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2016/2017  KAN-CKOMV6000U  Identities and languages in multinational organisations

English Title
Identities and languages in multinational organisations

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Autumn
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Min. participants 40
Study board
Study Board for BSc/MSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, MSc
Course coordinator
  • Mette Zølner - Department of Management, Society and Communication (MSC)
Main academic disciplines
  • Globalization and international business
  • Communication
  • Sociology
Last updated on 07-03-2016
Learning objectives
To achieve the grade 12, students should meet the following learning objectives with no or only minor mistakes or errors: To be awarded the highest mark (12), the student, with no or just a few insignificant shortcomings, must fulfil the following learning objectives:
  • The student should be able to account for the theoretical perspectives on language introduced in the course.
  • The student should be able to discuss the strength and weakness in those theories when analysing expression of language in the internal communication of global organization.
  • The student should be able to apply the relevant theoretical perspective on a given issue of language in global organizations
  • The student should be able to describe, assess and critically discuss relevant analytical tools and methods for understanding the role of language in multinational organizations.
  • The student should be able to describe, assess and critically reflect on strategies when communicating in multilingual communities.
Course prerequisites
BSc or BA
Prerequisites for registering for the exam
Number of mandatory activities: 1
Requirements about active class participation (assessed approved/not approved)
Student presentation
Identities and Languages in Multinational Organisations:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 20 pages
Assignment type Case based assignment
Duration 72 hours to prepare
Grading scale 7-step scale
Examiner(s) Internal examiner and second internal examiner
Exam period Winter and Winter
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Course content and structure

Course description

The course explores questions related to sense-making and identities when internal communication spans geographical boundaries. These challenges will be investigated in relation to language that lies at the heart of activities in multinational organizations as these per definition constitute multilingual communities (Luo & Shenkar, 2006). By language will be understood various forms, including national, corporate and technical language. Particular attention will be paid to challenges encountered in multinational organization with English as a shared language (Brannen & Doz, 2012; Kassis Henderson, 2005; Fredriksson et al., 2006).


From constituting the forgotten factor in international business (Marschan et al. 1997; Marschan et al. 1999), language has, in recent years, become the focal point in a growing body of literature that conceives of the multifaceted roles of languages (Brannen et al. 2014). This literature takes a sociolinguistic, contextually grounded and emic approach with the aim to capture implications of language use in today’s global organizations. Hereby, this approach implicitly questions the prevailing conception in International Business that language is a mere instrument of communication. By the same token, this approach addresses the various roles that language plays in multinational organizations, such as offering cultural resources for shared meanings and identities; and, in defining hierarchies and power.


A first aim of the course is to introduce and discuss three perspectives of the multifaceted functions of language: 1) languages as semiotic systems that enable and constrain sense-making and sense-giving in organizations (Brannen, 2004; Weick, 2001; Gioia & Chittipeddi, 1991); 2) languages as symbolic power that gives voice to some organizational actors while silencing others (Boussebaa, & Gabriel, 2014; Sliwa & Johansson,  2014; Tietze, 2004;); 3) languages as identity carriers that contribute in constructing boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and in inscribing  individual speakers within sociological power relations that go beyond a given organizational setting (Bourdieu, 1993; Lauring 2008). These approaches provide comprehension of how and why corporate language designs and practices are closely related to sense-making, identity constructions and power. In addition, they also provide tools for analysing how the choice of languages might interfere in unanticipated ways in internal communication strategies.


A second aim of the course is to introduce and to critically discuss corporate and individual strategies for coping with communication in multilingual environments (Bjørge & Whittaker, 2014; Brannen & Doz, 2012; Feeley & Harzing, 2003; Harzing, & Feely, 2008; Harzing & Pudelko, 2012).

Teaching methods
The course consists of 33 hours and will mix lectures by faculty and active participation of students through case analysis, group and plenary discussions. The course readings amount to approximately 800 pages, including academic articles and extracts from books and manuals.
Student workload
Preparation for class + teaching 134 hours
exam 72 hours
Expected literature

Bjørge, A.K. & Whittaker, S. 2014. ‘Language management’, in Gehrke, B. & Claes, M.-T., Global leadership practices. A cross-cultural management perspective. Palgrave macmillan.

Bourdieu, P. 1993. Language and Symbolic Power. Harvard University Press.

Boussebaa, M., Sinha, S. &  Gabriel, Y., 2014. Englishization in offshore call centers: A postcolonial perspective. Journal of International Business Studies (2014) 45: 1152–1169.

Brannen, M. Y.  & Doz, Y.L. 2012. Corporate languages and strategic agility: Trapped in your jargon or lost in translation?. California Management Review, 54(3): 77-97.

Brannen, M. Y. 2004. When Mickey loses face: Recontextualization, semantic fit, and the semiotics of foreignness. Academy of Management Review, 29(4): 593-616.

Brannen, M.Y., Piekkari, R. & Tietze, S. 2014. The multifaceted role of language in international business: Unpacking the forms, functions and features of a critical challenge to MNC theory and performance. Journal of International Business Studies, 45: 495-507.

Feeley, A. J.  & Harzing, A.-W. 2003. Language management in multinational companies. Cross Cultural management: An International Journal, 10(2): 37-52.

Fredriksson,R., Barner-Rasmussen, W. & Piekkari, R. 2006. The multinational corporation as a multilingual organization: the notion of a common corporate language. Corporate communication: An international journal, 11(4): 406-423.

Gioia, D.A. & Chittipeddi, K. 1991. Sensemaking and sensegiving in strategic change initiation. Strategic Management Journal, 12: 433-448.

Harzing, A. -W. & Feely, A.J. 2008. The language barrier and its implications for HQ-subsidiary relationships. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 63(2): 49-61.

Harzing, A. -W., & Pudelko, M. 2012. Language competencies, policies and practices in multinational corporations: A comprehensive review and comparison of Anglophone, Asian, Continental European and Nordic MNCs. Journal of World Business: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2012.06.011.

Kassis Henderson, J. 2005. Language diversity in international management teams. International Studies of Organization & Management, 35(2): 66-82.

Lauring, J. 2008. Rethinking social identity theory in international encounters: Language use as a negotiated object for identity making. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 8(3): 343-361.

Luo, Y. & Shenkar, O. 2006. The Multinational Corporation as a Multilingual Community: Language and Organization in a Global Context. Journal of International Business Studies, 37(3): 321-339.

Marschan, R., Welch, D.E. & Welch, L.S.  1997. Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management. European Management Journal, 15(5): 591-598.

Marschan-Piekkari, R., Welch, D.E.  & Welch, L.S. 1999. In the shadow: the impact of language on structure, power and communication in the multinational. International Business Review, 8: 421-440.

Sliwa, M. & Johansson, M. 2014. How non-native English-speaking staff are evaluated in linguistically diverse organizations: A sociolinguistic perspective. Journal of International Business Studies (2014) 45: 1133-1151.

Tietze, S. 2004. Spreading the management gospel – in English. Language and Intercultural Communication, Multilingual Matters, 4(3): 175-189.

Weick, K.E.2001. Making sense of the organization. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.


Last updated on 07-03-2016