European Journal of Language Policy

When the language bonus becomes an onus: a Belgian case study

European Journal of Language Policy (2016), 8, (2), 191–207.

Abstract

Belgian public servants are entitled to a language bonus, ranging from €20 to €110 per month, when they need to use two official languages, mainly Dutch and French, in their jobs. Some of the employees (window clerks) of a state-owned, public service company (company X) receive this bonus, but only those who work in Brussels, because it is an official bilingual area (French/Dutch). To get an insight into the language practices and beliefs of their Flemish colleagues, we analysed the answers of a survey study of 129 participants working in the monolingual area (Dutch). The language bonus is a source of dissatisfaction for clerks working in monolingual regions, such as Antwerp, because they also need to be multilingual to perform their jobs, but do not receive the bonus. The results indicate that there is a discrepancy between the language policy of Belgium (the language laws) on the one hand and the policy of company X and the language beliefs and practices of the clerks on the other. We conclude our article with a discussion about the language bonus and make an assessment about expenditure on it in Belgium, which we estimate at €51 million per year. We argue that the bonus has to be viewed as a language management strategy and thus has to be evaluated regularly to become fully effective.

Les employés du gouvernement belge ont droit à une prime linguistique allant de €20 à €110 par mois lorsqu’ils doivent utiliser deux langues officielles, principalement le néerlandais et le français, sur le poste de travail. Certains employés (guichetiers) d’une entreprise de service civil appartenant à l’état (entreprise X) reçoivent cette prime, mais seulement ceux qui travaillent à Bruxelles, parce qu’il s’agit d’une région officiellement bilingue (français/néerlandais). Afin d’obtenir un aperçu des pratiques et convictions sur le plan linguistique de leurs collègues flamands, nous avons analysé les réponses de 129 participants travaillant dans la région unilingue (néerlandophone) à une enquête spécifique. Il s’avère que la prime linguistique est une source d’insatisfaction pour les employés qui travaillant dans les régions unilingues telles qu’Anvers, parce qu’ils doivent aussi être multilingues pour accomplir leur travail, mais ne reçoivent pas la prime. Les résultats indiquent qu’il existe un écart entre la politique linguistique de la Belgique (les lois linguistiques) d’une part et la politique d’entreprise X et les convictions et pratiques linguistiques des employés de l’autre part. Nous concluons notre article par une discussion à propos de la prime linguistique et nous faisons une évaluation quant aux dépenses annuelles liées à celle-ci en Belgique; que nous estimons à €51 millions par an. Nous soutenons que la prime doit être considérée comme une stratégie de gestion linguistique et donc être évaluée régulièrement pour devenir pleinement efficace.

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Author details

Van Herck, Rebecca

Vermandere, Dieter