Context: Language intricately interweaves with culture. Acquiring another language provides the tools for interpreting that culture's values and rules guiding social engagement. Hundreds of millions of consumers are currently learning and using English as a second (or third, etc.) tongue. To what extent does this appropriation of English entail convergence towards the consumption values/behaviors of consumers living in the Anglo world? Objective: This international study examines the impact of language, specifically multilingualism, as a conveyor of culture and shaper of consumer behavior. Method: Over 2000 individual consumers were surveyed in eight countries (Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Mexico, Chile, Canada, Korea, and India). A quantitative questionnaire included an array of measures related to use of various languages, along with numerous items to tap each of the multifaceted cultural constructs and consumer dispositions, along with many food behaviors, and pertinent demographics. For each language (vernacular, English, and up to two others) two components (media, interpersonal) are linked to ethnic identity, global acculturation, consumer dispositions (cosmopolitanism, consumer ethnocentrism, and materialism), and the consumption of various foodstuffs. Results: Subsequent to factor and reliability analyses, a series of comparisons were made on the construct interrelationships, between high- and low- context languages, as well as between bilingual and multilingual consumers. The findings demonstrated that acquiring English espouses numerous values and behaviors characterizing global consumer culture, including enhanced materialism and cosmopolitanism, and diminished levels of consumer ethnocentrism and communication in the vernacular. Consistent with cultural integration, however, English usage promoted the interpersonal expression in minority tongues. The various languages considered-in isolation and in tandem-were significantly linked to food consumption and several acculturation patterns were identified. Conclusion: Asymmetries are present between monolingual Anglo-American marketers and their potentially bilingual/multilingual consumers. As consumer behavior becomes more global, its meaning remains partially embedded in local terms, even among English-fluent consumers.

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Keywords Bilingualism, Culture, English, Ethnic identity, Globalization, Language
Persistent URL
Journal Journal of Business Research
Cleveland, M. (Mark), Laroche, M. (Michel), & Papadopoulos, N. (2015). You are what you speak? Globalization, multilingualism, consumer dispositions and consumption. Journal of Business Research, 68(3), 542–552. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2014.09.008