Language as heteroglot

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro (University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Cross Cultural & Strategic Management

ISSN: 2059-5794

Publication date: 1 October 2018



The purpose of this paper is to reframe the role and function of perceived “bad English” in an international business (IB) context to illustrate that “bad English” could in fact facilitate cross-cultural communication in individuals who do not have English as first language.


This study uses the Bakhtinian concept of heteroglossia as a theoretical framework. For the method of analysis, applied linguistics is used in particular through the lens of systemic functional linguistics (SFL) as discourse analysis method to analyze transcribed interview texts. Data collection is via long interviews with 33 top level managers in Swedish managed organizations in Singapore offices.


The study illustrates, through respondent interviews and discourse analysis, that perceived “bad English” could help facilitate communication across cultures in a cross-cultural working context. The study also shows how different individuals, depending on personal experience and cultural background, employ different means to navigate and manage language differences at work.

Research limitations/implications

The findings confirm a Baktinian perspective of language as a heteroglot, where individual identities and understanding of context at work including work behavior are an amalgamation of collected experiences. While many individuals who do not have English as mother tongue might feel embarrassed by their poor English, this study shows that there are many Englishes existing in different working contexts. This study has a limited sample of respondents, pertaining to Swedish and Singaporean top managers in Swedish managed organizations in Singapore.

Practical implications

This study could be useful for multinational corporations that are interested in strategically managing their corporate language policies, taking into account cognitive differences or cultural identities in different offices worldwide.

Social implications

At a social level, Bakhtin’s language as a heteroglot brings to awareness that at any one time, while individuals are drawn to identify with their dominant (national) culture and language, in effect, with increased contact with other cultures in working environments, both language and cultural identities shift and evolve with the workplace.


This study contributes to the growing language in IB research. The novelty in this study is the employment of a Bakhtinian perspective and specifically the employment of SFL as a method of data analysis.



Cordeiro, C. (2018), "Language as heteroglot", Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 781-799.

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