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Symbolic Value and Greek Foreign Language Learner Investment in Multilingualism


Since Greece entered the EU, language learning has become prominent and gained further momentum in the context of modern globalized economy. Acknowledging the intense commodification of the modern foreign language education industry, this research explores Greek Foreign Language Learner (FLL) investment in multiple foreign languages, and how symbolic value can influence it. To this purpose, I borrow the definition of symbolic value from the field of sociology—namely the context-dependent sociocultural meanings associated with commodities, or in the context of this research, languages—and, grounded on the construct of investment (Darvin & Norton, 2015), which is located at the intersection of identity, ideology, and capital, I perform a thematic analysis of thirty-three semi-structured, in-depth, interviews conducted with Greek FLLs. The results lead to the following conclusions: i) knowledge of English is so widespread it is taken for granted; investment in several foreign languages is thought essential for professional success and signifies personal cultivation and social class aspirations. ii) Proficiency, but mainly certification, in languages of major EU countries is thought to be necessary for career purposes, and has come to represent symbolic power, which is associated with desirable linguistic capital and learner identity, but not necessarily with economic advantages. iii) Recent economic developments drive learners to consider alternative language choices that are associated with negative symbolic value but are understood to grant access to the “new economic world order.” However, despite their increasing economic relevance domestically and internationally, these languages cannot “stand alone” in terms of the individual’s capital. Learning languages associated with positive symbolic value appears crucial in terms of identity as it allows learners to affiliate with desired imagined communities and to claim imagined futures, thereby forging modern national and transnational identities that transcend the limitations posed by current political and economic events in Greece.

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