Language Operating Capacity: the Construct, Antecedents and Outcome Variables

  • Ankita Tibrewal

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Interest in the role of languages in international business has increased due to the ever-increasing globalised teams, the workforce or global marketplace. Despite this trend, there is lack of understanding about the role of languages in international business performance. This PhD thesis develops a two-factor Language Operating Capacity (LOC) as a means to address the unique challenges associated with the internationalisation of small and medium enterprises. In international business, both language and culture are key aspects to understanding and developing effective marketing and business strategies. The present cultural frameworks capture core values and practices within a national or organisational culture in an attempt to understand cultural diversity and how to manage such cultural challenges. Although influential across many streams of international business and management literature, the current literature is underdeveloped or considers it only implicitly. Despite agreement among researchers that foreign languages can pose structural challenges for communication and networking essential in international business. To date, no conceptual or empirical work has been developed that incorporates a construct reflective of language capabilities at an organisational level, with the exception of that by Welch and Welch (2018) which focusses explicitly on multinational corporations, ignoring SMEs, and does not empirically test the conceptualisation. Accordingly, this thesis advances an understanding of LOC by highlighting the importance of creating a valid, reliable measurement instrument and conceives of the construct as a dynamic capability. Accordingly, this thesis aims to advance an understanding of LOC by highlighting the importance of creating a valid, reliable measurement instrument and conceives of the construct as a dynamic capability. The thesis thus develops the concept of LOC by, firstly, presenting a new conceptual definition of the construct within an SME context to provide a theoretical basis for the development and validation of an LOC scale; secondly, identifying what constitutes LOC and to what extent individual and firm-level factors (micro-macro mechanisms) explain the level of language capability within a firm; and thirdly, ascertain the impact that LOC has on soft behavioural constructs as well as hard performance measures, namely: Export Orientation, Networking Capability and Export Performance.

    In order to deliver on these three main contributions, two comprehensive studies were conducted a) to develop a valid and parsimonious measure for LOC and b) how LOC behaves within the nomological network of its antecedents and outcome variables. The mixed-methods research, grounded in theoretical and empirical evidence indicate that LOC, the newly developed concept is statistically different and well positioned within the nomological network of the two related yet distinct constructs: cultural intelligence and linguistic competence. Further, the research findings provide evidence for two dimensions of LOC: Motivation and Preparedness, and Actual Utilisation, demonstrating strong support for the construct. Further, based on data obtained from survey results collected from 417 SMEs, empirical evidence shows that firm level-individual level antecedents or micro-macro mechanism namely: linguistic competence and cultural intelligence (individual) and willingness to invest, training and awareness of technological and linguistic services (firm level antecedents) has positive influence on LOC. Significantly, the findings of the antecedent construct capture multidimensionality (both firm level and individual level) of LOC. Moreover, findings clearly indicate LOC is directly related with all three outcome variables: export orientation, networking capability and export performance. In addition, findings support LOC as a process such that it mediates the relationship between its antecedents and export orientation. The results also indicate that networking capability positively moderates the relationship between LOC and export performance. Overall, this research theoretically and empirically brings the LOC construct closer to a complete understanding of language capabilities, that is, not only what constitutes LOC but also its drivers, along with its effect on performance for SMEs. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of the findings, the limitations of the study, and potential avenues for future research
    Date of AwardSept 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAd de Jong (Supervisor), Geoff Parkes (Supervisor) & Iftakar Haji (Supervisor)


    • Language operating capacity
    • Language capabilities
    • Scale development
    • Internationalisation
    • Export orientation
    • Networking capability
    • Export performance
    • Small and medium-sized enterprises

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