University of Oulu

Karhunen, P., Kankaanranta, A. & Räisänen, T. Towards a Richer Understanding of Language and Identity in the MNC: Constructing Cosmopolitan Identities Through “English”. Manag Int Rev 63, 507–530 (2023).

Towards a richer understanding of language and identity in the MNC : constructing cosmopolitan identities through “English”

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Author: Karhunen, Päivi1; Kankaanranta, Anne2; Räisänen, Tiina3
Organizations: 1Aalto University School of Business, PO Box 21230, 00076, AALTO, Finland
2Department of Management, Aalto University School of Business, PO Box 21240, 00076, AALTO, Finland
3Research Unit for Languages and Literature, University of Oulu, PO Box 8000, 90014, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.8 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-02-23


Bringing in insights from sociolinguistics, this conceptual paper advances the theorizing on language and identity in the MNC, viewed as socially constructed by individuals in interaction when they cross fluid linguistic and geographical boundaries. We posit that the identities of global business professionals in the MNC are not intrinsically tied to nationality and native language, they are rather cosmopolitan and constructed in interactions in English as the working language (BELF: English as a Business Lingua Franca). We further conceptualize the multilingual MNC as a social constellation — providing the context for processes of identity construction but also shaped by them. We outline three propositions that capture the ways in which BELF contributes to the construction of a cosmopolitan identity on three dimensions (individual, interactional and contextual) in multilingual professional MNC settings. The first one concerns the identification of individuals as participants in BELF interactions drawing from their different linguistic resources, national origins and professions, and previous experiences. The focus in the second one is on BELF interactions that manifest an orientation to both sharedness and difference in skills, knowledge and social relations. The third proposition concerns the MNC context in terms of enabling BELF interactions and being (re)constructed as a social constellation with fluid linguistic and geographical boundaries. We further elaborate on the methodological implications of sociolinguistic and cosmopolitan approaches to IM research on identity in general, and how our propositions could guide future research on language and identity in the MNC in particular.

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Series: Management international review
ISSN: 0938-8249
ISSN-E: 1861-8901
ISSN-L: 0938-8249
Volume: 63
Issue: 3
Pages: 507 - 530
DOI: 10.1007/s11575-023-00504-6
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 512 Business and management
6121 Languages
Funding: Open Access funding provided by Aalto University. No funding to declare.
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit