1 Introduction

English is the working language in multinational crisis management operations and training, where ensuring and upholding mutual understanding is crucial, and where the work is almost always conducted among people of many different nationalities and languages. This chapter analyses four individual cases where officers training to work in a multinational military staff manage situations where their colleagues are speaking a language they themselves do not speak nor understand. The analyses will focus on how the officers ascribe meaning to the linguistically exclusive prior talk and how they build next actions based on these ascriptions. The context for the study is the Combined Joint Staff Exercise VIKING 18, the world’s largest computer-aided crisis management exercise. The data consist of audio–video recordings made in the tactical operations centre (TOC) of a multinational brigade, where a group of ten staff officers, each with their own tasks and responsibilities, work together to coordinate the information flow within the brigade and to maintain situational awareness, using English as a lingua franca (see e.g. Firth 1996).

Conversation analytic research has from early on discussed recipient design (Sacks et al. 1974), that is, how “speakers design their turns in such a way as to take account of whom they are speaking to, what their relationship is, and especially what the recipient knows and what they know in common” (Drew 2013: 148). An important part—and form—of recipient design in multilingual settings is the choice of what language to use in order to convey one’s message to the relevant group of participants in the most efficient way. In the analysed multilingual setting, it is common for participants to sometimes use their native language when working. This often happens in situations where the participants share a common native language and where there are no participants in the conversation who do not speak the language. In this sense, using a language other than English can be attributed to the participants’ orientation to “common ground” (see, e.g. Buchholz 2016; Enfield 2006)—that is, orienting to mutual knowledge and shared expectations—and thus constructing their talk and action to be directed to specific co-participants. Using one’s native language can also be more efficient and reduce chances for misunderstandings, which makes it justifiable in situations where information needs to be relayed quickly and accurately. On the other hand, using a language that is not accessible to everyone present may slow down the flow of information and cause fragmentation in the shared situational awareness. In this chapter, we examine situations where non-Finnish-speaking officers take part in interactions that are, initially, inaccessible to them by design. The analyses will focus on the following questions:

  1. a.

    Which aspects, if any, have the non-Finnish-speakers managed to interpret from the prior talk, and how does this become evident in their next turns/embodied conduct,

  2. b.

    on what semiotic resources are these interpretations (potentially) based, and

  3. c.

    what next actions do these turns make possible?

After discussing relevant earlier research on interaction in multilingual workplaces, participation, and how it is affected by linguistic access, the chapter will move on to describe the setting of the study, as well as the methods used in the data collection and analysis. Through the analyses of four interactional episodes, the study will examine how the officers make use of various multimodal semiotic resources (Goodwin 2000, 2013) in deriving meaning from linguistically exclusive prior talk. It also examines how the officers design their turns-at-talk to orient to the progressivity of the ongoing activity (see also Markaki et al. 2013), as well as imply their own (lack of) access and participation in the conversation. The chapter will be concluded with a summary of the main findings and some theoretical and methodological discussion.

2 The Complexities of Access: Language Choice and Participation in Multilingual (Work) Settings

The present study concerns a specific type of a multilingual workplace (Svennevig and Hazel 2018; see also Markaki et al. 2013; Day and Wagner 2007; Firth 1990; Mondada 2004, 2012; Skårup 2004), where participants of various nationalities work together in a complex, multifaceted social setting, primarily using a language other than their own, in this case, English. Being able to communicate efficiently and create and upkeep shared understanding is crucial for the successful carrying out of joint tasks and activities, which bears particular significance in a military context, where the stakes can be especially high. Nevertheless, as the participants’ linguistic competencies vary, problems in understanding can and do occur. This chapter will address the issue of language selection in multilingual, multiparty situations, focusing on the distribution and (re)negotiation of participants’ access to ongoing activities.

In multilingual settings, alternating between languages is a form of recipient design (Sacks et al. 1974; see also Wagner 2018), and as such it also displays speakers’ assumptions about their intended recipients’ preferred language and linguistic identities (Gafaranga 2001; Gafaranga and Torras 2002). Choosing one language over another in certain situations is thus also one way of (re-)configuring “participation frameworks” (Goffman 1981; Goodwin and Goodwin 1992, 2004), that is, configurations of people in a certain space with varying interactional roles (e.g. hearer and speaker). Lorenza Mondada suggests that participation frameworks should be analysed as embodied and situated, which enables interaction researchers to describe them as “interactional spaces achieved through mutual gaze, common foci of attention, reciprocal body orientations, disposition of the bodies within the environment and alignment within the same activity” (2013: 260). Here, rather than studying how different discourse identities or more complex participant roles are being built in the interaction, the concept of participation framework is used for the purpose of studying and describing participants’ access to an ongoing activity, and how it is affected by the language used in carrying out said activity (cf. Härmävaara 2014).

While a language choice can take an inclusive function, consequently, it can also exclude individuals from a participation framework (see, e.g. Hynninen 2011; Härmävaara 2014: 229; Mondada 2012; Myers-Scotton 2000: 157) by denying them a linguistic access to what is being said. This is also oriented to by the participants themselves. As noted by Goodwin and Goodwin (2004: 222), speakers “attend to hearers as active co-participants and systematically modify their talk as it is emerging so as to take into account what their hearers are doing”. In order to ensure linguistic access, participants can explicitly prompt a language change in order to ensure an individual’s chance to participate in an ongoing conversation (Mondada 2012), renegotiate a language change through, for example, announcements (Markaki et al. 2014), and both signal and solve problems regarding language choice through other-initiations of repair (Oloff 2018).

Yet, participants in multilingual interactions have been shown to avoid acting in ways that would highlight the linguistic asymmetry (e.g. Hosoda 2006; Kasper 2004; Koshik and Seo 2012; Kurhila 2006). Explicit orientation to asymmetric linguistic positions can affect the progressivity of interaction by shifting the shared focus away from the task at hand and onto the language issue instead (Lilja 2014). As shown by Markaki et al. (2013), in dealing with issues related to multilingualism, participants orient to two principles: the progressivity of the interaction, as in aiming to advance within the ongoing activity, as well as the intersubjectivity of interaction, which aims to secure mutual understanding between the interlocutors (Heritage 2007; Schegloff 2007). Participants thus aim to utilise all the possible resources that enable them to go on within the current activity, while at the same time they work to prevent and repair possible troubles and problems of understanding.

This chapter adds to previous research on multilingual (workplace) interaction by analysing the work done by different participants to take part in, and progress, interactions and activities that are carried out in a language that they do not have access to. The study examines and addresses the challenges of—and the affordances for—ascribing meaning to and building actions on partially or completely inaccessible prior turns-at-talk in a multifaceted interactional setting. The chapter addresses complexity from two viewpoints. First, we can observe from the participants’ behaviour the complexity of navigating an interactional environment where one’s access to and participant status in the surrounding conversations is not always stable and, at times, needs to be (re)negotiated. Second, whereas the actions through which the participants achieve this negotiation are not necessarily treated as complex by the participants themselves, the complexities of these actions become visible through mirco-level analyses. The analysed actions are skilfully designed to cause minimal hindrance to the progressivity of the ongoing activity but, at the same time, to create opportunities for the others to switch to a more inclusive language.

3 Data and Method

The data for this study was collected in the Combined Joint Staff Exercise VIKING 18,Footnote 1 the world’s largest computer-aided crisis management exercise, organised by the Swedish Defence Forces, Swedish National Defence University and the Folke Bernadotte Academy. The aim of the ten-day exercise was to train civilian, military, and police personnel to meet the challenges of current and future multidimensional crisis response and peace operations. Our focus in the exercise was to study interaction in the tactical operations centre (TOC) of the headquarters of a multinational brigade, where a group of ten staff officers from four different countries, each with their own tasks and responsibilities, worked together to coordinate the information flow within the brigade and to maintain situational awareness. The staff officers working in the TOC were informed about the research prior to the exercise and they were given the possibility to not take part in the research. A brigade headquarters comprises different cells (within specified branches), one of which is the TOC. The TOC’s function is to relay information and orders from other cells and branches to sub-units (e.g. battalions and companies), as well as to process and forward information from the sub-units to the brigade command and the relevant cells. Additionally, it maintains a general picture of the operation, anticipates future events, and makes decisions regarding the operation based on information coming from various sources within and outside the brigade’s own components.

As an interactional environment, the TOC is multi-layered and dynamic, with rapidly changing participation frameworks and multiple different projects taking place simultaneously. It is also a hierarchical interaction environment, in the sense that the TOC Director and Deputy Director are in a position of giving orders to the other staff officers (see Image 6.1 for the list of the personnel of the TOC). Despite the internal hierarchies, the interaction between the staff officers is nevertheless mostly quite informal. Out of the ten staff officers in total, six were native Finnish-speakers (marked with the Finnish flag in Image 6.1), which explains the frequent use of Finnish alongside English. The TOC is also a technological setting, equipped with multiple telephones and a laptop for each individual staff officer. Thus, interaction in the TOC can be compared with interaction in other technology-supported work place settings, such as underground coordination centres (Heath and Luff 1992, 1996, 2000), air traffic control (Arminen et al. 2014), or emergency call centres (Fele 2008; Kevoe-Feldman and Pomerantz 2018).

Image 6.1
A seat arrangement. The director is seated on the top, S O of logistics, information operations, and C I M I C are to the left, intelligence, targeting, and engineering are to the right. The deputy director, battle captain, and duty officer are seated opposite to the director.

Personnel and seating arrangement in the TOC

The data consist of approximately 47 hours of audio–video recordings captured over the five main exercise days, during which the officers in the TOC learn to work together in their respective tasks. The data also includes ethnographic observations and field-notes. The video data was collected with two cameras: one remote-controllable PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) camera placed in the back corner of the TOC, capturing a general view of the activities in the room, and one 360-degree video camera placed on the ceiling in the middle of the table arrangement (Image 6.1) to capture the activities of all the individual staff officers. The audio recordings were made with an array of 10 microphones placed to capture the conversations at the staff officers’ working stations and other parts of the room where conversations often take place, such as around maps and whiteboards.

The initial aim of the study was to analyse instances where the language of the interaction is switched from Finnish to English to enable a non-Finnish-speaker to access the conversation. From the whole dataset, a total of 29 such instances were identified, including four individual cases—all of which are presented in the analysis section—where non-Finnish-speaking officers take part in interactions conducted in Finnish, followed by a switch to speaking English. These cases were such that the non-Finnish-speaking officers’ turn-entries took place within the same conversation or topic, thus excluding cases where the language change occurs within—or marks—a transition to a new topic or activity.

These four cases were analysed through the conversation analytic method to examine how participants’ access to conversations is locally negotiated and jointly accomplished in real time. Transcripts of the talk were prepared using the conventions by Gail Jefferson (2004), and the relevant embodied conduct (gaze directions, gestures, mobility) has been transcribed in relation to talk using Mondada’s (2019) conventions for multimodal transcription. Superscript initials of the participants are used in the transcripts to indicate whose embodied conduct is described. The examples are also illustrated with Laurierian comic-strip style transcripts (Laurier 2013, 2019; see also Kamunen and Haddington 2020) made from anonymised still images from the videos.

All claims on individual participants’ language competencies are based on their own statements made either in or outside the video recordings.

4 Analysis

In this section, we analyse four individual cases in which non-Finnish-speaking officers take part in conversations that are, initially, linguistically exclusive of them by design. The cases represent different ways of gaining access to what is being said through ascribing meaning to the just prior inaccessible talk and building a next turn based on that interpretation or, in some cases, a guess. The excerpts are ordered based on how much trouble the participants display through their actions, concerning their access to the ongoing conversation. We will first examine two cases where a non-Finnish-speaker produces a response in English to questions that were asked in Finnish (Excerpts 1 and 2). The English-language turns by the non-Finnish-speakers are sequentially appropriate (Schegloff 2007) and progress the ongoing activity without making explicit any problems or challenges regarding understanding. We will then turn to two other cases where a participant produces a turn—a verbal one in Excerpt 3 and an embodied one in Excerpt 4—which not only displays their interpretation of what was said but also not having had (full) access to the content of the talk and requests more information on it.

In the first excerpt,Footnote 2 two Finnish-speaking officers in the TOC are working to decipher the meaning of an acronym. Prior to the excerpt, the officers have been focusing on their own work. The staff officer responsible for information operations (INF) has been reading an email and picked up an acronym he does not understand, DIRLAUT, which stands for Direct Liaison Authorised. The excerpt begins as INF addresses ENG by his first name (Jakke, a pseudonym) and asks, in Finnish, whether he understands what the acronym means. BC, a non-Finnish-speaker, has this information and ends up contributing to the conversation.

Excerpt 1 (DIRLAUT_Exercise Day 5, 6:51 p.m.)

A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The conversation occurs between the members and is later translated.
A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The conversation occurs between the members and is later translated.

