Multinational Multilingualism on the Internet: The Use of Japanese on Corporate Web Sites
Tiessen, James H, Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences
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.
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. Second, Japanese language use provides an interesting case because in the past its use has been linked to that country's emergence as a wealthy economic player. This relationship was identified by Coulmas (1992), who found that growth in the number of non-Japanese Japanese-language students paralleled the Yen's appreciation over the 1980 to 1989 period.
Finally, despite Japan's high total and per capita GDP, it will be shown that not all large firms with Japanese customers adapt their Web sites to that market. That is, though the potential value of a place in Japan's market may be significant, and the costs of localization are relatively low, many firms have not chosen this path. Therefore, identifying factors associated with this decision illuminates how managers are dealing with language aspects of Internet-induced globalization.
This paper begins by outlining the study's conceptual background and research hypotheses. This leads to a description of the methods and results and finally to a discussion of the findings and conclusions.
Conceptual Background and Research Hypotheses
The significance of the Internet for international business is reflected by a growing academic research literature (e.g., de la Torre & Moxon, 2001; Amine & Botteron, 2002). This stream, though it develops a broad understanding of how the Web affects cross-border transactions, devotes limited attention to language issues. A notable exception is Lynch and Beck's (2001) survey of Internet users, based on a sample drawn from the local offices of an international consulting firm (the authors both work for Accenture). These data showed that users tended to favour Web sites presented in their first language. North Americans displayed the strongest preference (4.10 on a 5-point scale) for viewing Web sites in English. Those from Asia (including Japan), Latin America, and Europe were less demanding. However, on average they preferred sites with text in their respective languages (mean 3.12 to 3.47 out of 5).
Robles (2002) also mentioned multilingualism in his description of the global strategies of portals such as Yahoo! and AOL. He identified Web site content translation as the first stage of internationalization and called attention to the importance of localization, including language, in responsive global strategies. Language, he noted, can be part of a niche strategy enabling firms to concentrate on linguistic markets, such as Latin America. The generalizability of his analysis beyond the well-known Web-enabled firms he studied has not yet been confirmed.
Dou, Nielsen, and Tan's (2002) audit of B2B and B2C exporters from Internet-developed (Denmark and Canada) and Internet-developing (Malaysia) countries compared their Web sites' communication and transaction capabilities (Quelch & Klein, 1996). This research included "multiple language options" as one of six elements in a single communication index (CI) scale. They found that the sites of Internet-developed country firms had an average CI significantly greater than that of the Internet-developing country firms. Although variations in the offering of language options by group were not broken out from this analysis, they did examine differences in the values of their transaction index (TI) between B2B-B2C and standardized-unstandardized product categories of companies. However, this analysis did not extend to the CI. Dou et al. (2002, p. 113) do recommend "multiple languages" as one of several "critical Web site components."
In sum, the limited research that recognizes language as a factor in international business use of the Web is primarily descriptive, highlighting the incidence of and attitudes towards localization. This work sets the foundation for further inquiry due to the Web's instant global reach, now that less than 40% of the world's online population speaks English as a native language.
Research Hypotheses: Economics of Language and International Marketing
There are two broad theoretical approaches to studying the use of languages by firms on the Internet. One, the "economics of language", focuses primarily on how economic factors affect the choices of individuals or societies to communicate in more than one language. The second perspective, from the international marketing field, is concerned with decisions to standardize or localize marketing activities. The key aspects of each view, as well as an interactive influence, are outlined and five research hypotheses are proposed.
Economics of language. Studies informed by this perspective apply the principles of supply and demand to address a broad range of issues associated with multiple language use. Prominent among these include language planning and learning, language death, and the retention of native languages by immigrants (e.g. Coulmas, 1992; Breton, 1998a, Lazear, 1999; Grin, 1996a, b; Crystal, 2000). In this study, the economics of language perspective is related to two variables: the market sector served (B2B or B2C) and whether the firm's home country is Anglo.
The economics of language view rests on three general assumptions: (a) Individuals gain from trade with others, (b) common language facilitates trade, and (c) there are usually costs associated with learning a second language or using translators for trade (Coulmas, 1992; Lazear, 1999). These assumptions, though referring to individual behaviours, can be applied to develop models that analyze aspects of language-related activities and policies. Among other implications, these models call attention to two issues that are especially relevant: language as a factor of production and network externalities.
Language economists see language both as a type of "human capital" in which individuals, groups, or societies can choose to invest (Coulmas, 1992; Breton, 1998b; Harris, 1998) and as a variable input to production (Harris). Goods and services themselves require varied levels of language and language-related informational inputs, such as product descriptions, instructions, and labels. Services, because they are more intangible than goods, tend to be more complex and have more language content.
In this study service exporters were expected to be more likely to offer Japanese for two key reasons. The first is that, as mentioned, services have more language content. Second, service intangibility and the related difficulty of comparing offerings mean that establishing legitimacy is more vital for service exporters than for those who provide goods. Therefore service providers are under greater pressure than those selling goods to offer company and service information in an easily accessible format-the language of Japanese buyers.
The insights offered by the economics of language notwithstanding, a priori it is difficult to ascertain how a multinational's sector-goods or services-affects the proclivity to localize. This is because empirical research and more general trade data complicate this view. Cavusgil, Zou, and Naidu's (1993) and Cavusgil and Zou's (1994) findings showed a negative relationship between product complexity, as measured by technology intensity, and international promotion adaptation. However, their work examined products, not services. Another factor is that, overall, manufactured goods tend to be more exportable than services: in 2002, only 20% of the value of world exports was services, and 80% was goods (WTO, 2003). This suggests that manufacturers tend to have more access to, and presumably greater interest in communicating with their Japanese customers. These factors could counter those related to language content, as identified by the economics of language.
Nonetheless, in this study it is contended that the Web sites of service firms, because of the importance of language, and the relative complexity and intangibility of their offerings, will be more likely to adapt their Web strategies. The first hypothesis therefore is:
H1: Service firms are more likely to have Japanese on their Web sites than manufacturing firms.
The concept of network externalities is also relevant to localization. This view describes the potential gains associated with the growth of a network. For example, the value of using a fax machine or e-mail increases with the number of others on a network using the same technologies. Similarly, the potential returns that accrue to language capability increase with the number of trading partners that use the same language (Coulmas, 1992; Breton, 1998b; Harris, 1998).
This principle, applied in concert with the concept of human capital mentioned above, can explain the emergence of a lingua franca, a common language. This is because it is most efficient for people who wish to conduct international relationships to invest in learning only one second language. In international business the lingua franca is English.
A key implication of English as lingua franca in this study of Japanese use is that the location of the nonJapanese firm is expected to have an influence. Simply, firms based in Anglo countries (U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), because of network externalities, augmented by the dominance of English, are expected to be less likely to offer Japanese. This is because, unlike firms from non-Anglo nations, Anglo companies typically have less of a need to commit time and money resources to learn another language-Japanese-in order to function internationally. This is expected to reduce their tendency to consider the importance of language, and therefore not to invest in localizing their Web sites. This leads to the next hypothesis:
H2: Firms based in non-Anglo countries are more likely to offer Japanese on their Web sites than those from Anglo countries.
International marketing. Language is one aspect of the international standardization-localization debate (Douglas & Wind, 1987; Jain, 1989). The standardization position contends that firms should deliver similar products and promotion campaigns in all markets because globalization leads to the homogenization of cultures and business practices (Levitt, 1983). Further, a standardized approach enables scale economies as promotion costs are spread across many markets. In contrast, proponents of localization contend that firms should adapt their marketing mixes because markets remain culturally differentiated. The latter view is undergirded by the marketing concept, the principle that states that a successful organization, rather than focusing mainly on production issues, "aims all of its efforts at satisfying its customers-at a profit" (McCarthy & Shapiro, 1983, p. 31). In this study, the standardization-localization question is related to the nature of the companies' markets, B2B versus B2C, or financial services.
Research on international advertising, which focuses primarily on brand names and logos, has not identified differences between the approaches of B2B and B2C companies. Overall, this work does show that MNEs tend to standardize their brand names in multiple markets (Rosen, Boddewyn, & Louis, 1989; Sandier & Shani, 1992). These studies also recognize that there are several types of standardization. Firms can choose whether to represent their brand name in its original text, use a translated version that shares a similar phonetic sound (transliteration) or semantic meaning (translation), create a new name, or present a name that combines these approaches (Francis et al., 2002; Zhang & Schmitt, 2001).
