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The kudzu of global business languages

A call for companies to require English of all their employees seems insensitive – and unnecessary.

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Massachusetts may be the quintessential "blue state." And Harvard University may be the kind of institution the late Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, long an opponent of the civil rights movement, had in mind when his complaints about "pointy-headed intellectuals" put that phrase into our language.

But from just up the road from me, at the Harvard Business School, comes a proposal that sounds as if it would fit right in with the nativist sentiments of those who want to make "English first" or "English only" the law of the land.

In the May issue of the Harvard Business Review, Tsedal Neeley, assistant professor of business administration at the B-school, calls for companies everywhere to adopt English as their global business standard.

"Global Business Speaks English," the title of her piece proclaims. Its subtitle: "Why You Need a Language Strategy Now." She makes clear that by "a language strategy" she means a policy of mandating English as the common corporate language, even within, "for instance … a French company focused on domestic customers."

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