Language and Translation in an International Business Context: Beyond an Instrumental Approach

Chris Steyaert and Maddy Janssens

This article discusses the role of language and translation in the business context. Drawing on management literature, we identify two different perspectives on culture and language, and discuss their implications for translation and language learning. Within the first perspective of culture as a variable and language as representation, translation becomes a neutral act and language learning a technical skill. Within the second perspective of culture as a metaphor and language as action, translation becomes a managerial act and language learning a cultural production. We conclude by formulating research questions whereby the domains of management and translation studies interface each other.

Table of contents

Growing internationalization and the resulting increase in international contacts within and among organizations are among the most striking features of business in the 90s. A decade ago, international contacts were restricted to [ p. 132 ]sending select groups of expatriate managers to foreign units. In the meantime they have become increasingly routine. Managers travel for short periods of time, follow training programs in other countries, have world-wide meetings through video-conferencing and belong to transnational groups which correspond daily via e-mail. They are in constant touch with managers from a variety of cultural backgrounds speaking different languages.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Bakhtin, M. Michail
1981The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
Barrett, J. Frank and L. David Cooperrider
1990 “Generative Metaphor Intervention: A New Approach for Working with Systems Divided by Conflict and Caught in Defensive Perception”. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 26:2. 219–239.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Bartlett, A. Christopher and Sumantra Ghoshal
1989Managing Across Borders: The Transnational Solution. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
Buono, F. Anthony and I. James Bowditch
1989The Human Side of Mergers and Acquisitions: Managing Collisions between People, Cultures, and Organizations. London: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
Burrell, Gibson
1988 “Modernism, Postmodernism and Organizational Analysis: The Contribution of Michel Foucault”. Organization Studies 9:2. 221–235.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Burrell, Gibson and Gareth Morgan
1979Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
Calàs, B. Marta and Linda Smircich
1987 “Post-Culture: Is the Organization Literature Dominant But Dead?”. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on Organizational Symbolism and Corporate Culture, Milan, Italy.
Carter, Pippa and Norman Jackson
1994 “Modernism, Postmodernism and Motivation: Or Why Expectancy Theory Failed to Come Up to Expectation”. John Hassard and Martin Parker, eds. Postmodernism and Organizations. London: Sage 1994 83–100.Google Scholar
Fineman, Stephen
1993Emotion in Organizations. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Frost, J. Peter, F. Larry Moore, Meryl Reis Louis, C. Craig Lundberg and Joanne Martin
eds. 1991Reframing Organizational Culture. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Gergen, J. Kenneth
1992 “Organization Theory in the Postmodern Era”. Michael Reed and Michael Hughes, eds. Rethinking Organizations: New Directions in Organization Theory and Analysis. London: Sage 1992 207–226.Google Scholar
Greenblatt, Stephen Jay
1991Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New. Oxford: Clarendon Press.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Gregory, L. Kathleen
1983 “Native-View Paradigms: Multiple Cultures and Culture Conflicts in Organizations”. Administrative Science Quarterly 28:2. 359–376.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hermans, Johan, Peter Simoens and Peter Jansen
1994Taal, Vertaling, Management: Verkenningen in een Economisch Niemandsland. Leuven: CERA Chair for Translation, Communication and Cultures.Google Scholar
[ p. 153 ]
Hofstede, Geert
1980Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
Holz-Mänttäri, Justa
1984Translatorisches Handeln: Theorie und Methode. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.Google Scholar
Janssens, Maddy
1992 “Internationale Overplaatsingen: Interculturele Aanpassings- en Loopbaanproblemen”. Gedrag en Organisatie (December). 403–416.Google Scholar
Lambert, José
1994 “The Cultural Component Reconsidered”. Mary Snell-Hornby, Franz Pöchhacker and Klaus Kaindl, eds. Translation Studies: An Interdiscipline. Amsterdam: John Benjamins 1994 17–26.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1995 “Literatures, Translation and (De)Colonization”. Theresa Hyun and José Lambert, eds. Translation and Modernization. The Force of Vision 4. Proceedings of the XIIIth International Comparative Literature Association. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press 1995 98–117.Google Scholar
Martin, Joanne
1992Cultures in Organizations. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Mills, J. Albert and Peta Tancred
1992Gendering Organizational Analysis. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Morgan, Gareth
1986Images of Organizations. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Peters, J. Thomas and H. Robert Waterman
1982In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
Pondy, R. Louis
1983 “The Role of Metaphors and Myths in Organization and in the Facilitation of Change”. Louis R. Pondy, ed. Organizational Symbolism. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press 1983 157–166.Google Scholar
1989 “Leadership Is a Language Game”. Harold J. Leavitt, Louis R. Pondy and David M. Boje, eds. Readings in Managerial Psychology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1989 224–233.Google Scholar
Potter, Jonathan and Margaret Wetherell
1987Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond Attitudes and Behaviour. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Putnam, L. Linda
1994 “Language and Meaning in Organizations: A Facilitator or a Barrier?”. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Dallas, Texas.
Putnam, L. Linda and G.T. Fairst
1996 “Discourse and Interaction Analysis in Organizations”. Fredric M. Jablin and Linda L. Putnam, eds. The New Handbook of Organizational Communication. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
Reeves, Nigel
1989 “Languages: The Barrier No EC Directive Can Eliminate”. The Linguist 28:1. 2–7.Google Scholar
Ricks, A. David
1993Blunders in International Business. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar
Schein, H. Edgar
1985Organizational Culture and Leadership. London: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
Simons, W. Herbert
1989Rhetoric in the Human Sciences. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Smircich, Linda
1983 “Concepts of Culture and Organizational Analysis”. Administrative Science Quarterly 28:2. 339–358.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Snell-Hornby, Mary
1988Translation Studies: An Integrated Approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Toury, Gideon
1980In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel-Aviv: The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics.Google Scholar
[ p. 154 ]
1995Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wertsch, V. James
1991Voices of the Mind: A Sociocultural Approach to Mediated Action. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
Wilson, F.
1992 “Language, Technology, Gender and Power”. Human Relations 45:9. 883–904.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Winograd, Terry and Fernando Flores
1987Understanding Computers and Cognition. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.Google Scholar