The role of translation in the cross-cultural transferability of corporate codes of conduct

Tréguer-Felten, Geneviève – International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, 17(1), 2017, p. 137–149.

Multinationals’ corporate codes of conduct (CCCs) are meant to guide employees throughout organizations. Research draws attention to their problematic cross-cultural transferability but hardly ever considers whether a monolingual version or a translation into employees’ mother tongue is used, making language a non-issue. A position disproved by empirical work on the diverse understandings of values formulated in English as a lingua franca (ELF) or on translation negative impact when employees do not recognize themselves in the personnel depicted. Drawing upon the translation (from English into French) of a specific code of conduct that embeds it in the local culture, I contend that translation is the key to corporate code cross-cultural transferability. Articulating a cross-cultural discourse analysis (using semantic, syntactic and enunciative categories) of the source and target texts with a culture interpretive approach (d’Iribarne, 1989, La Logique de l’Honneur. Paris: Seuil.), I ‘deconstruct’ the translation process and show how the combination of apparently insignificant linguistic modifications make the target-text steer away from the initial cultural context and set action in new cultural settings likely to entail a similar effect on the staff. The cultural underpinnings of the translated code find confirmation in local organizations’ CCCs. The findings also highlight the fact that such an interdisciplinary approach to explore locally produced or translated CCCs could highlight the beliefs and business norms acceptable locally and help practitioners to achieve cross-cultural transfer of CCCs.

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