Fig. 6.1 BC provides the meaning of the acronym DIRLAUT

Following INF’s question in line 03, ENG initiates repair with the interrogative pronoun = mikä. “what” (nominative), which explicates a noun or a noun phrase from the previous turn as the trouble source (Haakana et al. 2016).Footnote 3 INF treats ENG’s repair initiation to concern the acronym DIRLAUT and repeats it in line 05, after which ENG produces a second repair initiation with a higher pitch and a rising final intonation, at the same time turning his ear towards INF (Fig. 6.1B), indicating a trouble in hearing. After a 1-second gap, INF and BC start to talk in overlap, both beginning to spell out the meaning of the acronym, direct liaison authorised. Here, BC—a non-Finnish-speaker—produces a candidate solution in English to ENG’s repair initiation in Finnish. Due to the overlapping talk, BC does not complete his turn but instead affirms INF’s explanation in line 11 with °yeh° yeah. INF turns to BC and asks him, in English, whether he understands what it means. The relevance of the language change for INF arises from his knowledge of BC’s language proficiencies, namely that BC does not speak nor understand Finnish. At the same time, BC has displayed he has the information INF is looking for. At this point, BC is treated as a knowing participant in the conversation, the design of which has now been altered to include him through switching the language to English.

A text box of the commands. It represents the conversation between the individuals in the T O C committee. The conversation occurs between S O of information operations, S O of engineering, and the battle captain.

By contributing to the conversation, BC shows he has been able to interpret the action taking place in the non-English conversation (Goodwin and Goodwin 2004), that of initiating repair, as well as to topic of the conversation. BC’s turn entry in line 09 indicates he has recognised the acronym DIRLAUT (which is part of their shared professional lingo) and also that ENG’s turns in lines 04 and 07 are repair initiations through their sequential positioning, prosody, and ENG’s embodied conduct. It is likely that these clues are enough for BC to interpret what is going on and, thus, to offer his help as someone who knows the meaning of the acronym. By entering the conversation with a repair solution, he displays a level of access to the conversation and, at the same time, displays being in possession of the requested knowledge, which creates relevance for a switch to English without drawing attention to the previous language choice. By contributing to a conversation that was originally exclusive of him by its design, BC creates a possibility for INF to include him into his sensemaking process, and in the end manages to help INF in deciphering the meaning of the acronym and thus assists a fellow staff officer in processing and redistributing information.

Producing sequentially appropriate responses to linguistically exclusive previous turns can progress the ongoing action even when it is not clear the non-Finnish-speaker has been able to understand (parts of the) the prior talk. Consider Excerpt 2, in which the Deputy Director (DEP) of the TOC enters the room as a group of Finnish officers are discussing the brigade’s use of helicopters in their operations. The officer responsible for adding helicopters into the game’s simulation (henceforth, HEL) has come into the TOC to give new information regarding the schedule of a flight mission ordered to the helicopter battalion: the helicopter cannot fly as ordered, but instead with one hour’s delay. HEL, who is standing next to a large map of the brigade’s operating area, is addressing his talk to DO, who is the person who has previously been in contact with him about the matter, and they are speaking Finnish. The TOC’s intelligence officer (INT) is also paying close attention to the discussion, whereas BC, who is sitting right next to DO and does not speak nor understand Finnish, appears to be attending to his own business on his laptop. As the discussion goes on in Finnish in lines 01–05 DEP walks towards the map corner, his gaze fixed on HEL.

Excerpt 2 (Helicopters_Exercise Day 3, 1:47 p.m.)

A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. A conversation about helicopters takes place in a foreign language when the deputy general walks in.
A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The duty officer protests about the schedule.

Fig. 6.2 Discussing the deployment of simulated helicopters

A text box of the commands. It represents the conversation between the individuals in the T O C committee. The conversation occurs between the duty officer and the deputy director about the helicopter.figure 3

As DEP is walking towards the corner where the discussion is taking place, BC quickly glances at him in line 04. DEP arrives and stops behind DO in line 05, standing next to and facing HEL, making himself available to be included in the conversation. HEL is still in the process of answering DO’s question, in Finnish, and continues to speak Finnish through lines 04–08. BC, who has not been actively monitoring the discussion earlier and who was preparing to make a phone call, observes DEP as he places himself next to HEL (Fig. 6.2C), and instead of dialling a number he puts the receiver back down and repositions himself on his seat so he can follow the conversation (Fig. 6.2D). BC’s conduct shows that he expects to be able to understand the conversation soon, as DEP’s—another non-Finnish-speaker—arrival and positioning of himself relative to the others make relevant a change of language into English. As HEL is reaching the end of his explanation to DO in Finnish, DEP displays an upcoming self-selection in line 08 with an upward pointing gesture (Fig. 6.2D). As HEL is arriving to a transition-relevance point (TRP), he turns his gaze towards DEP, acknowledging him as a participant and allocating the next turn to him.

