The language barrier and its implications for HQ‐subsidiary relationships

Anne‐Wil Harzing (Faculty of Economics and Commerce, Department of Management, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Alan J. Feely (Birmingham Business School, University House, Birmingham, UK)

Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal

ISSN: 1352-7606

Publication date: 8 February 2008



This paper intends to open up the debate on the influence of language on the way multinational companies manage their subsidiary operations.


The authors explain the importance of the field and expose a dearth of prior research. Subsequently, they define the “language barrier” and elaborate on the causes underlying this barrier, drawing on social identity theory.


The authors we propose an integrative model that consists of two coupled vicious cycles: the communications cycle – composed of the eight aspects of the language barrier – and the management cycle.

Research limitations/implications

This contribution to an otherwise ignored field of business study should be considered only a first step in opening up a new research agenda. Specialists in each of the fields touched upon are invited to make a contribution to the debate.

Practical implications

The management cycle suggests implications of the language barrier for various aspects of the HQ‐subsidiary relationship: strategic decision‐making, organization and personnel selection, global integration strategies, and autonomy and control procedures.


This paper uses socio‐linguistic theory to define and elaborate on the construct of the language barrier, a construct which is believed will be helpful in furthering research on the impact of language‐difference on multinational management.



Harzing, A. and Feely, A. (2008), "The language barrier and its implications for HQ‐subsidiary relationships", Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 49-61.

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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