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Localize or local lies? The power of language and translation in the multinational corporation

Minna Logemann (Transforma Corporation, Coopersburg. Pennsylvania, USA)
Rebecca Piekkari (Department of Management Studies, Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland)

critical perspectives on international business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 2 March 2015

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to contribute to previous research on intraorganizational power in multinational corporations (MNCs). It shows that a subsidiary manager may use language and acts of translation to resist control from headquarters and to (re)define his and his unit’s power position in a headquarters-subsidiary relationship. It also uncovers the interplay between natural languages and “company speak” as a specialized language.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper is based on a single case study of a European MNC undergoing strategic change. The data were drawn from company documents, personal interviews and focus group discussions.

Findings

The findings show that actors at both headquarters and in the focal subsidiary employed language and translation to exercise power over meanings; headquarters exerted control over “mindsets” and practices, while subsidiaries responded by resisting these meaning systems. The authors argue that the crossing of language boundaries offers a window onto shifting power positions and micro-politics in the MNC.

Research limitations/implications

The study was limited to a single translation act in a focal headquarters-subsidiary relationship.

Practical implications

From the managerial perspective, any process of communication in a multilingual context needs to be sensitive to power (re)definitions associated with language and translation.

Originality/value

This study sheds light on translation as a political act and hidden activity in the MNC.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the valuable comments provided by Stuart Macdonald, Ödül Bozkurt, Joep Cornelissen, Brigitte Planken, Susanne Tietze and Susanne Blazejewski on earlier versions of our paper. They are also very grateful to Karsten Johnsen for suggesting the word play in our title.

Citation

Logemann, M. and Piekkari, R. (2015), "Localize or local lies? The power of language and translation in the multinational corporation", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 30-53. https://doi.org/10.1108/cpoib-02-2014-0011

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited