Image and reality: Banking in los angeles

Robert B. Kaplan, E. Ellen, Cynthia L. Hagstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Los Angeles is perhaps the most polyglot city on earth. Businesses operating in this multicultural multilingual community should, one would think, wish to take cognizance of this linguistic and cultural diversity in order to increase their respective market share. This paper explores written business communication in thirty-four bank branches which operate in identifiable ethnic communities—Japanese, Chinese, and Hispanic. The objective of the study is to determine corporate commitment to multi-lingualism, and to analyze specific attempts by banks to reach out to non-English-speaking communities. Two types of written texts were examined using, where appropriate, standard discourse analytic processes as well as ethnographic procedures: (1) brochures describing bank services, and (2) written instructions to customers, especially those associated with the use of automated teller machines ( which are really a subset of brochures). The study compares documents written in English with equivalent documents written in Japanese, Chinese and Spanish. Particular attention is paid to information presentation. