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"Linguistic Distance" as a Determinant of Bilateral Trade


  • William K. Hutchinson

    () (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)


We introduce a measure of language difficulty called "linguistic distance" into a modified gravity model to determine whether the fact that a language is further away from English affects the level of trade. Our sample of 36 non-English speaking countries includes Japan and South Korea, which we argue are special cases due to World War II, the Korean War, and subsequent close political and economic ties with the United States. Presence of a stock of immigrants in the home country has been shown to enhance trade, both exports and imports, with the country of origin. Controlling for network and information attributes provided by the presence of a stock of immigrants, the special relationship with Japan and Korea, and the standard gravity model variables, we find that the further a country�s primary language is from English, the lower trade will be between the United States and that country. These results hold for aggregate exports and imports as well as for exports and imports of consumer manufactures and producer manufactures.

Suggested Citation

  • William K. Hutchinson, 2001. ""Linguistic Distance" as a Determinant of Bilateral Trade," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0130, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics, revised Oct 2003.
  • Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:0130

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Raynold, Prosper & A. Dunlevy, James, 1998. "Aggregate Shocks and the Relationship between U.S. Business Cycle Fluctuations and Export Performance," Journal of Economic Integration, Center for Economic Integration, Sejong University, vol. 13, pages 163-198.
    2. Bergstrand, Jeffrey H, 1985. "The Gravity Equation in International Trade: Some Microeconomic Foundations and Empirical Evidence," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 67(3), pages 474-481, August.
    3. William K. Hutchinson & James A. Dunlevy, 2001. "The Pro-Trade Effect of Immigration on American Exports During Period 1870 to 1910," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0125, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    4. Dunlevy, James A, 1980. "A Test of the Capacity Pressure Hypothesis within a Simultaneous Equations Model of Export Performance," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 62(1), pages 131-135, February.
    5. Bergstrand, Jeffrey H, 1989. "The Generalized Gravity Equation, Monopolistic Competition, and the Factor-Proportions Theory in International Trade," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(1), pages 143-153, February.
    6. Wagner, Don & Head, Keith & Ries, John, 2002. "Immigration and the Trade of Provinces," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 49(5), pages 507-525, December.
    7. Bergstrand, Jeffrey H, 1990. "The Heckscher-Ohlin-Samuelson Model, the Linder Hypothesis and the Determinants of Bilateral Intra-industry Trade," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(403), pages 1216-1229, December.
    8. Gould, David M, 1994. "Immigrant Links to the Home Country: Empirical Implications for U.S. Bilateral Trade Flows," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 76(2), pages 302-316, May.
    9. Keith Head & John Ries, 1998. "Immigration and Trade Creation: Econometric Evidence from Canada," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 31(1), pages 47-62, February.
    10. Melitz, Jacques, 2008. "Language and foreign trade," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 52(4), pages 667-699, May.
    11. Dunlevy, James A. & Hutchinson, William K., 2001. "The Pro-Trade Effect of Immigration on American Exports During the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries," IZA Discussion Papers 375, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. Dunlevy, James A. & Hutchinson, William K., 1999. "The Impact of Immigration on American Import Trade in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(04), pages 1043-1062, December.
    13. Baier, Scott L. & Bergstrand, Jeffrey H., 2001. "The growth of world trade: tariffs, transport costs, and income similarity," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 1-27, February.
    14. James E. Rauch & Vitor Trindade, 2002. "Ethnic Chinese Networks In International Trade," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(1), pages 116-130, February.
    15. Anderson, James E, 1979. "A Theoretical Foundation for the Gravity Equation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(1), pages 106-116, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Victor Ginsburgh & Shlomo Weber, 2012. "Culture Languages and Economics," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2012-009, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    2. Victor Ginsburgh & Shlomo Weber, 2016. "Linguistic Distances and Ethno-Linguistic Fractionalisation and Disenfranchisement Indices," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2016-25, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

    More about this item


    Trade; information costs; immigration; gravity;

    JEL classification:

    • F1 - International Economics - - Trade
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics

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