswing. In the service and communication sector, bilingualism – or even multilingualism – has effectively become the actual subject of work. The city’s abundance of bilingual (German and French) and multilingual (second-generation non-Swiss) employees make Biel/Bienne very appealing to communication companies in general and for call centres in particular. As a result, Biel/Bienne has become home to a number of call centres that offer their services throughout plurilingual Switzerland. The fact that these companies have chosen the region – and that language use and multilingualism is an integral part of their business – has transformed Biel/Bienne into a uniquely significant area for linguistic research. It therefore presents a promising opportunity to observe the role multilingualism plays in these new areas of employment, to highlight the value of this often-neglected linguistic work, and to uncover the associated questions and problems.