Reversal of language hierarchy and the politics of translation in a multinational corporation

Jonna Ristolainen, Virpi Outila*, Rebecca Piekkari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explain the reversal of language hierarchy in a Finnish multinational corporation (MNC) from a political perspective. This paper situated the language hierarchy in the historical context of the colonial-style relationship between Finland and Russia. From a post-colonial perspective, the colonial legacy of Russia has had an influence on language strategy and everyday translation work in the Finnish multinational until the present day. Design/methodology/approach: This paper undertook a case study based on qualitative secondary analysis of existing data sets. These data sets originated from two previously conducted studies of the same Finnish MNC. Findings: The findings revealed a reversal of the traditional corporate language hierarchy. Russian, as the host country language of powerful local subsidiaries, rose to the top of the hierarchy at the expense of English, the common corporate language, and other languages. The colonial-style relationship was enacted by professional and paraprofessional translators who collaborated by using “the master’s language and imitating the master’s voice” to reap the strategic benefits of local responsiveness. Originality/value: In contrast to previous work drawing on post-colonial theory in the study of MNCs, this paper represents the headquarters in Finland as the “colonised” party and the Russian subsidiaries as the “coloniser.” Owing to its colonial legacy, Russian, the host country language, became very powerful and influenced the language strategy of the entire MNC. This paper conceptualized translation as a multilevel phenomenon and offers a holistic explanation of why the language hierarchy in the Finnish MNC was reversed.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalCritical Perspectives on International Business
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Apr 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Language
  • Multinational corporations
  • Politics
  • Translation
  • Translators


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