After a gap following the TRP, DEP begins a new turn in English in line 10, at which point also DO turns his upper body and face towards him. DEP knows who HEL is and that his visits usually concern helicopters. He is also aware of the ordered flight mission and has been able to see HEL’s gesturing on the map, depicting the flying route of the helicopters with the accompanying “sound effect” (ffwht, in line 07). Furthermore, the Finnish word for helicopter, helikopteri, in line 07 is recognisable both in English and in French (DEP’s first language). All of these are potential affordances for DEP to infer the overall topic of the discussion—something regarding helicopters—but not its specific content. DEP’s turn in lines 10 and 11, asking whether they could lease one of the MI-8 helicopters that have been recently assigned to the brigade, relates to the ongoing topic, but is slightly misaligned and does not fit the sequence; HEL has been explaining that the mission will be delayed, whereas DEP asks him whether they could use the helicopters. DEP’s question is left unanswered and, instead, DO self-selects in line 13, speaking in Finnish and addressing his talk to HEL, and protests the news HEL had just delivered. DEP holds his hand gesture throughout DO’s turn, indicating his question remains unanswered (Sikveland and Ogden 2012). HEL, nevertheless, replies in English, and thus includes DEP in the conversation by granting him linguistic access to it (Auer 1984: “participant-related code-switching”). In his response, HEL not only responds to DO’s objection but also to DEP’s question by repeating the time constraint and its reasons in English.

Having now been briefed on the situation in English, DEP also protests the news (these lines are not included in the transcript), much like DO earlier in lines 13–14. HEL explains the situation again, after which DO produces a paraphrasing candidate understanding (Kurhila 2006: 161) in lines 31 and 32. He does it with an initial conclusive particle, niin siis vaikka “so even though”, which contrasts the way things are supposed to be with how they actually are, underlining the problematicity of what HEL has just told them. Interestingly, DO does this in Finnish, again excluding DEP from the conversation with his language choice. As shown in an earlier study (Haddington et al. 2021), the officers in the TOC often use their shared first language in situations where they check or make sure that they have understood the information they have received correctly, and thus minimise the chance of misunderstanding. Instead of HEL, to whom the turn was addressed, it is DEP who in line 34 produces a response in English, yes. DEP’s turn, whether he was actually able to understand (any parts) of what DO said, is a sequentially appropriate second pair-part (Schegloff 2007) and a seemingly type-conforming response to a polar question (Raymond 2003, 2013). INT treats DEP’s turn as a display of DEP’s preferred language choice and builds on this interpretation in line 35 by switching to English and adding that the helicopters cannot fly as requested due to reasons connected with the simulation.

Others treat DEP’s response as unexpectedFootnote 4: both LOG (who has entered the TOC during the conversation and is standing by his station near the door) and DO produce laughter particles (lines 36 and 38), and DO is looking around him in apparent amusement and disbelief, exchanging gazes with INT and LOG, smiling and eyebrows raised. In line 39, DEP displays he had not completely grasped what had been said earlier; DEP treats INT’s turn as news by raising his eyebrows and tilting his head back slightly (Gudmundsen and Svennevig 2020), while also producing a strong change-of-state token (Heritage 1984) a::h yes. In line 40, DEP repeats INT’s turn from line 35 while gesturing upwards and doing a beat with an extended index finger, displaying having now understood what the situation is and why, that is, they cannot have the helicopters available for them in the requested time due to how the computer simulation works. HEL continues in English and explains once more how the simulation works regarding the addition of the helicopters, making sure everyone understands how to use them in the future.

It is not clear from the interaction which aspects of DO’s Finnish-language turn—if any—DEP had grasped, but his turn yes nevertheless both progresses the sequence by creating a context for INT to elaborate on the reasons of the situation and reclaims DEP’s linguistic access to—and thus reinstates his status as an addressed participant within—the conversation without marking the use of Finnish problematic in an explicit way. Despite some resistance towards sticking to English, the conversation eventually becomes an inclusive one by assuming a language which everyone in the room can understand and follow.

