Culture is also communication. About cultural differences in business settings include languages of time, space, things, friendships, and agreements. Indeed, learning to interpret correctly the symbols that surround us is a key part of socialization. And this learning begins immediately after birth as we begin to hear the language spoken and see the facial expressions and feel the touch and taste the milk of our mothers. We begin our discussion of symbolic systems with language, the most obvious part and the part that most often involves conscious communication.

Language: We should mention that for some around the world language is itself thought of as a social institution often with political importance. Certainly the French go to extreme lengths and expenses to preserve the purity of their francais. In Canada the language has been the focus of political disputes including secession although things seem to have claimed down there most recently. Unfortunately, as the number of spoken languages continues to decline worldwide, so does the interesting cultural diversity of the planet.

The importance of understanding the language of a country cannot be overestimated, particularly if you’re selling your products in France. The successful international marketer must achieve expert communication, which requires a thorough understanding of the language as well s the ability to speak it. Advertising copy writers should be concerned less with obvious differences between languages and more with the idiomatic meaning expressed. It is not sufficient to say want to translate into Spanish, for instance, because across Spanish-speaking Latin America the language vocabulary varies widely. Tambo, for example, means a roadside inn in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru; a dairy farm in Argentina and Uruguay; and a brothel in Chile. If that gives you a problem, consider communicating with the people of Papua New Guinea. Some 750 languages, each distinct and mutually unintelligible, are spoken there. This crucial of accurate translations in marketing communication is discussed.

The relationship between language and international marketing is important in another way. Recent studies indicate that a new concept, linguistic distance is proving useful to marketing researchers in market segmentation and strategic entry decisions. Linguistic distance has been shown to be an important factor in determining the amount of trade between countries. The idea is that crossing wider language differences increases transaction costs.

Over the years linguistic researchers have determined that languages around the world conform to family trees based on the similarity of their forms and developments. For example, Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese are all classified as romance languages because of their common roots in Latin. Distance can be measured on these linguistic trees. If we assume English to be the starting point, German is one branch away, Danish two, Spanish three, Japanese four, Hebrew five, Chinese six, and Thai seven. These distances from English scores are listed for a sampling of cultures in Exhibit.

Other work in the area is demonstrating a direct influence of language on cultural values, expectations and even conceptions of time. For example as linguistic distance from English increases, individualism decreases. These studies are the first in this genre, and much more work needs to b done. However, the notion of linguistic distance appears to hold promise for better understanding and prediction of cultural differences in both consumer management values expectations and behaviors.

Moreover, the relationship between language spoken and cultural values holds deeper implications. That is, as English spreads around the world via school systems and the Internet, cultural values of individualism and egalitarianism will spread with it. For example, both Chinese Mandarin speakers and Spanish speakers must learn two words for you (ni and nin, and tu and usted respectively). The proper use of the tu depends completely on knowledge of the social context of the conversation. Respect for status is communicated by the use of nin and usted. In English there is only one form for you. Speakers can ignore social context and status and still speak correctly. It’s easier, and social status becomes les important.

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