We argue in this paper that corporate language policies have significant power implications that are easily overlooked. By drawing on previous work on power in organizations (Clegg, 1989), we examine the complex power implications of language policy decisions by looking at three levels of analysis: episodic social interaction, identity/subjectivity construction, and reconstruction of structures of domination. In our empirical analysis, we focus on the power implications of the choice of Swedish as the corporate language in the case of the recent banking sector merger between the Finnish Merita and the Swedish Nordbanken. Our findings show how language skills become empowering or disempowering resources in organizational communication, how these skills are associated with professional competence, and how this leads to the creation of new social networks. The case also illustrates how language skills are an essential element in the construction of international confrontation, lead to a construction of superiority and inferiority, and also reproduce post-colonial identities in the merging bank. Finally, we also point out how such policies ultimately lead to the reification of post-colonial and neo-colonial structures of domination in multinational corporations.
PurposeThis paper seeks to explore the use of common corporate language(s) in multinational corporations (MNCs). These organizations are usually multilingual and characterized by high language diversity. Parallel streams of literature in international management and international business communications are built upon to problematize the notion of a common corporate language.Design/methodology/approachInformation gathered from 36 personal interviews of the German‐based multinational Siemens is the primary source of data for this case study. The interviews were conducted in three different languages in three different organizational units of Siemens AG in Finland and Germany.FindingsIt was possible to identify powerful interplay between two languages – German and English – and to uncover discrepancies between company policy and employee practices with regard to language use. On the basis of these findings, the challenges of managing language in multinationals are discussed.Originality/valueArgues that a common corporate language may not be as widely shared within the firm as the term suggests, given the multilingual nature of most multinationals, variation in the language proficiency of their employees, and the level of analysis used in previous research.
■ In this paper, we explore the use of foreign languages in qualitative interviewing, an issue previously treated as a mere technical consideration and largely neglected in the monolingual, English-dominated environment of international business research.■ Drawing on literature from linguistic anthropology and qualitative interviewing methodology, we provide a holistic view of foreign language use based on the experiences of 34 scholars from different countries.
Key Results■ Our findings show the multiple decisions that researchers make about language use, and their effects on data accuracy and authenticity, rapport-building and the construction of shared understanding.
Language lies at the heart of international business (IB) activities, yet language as a key construct in the field of IB has not been sufficiently articulated or theorized. Language presents itself in forms such as national, corporate, technical or electronic, in functions in terms of defining hierarchies, exercising power or facilitating integration and in features such as the use of mixed syntax or gendermarking. Understanding the complex interplay between the multiple facets of language and how they affect day-to-day operations is becoming increasingly critical to global business effectiveness. The purpose of this special issue is, therefore, to catalyze and set a course for the development of a new domain in IB scholarship originating from an explicit focus on language.
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