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Rijksuniversiteit Groningen/Campus Fryslân
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What’s so special about Polish long-distance truckers?

Datum:21 maart 2018
Auteur:Bianca Dijkstra
Bianca Dijkstra
Bianca Dijkstra

In my PhD project, I will explore how long-distance truckers manage their work in different linguistic landscapes, with corresponding local socio-political contexts and individual attitudes which affect multilingual interactions. My decision to investigate the multilingual interactions of Polish international truckers is not only a pragmatic one (because I speak Polish), but also a strategic one.

At the beginning of my corporate career a manager once told me: “The most essential skills a trucker needs is the ability to reverse onto the dock, and to wait patiently”. Of course, this was in a very busy moment at work, when we had to make several drivers wait for their turn at the docks.  Even if I knew from my own experience that there is more to the job of a trucker, his quote stayed with me. I just could not match this image with the one I gleamed from the exciting stories of my (Polish) uncle’s trucking experiences. He was always trying to learn how to express himself in other languages, and he would proudly demonstrate his abilities whenever we visited.

It was when I began working on my master’s thesis that I really started to appreciate how mobility impacts a trucker’s daily life. For instance, if a trucker is in Leeuwarden today, he could easily be in Paris tomorrow. Polish is not mutually intelligible with any other major language in Western Europe, and hardly any non-Poles speak Polish. Given that each European nation has at least one official language, there is just no way that drivers can be proficient in all languages. Even English is not enough.

So how do these truckers manage to communicate? By considering this question from a rigorous scientific perspective, I will get insight into the multilingual realities of the European logistics sector. These findings inform linguistic theories of multilingual workplace interactions, while, at the same time, provide insight to support a more integrated Europe.