Melewar and Saunders (1999) found that UK MNEs operating in Malaysia generally presented untranslated versions of the text of their "corporate visual identities" or "CVI" (i.e., logo and symbols). This study did not find significant difference between the propensities of providers of industrial goods, consumer goods, or services to standardize. According to Duncan and Ramaprasad (1995), 68% of internationally advertised brands use a standardized advertising strategy in all of their foreign markets. This study also did not differentiate between B2C and B2B markets. Francis et al. (2002), who looked specifically at U.S. Fortune 500 consumer goods brands available in China and Hong Kong, showed that only 10% used an English name. Forty-four percent of these brands used Chinese characters to create names that attempted to replicate the original brand name pronunciation and another 22% used translations.
Unlike the advertising-focused studies, Cavusgil et al.'s (1993) export strategy research found that consumer product exporters tended to adapt their promotion programs more than those that sell industrial products abroad. This is not surprising because business-to-business purchase decisions typically are driven more by long range, technical, and value issues than those made by consumers, which may be affected more by positioning and emotional appeals (Brugaletta, 1985).
The network externality view, mentioned above, is also relevant. It suggests that firms serving customers who are expected to understand English will be less likely to offer Japanese than other firms because it is not worth the extra investment. In Japan, business people, especially those who buy and sell internationally, are more likely to be comfortable with the international business lingua franca than are individual consumers. In Japan, most people are not proficient in English, despite the requirement that they study it in middle and high school. This leads to the third hypothesis:
H3: Firms targeting consumer markets are more likely to offer Japanese on their Web sites than those targeting business markets.
In this study, financial service firms-insurance, securities, and banking-are treated as a market category beyond the B2B-B2C dichotomy. This is because firms in these businesses operate in both B2B and B2C markets, and the natures of their foreign and domestic markets differ. At home, most large players serve both retail (B2C) and corporate (B2B) customers. However, in foreign jurisdictions these companies tend to have better access to B2B markets (including multinationals from their home nations) than to consumers.
Financial service companies, on one hand, could be expected to be more likely to offer Japanese, because of the complexity and intangibility of their offerings and the need for legitimacy. However, in Japan, only CITI and Merrill Lynch among the financial firms on the Global 500 list have retail networks. This means that for most of the financial services companies in the sample, most of their customers and stakeholders are other businesses, including corporations and institutional investors. Further, the interactions in the milieu of foreign financial service firms in Japan are largely in English, the lingua franca. The B2B orientation of these firms abroad therefore is expected to exert a stronger influence on Web language choices than the service aspect of their businesses, so it is hypothesized that:
H4: Firms operating in financial services markets (insurance, banking, securities) are less likely to offer Japanese on their Web sites than firms in other sectors.
Interaction between B2B/B2C and manufacturing/ service. As stated above, it is expected that both service firms and those targeting consumers are more likely to localize their Web sites. Therefore it follows that, taken together, the higher language content of the offerings, in concert with the general language capabilities of customers, would contribute to encouraging B2C service companies to supply Japanese.
A priori the direction of this link between this interactive variable and Japanese use is somewhat difficult to predict because 54% of the B2C service firms in this sample comprise retail organizations. These tend not to be internationally oriented (Rugman & Brain, 2003). Further, international online consumer markets are still very limited: OECD figures, for example, show that Internet transactions make up, at most, just over 1% of all retail sales, and less than 20% of these are international (OECD, 2003). On the other hand, researchers have found that retailers profit from complementary "click and mortar"-that is Web and physical presence-strategies (Steinfield, 2002; Grimes, 2002) because the Web site offers customer accessibility while the store on the street establishes trust. The lack of the latter is a common barrier to online sales. This view, together with the B2C and service factors raised above, gives rise to the final hypothesis:
H5: Service B2C firms are more likely to offer Japanese than either manufacturing or B2B firms.
The research hypotheses were assessed using logistic regression to test for statistically significant links between the identified factors and the presence and absence of Japanese on the Web sites of the world's largest corporations. The research sample, measures, and analyses are described.
