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In the shadow: the impact of language on structure, power and communication in the multinational


  • Marschan-Piekkari, Rebecca
  • Welch, Denice
  • Welch, Lawrence


The principal aim of this paper is to explore the impact of language on communication within large and geographically dispersed multinationals. Much of the earlier research emphasizes the importance of horizontal communication and team building as control and coordination mechanism in such organizations: yet the role of language is often forgotten. Based on an in-depth case study of one Finnish multinational, Kone and its diverse subsidiaries, it is argued that language imposes its own structure on communication flows and personal networks. Subsidiary staff with confined language skills tend to build supporting personal relationships with language mediators, while those with superior language capabilities are able to build broad contact networks within the multinational. The investigation also reveals that language is often used as an informal source of expert power in multinationals.

Suggested Citation

  • Marschan-Piekkari, Rebecca & Welch, Denice & Welch, Lawrence, 1999. "In the shadow: the impact of language on structure, power and communication in the multinational," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 421-440, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:iburev:v:8:y:1999:i:4:p:421-440

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marschan, Rebecca & Welch, Denise & Welch, Lawrence, 1996. "Control in less-hierarchical multinationals: The role of personal networks and informal communication," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 137-150, April.
    2. Sumantra Ghoshal & Harry Korine & Gabriel Szulanski, 1994. "Interunit Communication in Multinational Corporations," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 40(1), pages 96-110, January.
    3. Marschan, Rebecca & Welch, Denice & Welch, Lawrence, 1997. "Language: The forgotten factor in multinational management," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 591-598, October.
    4. Park, Hoon & Sun Dai Hwang & Harrison, J. Kline, 1996. "Sources and consequences of communication problems in foreign subsidiaries: The case of United States firms in South Korea," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 79-98, February.
    5. Andersson, Ulf & Forsgren, Mats, 1996. "Subsidiary embeddedness and control in the multinational corporation," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 5(5), pages 487-508, October.
    6. Forsgren, Mats, 1990. "Managing the international multi-centre firm: Case studies from Sweden," European Management Journal, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 261-267, June.
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