In the next excerpt, we analyse a case where a non-Finnish-speaker, DEP, is directly addressed with a language he does not understand and—most probably—perceives as Finnish. In truth, the Finnish officer, ENG, is playing a prank on his colleague and speaking in a non-language, or gibberish. This case differs from the other ones in the sense that DEP is already treated as an addressed participant. He, nevertheless, lacks linguistic access to the (assumed) action that is being done by ENG, and thus progresses the activity by ascribing meaning to ENG’s talk and action in order to contribute to an activity that he now perceives as joint. The excerpt begins as DEP is returning to his place by the table after having written something on the corner of the whiteboard.Footnote 5

Excerpt 3 (Gibberish_Exercise Day 1, 12:34 p.m.)

A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The deputy general writes on the whiteboard and the engineer addresses him as Foneds Frade.
A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The S O of targeting confirms that the deputy general wrote the correct information.
A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The S O of engineering dismisses the input of the deputy general with a hand gesture.

Fig. 6.3 DEP works to interpret ENG’s talk

A text box of the commands. It represents the conversation between the individuals in the T O C committee. The conversation occurs between S O of targeting, S O of targeting, the deputy director, and the duty officer.

In line 01, as DEP is looking back towards the whiteboard, in preparation to set the marker he just used back on its holder, ENG produces a turn in gibberish (“föneds frade”) while gazing at DEP. DEP then stops and twists his upper body to gaze towards ENG (Fig. 6.3A), freezing his movement and posture, indicating trouble in hearing or understanding of what ENG just said (see Floyd et al. 2016; Kamunen 2019a). ENG keeps the prank going and, after 1.0 seconds, produces the same two “words” in line 03, this time with a slightly rising intonation, as if treating DEP’s trouble as a trouble in hearing rather than understanding. He continues with an alteration of the “sentence”, by flipping the words and slightly changing the form of one word, and ends with “fönes (.) frane”, speaking overtly slowly and clearly, as in for DEP to better understand what he is saying. During the 1.5-second gap in line 08, DEP turns (Fig. 6.3C) and steps back to the whiteboard. At this point, also TGT and DO—both Finnish and thus in a position to know ENG is just messing with DEP—turn to gaze towards DEP, and DO displays amusement by producing a quiet chuckle.

In line 10, DEP quietly picks up the marker again and walks back to the corner in which he had just been writing, picks up a white board eraser, and holds it in place, ready to erase the text he had just written, while turning his gaze towards ENG (Fig. 6.3D). With the combination of gaze, posture, and the environmentally coupled gesture (Goodwin 2007), DEP displays readiness to remedy his just prior action (Arminen and Avuinen 2013) and, at the same time, also displays uncertainty of whether this was what ENG was telling him to do, and embodiedly requests for a confirmation. TGT displays his understanding of DEP’s candidate remedy by telling him in line 11 it’s correct, referring to the text DEP had written. DEP does not treat this as a sufficient resolution, remains frozen in his posture, and keeps his gaze pointed at ENG, prompting him to resolve the situation (Stivers and Rossano 2010). In line 13, ENG confirms TGT’s statement by repeating it, after which DEP produces a change-of-state token (Heritage 1984) AH in line 15, places the eraser back in its place, and turns to gaze towards ENG and TGT while still remaining by the whiteboard(Fig. 6.3E). TGT recognises DEP’s confusion and begins to give an account on the situation in line 17 but cuts off his explanation and nods towards him (Fig. 6.3F), and then both TGT and DO turn to gaze towards ENG (Fig. 6.3G), waiting for him to explain himself. ENG tells DEP in line 19 to never mind and waves the whole thing off with a dismissive hand gesture (“throwing away gesture”, Bressem and Müller 2014: 1599) (Fig. 6.3H), after which DEP puts the marker down, smiles and apologises for not understanding what is going on. This gets a laugh from ENG and DO, but TGT still moves the responsibility for the misunderstanding away from DEP and instead to ENG, by producing an account in line 27 on ENG’s behalf, stating that they did not understand his talk either.

In this excerpt, DEP’s trouble in understanding is not only made visible through his actions. From the beginning, it is already a known fact to every Finnish-speaker present—and the whole premise of ENG’s prank. Nevertheless, DEP can be observed doing work to ascribe meaning to what ENG is saying in order to produce a next action that is possibly expected from him. In contrast to the previous example, this time there are no linguistic clues available. DEP has no real grasp of the language (possibly perceived as “Finnish”)—apart from prosody, perhaps—and the only clues are the context and the action he has just finished, writing on the whiteboard. DEP is thus displaying his interpretation/guess concerning ENG’s talk embodiedly, visibly preparing to produce a remedy of his prior writing action but freezing the erasing in the preparation phase. By positioning himself physically next to the text he just wrote and holding the eraser ready close to the text while maintaining eye contact with ENG, DEP proposes an action (erasing) while giving ENG the possibility to either accept or reject DEP’s candidate remedy of action. DEP’s conduct can thus be viewed as orienting to the progressivity of the (perceived) activity; while it displays his own lack of understanding, it nevertheless creates a context for others to correct his own activity without explicitly marking the use of inaccessible language as an accountable.