The world's largest firms were identified using Fortune's 2001 Global 500 list, which ranks companies by revenue (Fortune, 2001). The Web sites of all firms on this list were viewed and searched by the primary researcher and an assistant in late 2001. One firm, from France, did not have a Web site.
The Global 500 list classifies the firms into 44 industry sectors, and supplies numbers of employees as well as profit and revenue data. This sample source was used because it identifies firms that have sufficient resources to potentially enter Japan's market. This study only considered the Web activities of non-Japanese firms that have access to Japan in their current lines of business. Therefore Japanese firms, as well as those in the health care, health care wholesale, electrical or gas utility, and railroad industries were removed from the sample set. National postal services were eliminated for the same reason.
The research sample therefore comprised 362 firms with revenues that ranged from US$10.3 billion to US$210 billion, and averaged US$29 billion. Table 1 shows that, not surprisingly, nearly half of the firms (46%) were based in the U.S., followed by France and Germany (9% each), the UK (8%), and Canada (4%). A total of 43% were in manufacturing and 57% in the service sector. Sixty-three percent of the sample had an office, subsidiary, or branch in Japan and 37% did not.
Table 2 demonstrates that English is the business world's lingua franca: 96% of the sample firms had English on their site, though 39% are based in non-Anglo nations. Table 2 also shows that the next most used languages were French (39% of firms), German (38%), Spanish (31%), and Portuguese (26%). Japanese and Chinese were equally popular, appearing on about 23% of the sample sites.
The study used five categorical indicators, including the dependent variable.
Dependent variable. The corporate sites were viewed exhaustively to ascertain whether they offered Japanese. Foreign languages are integrated on Web sites in several ways. The most common approach is to provide links or buttons, with the target language indicated by foreign text or country flag on the corporate main page. Alternatively, foreign languages are placed on or linked to pages listing international offices, subsidiaries, or related companies. This study did not discriminate between ways Japanese was presented. Further, it did not differentiate between the amounts of Japanese language text offered. Therefore this variable was dichotomous: "0" indicated there was no Japanese, and "1" indicated Japanese could be found on the corporate Web site.
The use of a dichotomous variable limited the richness of the analysis. There was a broad range of Japanese text offerings, such as the address of a Japanese distributor, links to "jp" (i.e., Japan) domain sites, product catalogues, service information, corporate financial reports, and fully replicated, but translated sites. This range of language use, however, complicated data collection, leading the researchers to adopt a cleaner, reliable approach.
Independent variables. Firms were categorized as (a) those serving solely business markets (B2B, coded "0") or (b) those that target consumer markets, either solely or along with business customers (B2C, coded "1"). This inclusive B2C definition was used due to the current lack of precise B2B and B2C categories in the Internet research field (Dryden, 2001). Global 500 industry categories were used, along with consideration of individual firm cases.
The B2B firms were those in: aerospace and defense; building materials, glass; chemicals; computer services and software (except Microsoft); diversified financials (except Citigroup, American Express; Household International); diversified outsourcing services; energy; engineering, construction; food production; forest and paper products; industrial and farm equipment; mail, package, and freight delivery; metals; mining, crude-oil production; semiconductors, other components; publishing, printing (except Bertelsmann, Lagardère Groupe); trading; wholesalers (electronics, food and grocery, health care); and miscellaneous (except Christian Dior). The individual companies placed in the B2B category were Sun Microsystems, Delphi, Bosch, TRW, Johnson Controls, Man Group, Lear, Dana, and Magna.
The B2C firms were those in: airlines; banks: commercial and savings; beverages; computers, office equipment (except Sun Microsystems); electronics, electrical equipment; entertainment; food consumer products; food services; food and drug stores; general merchandisers; health care; insurance: life, health (mutual); insurance: life, health (stock); insurance: property and casualty (mutual); insurance: property and casualty (stock); motor vehicles and parts (except Delphi, Bosch, Denso, TRW, Johnson Controls, Man Group, Lear, Dana, Magna); petroleum refining; pharmaceuticals; rubber and plastic products (tire companies); scientific, photo, control equipment (e.g., Fuji Photo); securities; soaps, cosmetics; specialty retailers; telecommunications; and tobacco. The individual companies moved to this category were Microsoft, Citigroup, American Express, Bertelsmann, Lagardère Groupe, and Christian Dior.
