The effectiveness of communication within multilingual contexts
Dr. Jos Hornikx, Associate professor in Communication and Information Studies
As a result of globalization, people from different cultures speaking different languages interact and collaborate more than ever before. CLS researchers aim to identify and clarify which factors determine the effectiveness of communication within these multilingual contexts. This communication can take place in a standardized language that is a shared foreign language of both participants, often English, or in a language that is one of the participant’s native language, but a foreign language for the other. Dr. Jos Hornikx, “When studying communication, language is our starting point. We’re specifically interested in the linguistic characteristics of communication between people from different cultures, who often have different mother tongues. Understanding how cross-cultural interactions can be successful advances our knowledge of language and language use in general.”
The researchers study multilingualism and cross-cultural interactions in various communicative contexts, ranging from advertising to education and from business to informal interactions. Advertising is one of the central contexts within which they study the use of multiple languages and foreign languages. The relevance of this context lies in the way organizations systematically think about their language use to achieve certain goals, most notably to persuade people to buy their products or services.
Hornikx, “By using a foreign language in their advertisements, organizations and brands position themselves as belonging to a foreign culture. We study the associations this foreign language use evokes in customers and how these associations might, in turn, lead to persuasive effects.”
Although the use of foreign languages in advertisements is not always consciously perceived by its recipients, the CLS researchers discovered that it nevertheless influences their attitudes. For example, the German car manufacturer Audi uses the slogan Vorsprung durch Technik in its commercials and advertisements, also in non-German speaking parts of the world. This evokes specific associations about the brand and its products, originating from the recipient’s general associations with the country Germany (e.g. reliable, sustainable). Such associations play an important role in the extent to which an advertisement persuades the recipient into appreciating the marketed product. If the use of a foreign language evokes positive and desirable associations, recipients were shown to develop a more positive attitude towards the advertised product and a more positive purchase intention. “Results like this generate fundamental insights into how language works,” says Hornikx.
Not only do organizations use foreign languages in their product advertisements, they are also used in job advertisements. Dutch job advertisements often include English words like sales advisor and digital developer. It has long been thought that this attracts the attention of readers and might therefore even result in a larger number of qualified applicants. CLS researchers developed an eye tracking study to test this long-held assumption. By examining the viewing patterns of people reading all-Dutch job advertisements and mixed Dutch-English job advertisements, they were able to assess the attention-getting function of foreign language use. Contrary to expectations, the Dutch-English job advertisements did not attract more attention than the all-Dutch advertisements. This result is of practical relevance to human resources departments. Moreover, it advances our theoretical understanding of how people process and respond to foreign languages.
In the future, CLS researchers aim to further extend their current lines of research into the impact of foreign and regional accents in a greater range of communicative settings. Their studies on this topic are currently generating high levels of interest in current debates on the use of English in educational contexts. The researchers will continue their search for refined answers to questions about the relation between a speaker’s accent and how this speaker is perceived by listeners in terms of comprehensibility, likeability, and expertise. Hornikx, “Empirically examining the wide range of aspects related to multilingualism, in highly diverse communicative contexts, is what makes our research ambitious and unique.”