In the final excerpt,Footnote 6 we analyse a discussion between Finnish officers that is also monitored by a non-Finnish staff officer, who is responsible for the logistics of the brigade (LOG). The Finnish Duty Officer (DO) is talking about the contents of a message he has received through email. Just prior to the excerpt, the TOC Director (DIR) has arrived in the TOC and DO has announced in Finnish that he has a message for him. The email is in English, so DO is translating the contents into Finnish as he speaks. Of the five staff officers present, everyone except for LOG speaks and understands Finnish.

Excerpt 4 (CSS_Exercise Day 3, 5:47 p.m.)

A cartoon illustration. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The conversation occurs between the director and the duty officer and is later translated.
An illustration of the cartoon. It represents the different personnel and the conversation between the members of the T O C panel. The conversation occurs between the S O of targeting and the S O of logistics.

Fig. 6.4 LOG follows a discussion in Finnish

A text box of the commands. It represents the conversation between the individuals in the T O C committee. The conversation occurs between the S O of targeting, the S O of logistics, the director, and the duty officer.

DO is addressing his talk primarily to DIR, who he names as the recipient at the beginning of the excerpt, but through the language choice the talk is also hearable and understandable for the other Finnish officers. At the beginning of DO’s turn in line 10, LOG lifts his gaze from his computer screen and turns to look at DO (Fig. 6.4A). A moment later, still in line 10, DIR also lifts and turns his gaze towards DO, who is relaying information about the service support battalion being stuck and unable to advance. There is no uptake nor reaction to this news from the others at this point, possibly because they are waiting for more information, and after the 1.1-second lapse, DO paraphrases the news and states that their convoy is stuck (line 13). At the beginning of DO’s turn, LOG lowers his gaze back to his computer screen (Fig. 6.4B), possibly having concluded that the Finnish-language talk is not meant for him.

DO continues to translate the rest of the email to the others. His reading of the situation is, as he reports in lines 18–19, that no help has been specifically requested, which is why none has been sent. After DO’s turn, the staff officer responsible for Targeting (TGT) suggests, laughingly, that he should send the CSS battalion a message in which he would ask if they need help (lines 20–22), getting a laugh out of DIR (line 24). TGT switches to English and continues to produce his whole suggestion for the hypothetical message in English as a form of reported speech or a direct quote, both of which are common environments for code-switching (Gumperz 1982: 75; see also Àlvarez-Cáccamo 1996; Frick and Riionheimo 2013). In line 22, at the end of TGT’s first utterance in English, which is also understandable for non-Finnish-speakers, LOG lifts his gaze from the computer screen and looks around the room (Fig. 6.4E). In line 25, while talking in English, TGT glances towards LOG, thus treating him as an addressee or at least an overhearer. Something in TGT’s turn in line 25 leads to a realisation with LOG, who, after a short pause, displays having just understood something by producing a small snort while raising his eyebrows and smiling widely (“change-of-state face”, see Gudmundsen and Svennevig 2020). In line 29, LOG does a small laugh and, while still smiling, produces a question concerning the topic of the discussion, no::w, are you talking about the see es es? With the question, LOG displays both having followed the talk and not having had access to it prior to TGT’s reported speech in English and offers his best guess of the topic to be either confirmed or corrected by the others (see e.g. Lilja 2010: 138–162). Both TGT and DO confirm LOG’s interpretation in lines 31 and 32, and the conversation continues in English, with LOG now also treated as an addressed participant.

As LOG is the only participant present who does not speak nor understand Finnish, most of the contents of the conversation are not accessible to him. With his turn in line 29, LOG displays having interpreted the talk to potentially be about the Service Support Battalion, but also that the language choice of the conversation has prevented him from grasping the content of the discussion. LOG never explicates how he came to make his interpretation of the possible topic. It could be that he has seen the same email or is just otherwise aware of the wider situation concerning the CSS (Combat Service Support) battalion, which would fall under his task as the staff officer coordinating the brigade’s logistics in the TOC. Additionally, DO has used the English word convoy amidst his Finnish-language turn in line 06, which, if picked up by LOG, could also provide some context for the conversation, as there are not many convoys en route in the brigade’s area of operations. TGT’s mid-TCU code-switch and the reported speech turns he produces in English, when connected with the wider situation within the exercise, may have provided LOG with a context through which to guess the topic, if not the content, of the conversation. LOG’s question in English both offers his guess on the topic of the ongoing conversation to be confirmed and also marks the previous talk as inaccessible to him and makes relevant a switch back to the official work language. The switch then grants him access to the participation framework as well as to the information that is being relayed, which has direct relevance on his area of responsibility in the exercise.

5 Conclusions

Participants in multilingual settings utilise a number of interactional resources, consisting of embodied resources, professional knowledge, and artefacts in their environment both in designing their turns to be heard and understood by specific (groups of) people and in making sense of what is discussed and whether it is relevant for them in that moment. The above features constitute complexity of interaction in the studied setting in two ways. On the one hand, these are the very features that make the setting complex but, on the other hand, they also provide participants the resources for ascribing meaning and (re-)establishing shared understanding and intersubjectivity. This chapter has described and analysed Finnish-language interactions in a complex multinational and multilingual work environment, to which non-Finnish-speaking participants contribute without full access to what has previously been said. The analyses focused on which aspects of the prior, Finnish-language talk the non-Finnish-speakers were able to interpret—as proven by their next turns/embodied conduct—what were the available semiotic resources these interpretations could have been based on, and what next actions these turns achieve or make possible.

In ascribing meaning to the Finnish-language talk, the non-Finnish-speaking officers in the data utilised various semiotic resources, such as their professional knowledge concerning their own and each other’s roles and responsibilities, shared linguistic elements (code-switching, military abbreviations, recognisable words), a member’s understanding of the sequence organisation, the immediate prior activity context, and the resources provided by the physical surroundings. Even without access to the more specific contents of the Finnish-language talk, the officers can interpret—or guess—at least the overall topic or action context of the exchange and use their interpretation as an affordance for producing next actions through their embodied conduct and turns in English.

The non-Finnish-speakers’ turns analysed in this chapter appeared to function as sequentially appropriate responses to questions asked in Finnish (Excerpts 1 and 2) and requested more information on the topic of or action produced through the just previous Finnish-language talk (Excerpts 3 and 4). The latter explicitly communicate trouble in deciphering the Finnish-language talk but, at the same time, also display the speaker’s best guess of what is happening and offer it to be confirmed. The sequentially appropriate English-language responses, on the other hand, build on the just prior turns-at-talk without making explicit any trouble concerning the speaker’s language choice. Instead, they provide the co-participant a possibility to continue the ongoing activity without initiating any side-sequences—but do it in a way that makes it relevant to continue in English. To sum up, in the analysed cases the non-Finnish-speakers’ turns orient to language choice and participation by 1) creating a context for progressing the activity, 2) implying relevance of progressing the activity in English, and, in the last two excerpts, 3) orienting to the use of Finnish by displaying the speakers’ lack of access to it. In all of the cases, the participation framework is eventually collaboratively (re)negotiated and reconfigured into a more inclusive one.

This chapter contributes to previous research on interaction in multilingual work environments by studying a setting in which knowledge of the shared multi-layered context and institutional roles can be used in overcoming potential trouble in understanding posed by a lack of linguistic access. The study examined and addressed both the challenges of and affordances for interpreting and building actions on partially or completely inaccessible prior turns-at-talk. The analysed situations are multifaceted and multi-layered, yet their complexity for the participants was not in all cases explicated in their interaction. Rather, the complexity becomes visible through the analyses, in the form of the work done by the participants to gain access to an ongoing activity, through means that at the same time orient to the progressivity of the ongoing activity and the achievement and maintenance of intersubjectivity.

The present study has shown how participants in one professional context orient to and manage mutual understanding and linguistic accessibility in order to contribute in shared tasks and conversations. The studied phenomenon, as was mentioned in the beginning, was quite rare in the studied dataset. More examples and research would be required in order to provide a more comprehensive discussion on how participants ascribe meaning to, and build next actions on, inaccessible talk in other multilingual settings, as well as on the different practices with which access is sought to linguistically exclusive participation frameworks. Such additional research would contribute not only to research on multilingual interaction but also to potential methodological discussion concerning conversation analysis, and how to describe and analyse phenomena for which participants’ produce but little evidence through their own talk and conduct.