The sample companies were grouped, again using Fortune Global 500 industry categories, as manufacturers (coded "0") or primarily service-providers (non-manufacturers) ("1"). Manufacturers were firms involved primarily in the businesses labeled "manufacturers" in the U.S. 1987 SIC classification scheme. Firms that were based in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand were classified as Anglo (coded "1") and the rest were non-Anglo ("0").
Finally the interaction variable was computed by multiplying the B2B-B2C (1 = B2C) and ManufacturingService (Service = 1) variables. This meant that B2C firms in the service sector were coded "1", and the others "0".
Control variable. "Japan physical presence" was used as a control variable in the analysis. Firms that had a Japanese office, branch, or subsidiary were coded "1" while those that did not were coded "0". This information was gathered by viewing the Web site and, if necessary, conducting searches using the key words "office", "branch", "subsidiary", and "Tokyo". Firms that had representatives (e.g., agents) in Japan were not categorized as having a physical Japan presence. Offering Japanese content on a Web site was expected to be positively linked to having subsidiaries, branches, and/or offices in that country.
This control was used to isolate the influences of the independent variables of interest from those linked to foreign direct investment (FDI) and market entry. A well-established research stream has found, for example that FDI and market entry are associated with cultural, psychological, and geographic distance, firm size, and home country exports (Horst, 1972; Grosse & Goldberg, 1991; Li & Guisinger, 1992; Grosse & Trevino, 1996; Dow, 2000; Henisz & Delios, 2001).
Logistic regression was used to test the hypothesized relationships. This technique was chosen because the dependent variable-offering Japanese or not-as well as the independent variables are dichotomous. This analysis estimates regression coefficients that maximize the "likelihood" of the event-having Japanese on the site. The overall model goodness of fit was examined by computing the likelihood value (-2 log likelihood). The statistical significance of each estimated coefficient was assessed using the Wald statistic for each.
Two procedures were used. The first evaluated the initial model, including all variables. The second was stepwise regression with backward elimination, based on the maximum likelihood-ratio statistic. The intent of the latter was to produce a parsimonious model in an exploratory context and to address concerns of possible relationships between the explanatory variables.
The two logistic regression analyses produced consistent findings, as shown in Table 3. There was support for two of the five research hypotheses. Firms serving consumer markets were more likely to offer Japanese. Those in financial services did not tend to have Japanese on their sites. There was also evidence of an interactive influence, but it was in a direction opposite to that proposed: B2C firms in service sectors, such as retail, were less likely to supply Japanese on their Web sites than other companies.
Two other hypotheses were not supported. Service sector firms were not more or less likely to offer Japanese than manufacturers. As well, Anglo-based companies did not differ significantly from their non-Anglo counterparts in their proclivity to have Japanese on their sites.
Finally, the results also show that the control variable-having a Japanese facility-was strongly linked to offering Japanese. In fact, it demonstrated the strongest link. Using this variable to capture factors associated with foreign direct investment revealed the existence of the other Web-related relationships noted above. It also supports the observation that firms adopt "click and mortar" strategies.
The research hypotheses treated the economics of language and international marketing as relatively discrete perspectives associated with Web multilingualism. The findings suggest that international marketing issues were more strongly associated with the decision to localize Web sites. However, a closer look indicates that these influences work in concert with a third factor, the degree to which firms have access to the market of interest.
The language capabilities of the firm's foreign market mattered. In this case companies using the Web to target a broader population of consumers, typically less proficient in English, were more likely to adapt to this need than those serving businesses. In contrast, foreign B2B firms were more likely to count on dealing with people competent in English. Though this link is attributed here primarily to marketing considerations, the economics of language are relevant. B2B firms are able to deal in English because their Japanese counterparts have chosen to invest in learning the lingua franca.
Financial services firms, as proposed, were less likely to offer English. This finding is consistent with the observation that most foreign finance activity in Japan is conducted in B2B markets, and the lingua franca of international finance is English. In addition, much of the business of foreign financial firms abroad is conducted with customers from their home countries. This would not be surprising given the post-bubble troubles in Japan's financial markets and the mixed outcomes seen by foreign entrants to date. Notably, Citigroup has had success in Japan while Merrill Lynch has drastically cut back its branches.
