Multinational Multilingualism on the Internet: The Use of Japanese on Corporate Web Sites

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study investigates factors associated with the use of Japanese on the Web sites of 362 non-Japanese companies listed on the Fortune Global 500. The results showed that business to consumer (B2C) firms were more likely to offer Japanese than those in business to business (B2B). Companies in the financial services sector did not tend to have Japanese on their sites. B2C service firms (e.g., retailers) were less likely to adapt to Japan's market than the others. Only 35% of the companies with subsidiaries or offices in Japan offered Japanese. This group, not surprisingly, was more likely to provide information in its host country's language. The study 's findings indicate that international market factors and the economics of language act in tandem to affect the Internet multilingualism strategies of multinationals.

Résumé

Cette étude se penche sur les facteurs associés à l'utilisation du japonais sur les sites Web de 362 sociétés non japonaises figurant sur la liste du Fortune Global 500. Les résultats ont révélé que les sociétés orientées vers le grand public (business to consumer ou « B2C ») sont plus nombreuses que les sociétés de services interentreprises (business to business ou « B2B ») à proposer des pages en japonais. Les sociétés du secteur des services financiers n'ont pas en général de pages en japonais sur leur site. Ce sont les sociétés de services orientées vers le grand public, comme les détaillants, qui sont le moins susceptibles de s'adapter au marché japonais. Seulement 35 % des sociétés comportant des filiales ou des bureaux au Japon proposent des pages en japonais. Comme il fallait s'y attendre, ce groupe est plus enclin à fournir de l'information dans la langue de son pays d'accueil. Les observations de l'étude indiquent que les facteurs du marché international et les aspects économiques de la langue agissent en parallèle sur les stratégies de plurilinguisme sur Internet adoptées par les multinationales.

Multinational Internet sites highlight the issue of language use in international business because, intentionally or not, all Web sites have potential global reach. The language choices a firm makes as it uses the Web to distribute corporate and product information, communicate with stakeholders, and/or enable transactions reflect its approach to international strategy. These decisions are important as multinationals expand their international activities in concert with the global adoption of the Internet.

The World Wide Web, which began as a mostly Anglo medium, has become multilingual. In 1996 it was estimated that 80% of the world's 50 million online population were native English speakers (Global Reach, 2003). Since then Web use has spread widely. In 2000, the numbers of Anglo and non-Anglo Internet users were about equal and by 2003 only 36% of the world's 680 million people online spoke English as a first language. The importance of languages beyond English is underlined by the fact that non-English-speaking countries account for two-thirds of the world's economic output.

People now conduct Web searches in texts such as Chinese, Arabic, and Japanese, giving rise to parallel Web universes. Machine translation, recently offered on browsers, may one day reduce the significance of Web language decisions. However, to date this technology only offers the gist of a message, not a reliable presentation of a firm and its offerings (Economist, 2002).

This study sheds light on Web multilingualism by identifying factors associated with the decision of the largest non-Japanese firms to use Japanese on their Web sites. Japanese language was chosen as the focus for several reasons. First, its speakers are significant both with respect to their share of the world's online population (9.5%) and GDP (12%) (Global Reach, 2003). Japanese is therefore the third most-used online language (behind English and Chinese, 12%) and the world's second largest economy. …