The statistically significant link between the interactive variable-manufacturing-service and B2B-B2C-and multilingualism indicates that consumer-focused service firms are less likely to offer Japanese than the other companies. This is probably because online retail has not been widely embraced in Japan, or any other country. This finding also questions whether consumer service firms are more likely to embrace "bricks and clicks" (Steinfield, 2002) strategies than others. A follow-up analysis confirmed they did not significantly differ in this respect: 36% of the B2C service firms with a physical presence in Japan had Japanese on their sites, while 34% of the others (B2B or manufacturers) with Japanese offices did as well.
Overall, support for the direct influence of the economics of language on multilingualism was equivocal. Service firms, despite having higher information content, were not more likely to have Japanese on their sites. As well, companies from Anglo countries did not differ in their proclivity to offer Japanese than their counterparts from other nations. This finding indicates that Anglo firms are driven more by market conditions than the economic factors associated with investing in Web multilingualism. That said, the influence of network externalities could be inferred from the tendency of B2B firms, including those in financial services, not to provide Japanese.
Conclusions and Future Research
This study's key implication is that international firms should develop or acquire Web language competence. This is most critical for firms selling to final consumers. The finding that firms from Anglo countries were as likely to offer Japanese as those from non-Anglo nations suggests that economic necessity tends to overcome ethnocentric approaches to foreign markets. This is especially the case for multinationals that have the ability to promote their offerings in many countries. The implication for smaller business is clear. Their choices will need to be strategically determined because they have fewer resources to devote to localization.
This study offers only an early, exploratory look at the intertwined aspects of the Internet, multinationals, and language. This is primarily due to two limitations. First, treating Japanese language use as a dichotomous variable is a simplistic way of assessing localization because it does not reflect the range of choices available to managers interested in using the Web to internationalize. The approach, chosen primarily to ensure data reliability, as outlined in the Methods section, did however reveal clear empirical relationships in this new realm of study. Future analyses of international Web strategies should deploy a more fine-grained approach.
The second main limitation is that no assessments of performance were collected, making it difficult for researchers, and more importantly managers, to assess the returns to Web multilingualism. Research ascertaining whether investments in localization pay off would offer useful direction to decision makers considering how to respond to the Web's global reach.
On a practical level, however, because a firm's Web use is complementary to other communication and market entry (e.g., "bricks and clicks") initiatives, determining the incremental payoffs of adding another language is problematic. Further studies in this stream should develop procedures such as field experiments to do this. SME exporters entering new export markets would constitute an ideal sample for this type of study because they, unlike MNEs, are less likely to have multiple channels reaching potential customers and, if they do, can more easily monitor them.
The study calls for more work, specifically on language on the Internet, and more generally, on the role of language in MNEs. With respect to Internet strategy, the capability to respond to inquiries in the target language requires further research attention. In the SME export field, research on the evolution of international e-mail relationships could prove fruitful and useful. More broadly, the widespread use of English in non-Anglo firms has only received anecdotal treatment in the research literature to date. This is an intriguing topic as non-Anglo firms such as Renault-Nissan and Alcatel adopt English as their corporate lingua franca. The perspectives raised here, especially the economics of language, can also be used to frame more formal investigations into multilingualism in annual reports, meetings, and intra-corporate communications. Such work would reveal not only the prevalence of language use but also the true multinationality of corporate governance and management.
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James H. Tiessen*
I thank two anonymous reviewers, the Area Editor, and journal co-editor Dr. Mary Brooks for their thorough reviews and constructive comments. I also thank Sabrina Ciardelli, Becky Wong, and Bruce Mackinnon for their competent and efficient research assistance.
*Michael G. DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, 1280 Main St. W., Hamilton, ON, Canada L8S 4M4. E-mail: email@example.com…
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Publication information: Article title: Multinational Multilingualism on the Internet: The Use of Japanese on Corporate Web Sites. Contributors: Tiessen, James H - Author. Journal title: Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences. Volume: 21. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 2004. Page number: 180+. © Administrative Sciences Association of Canada Dec 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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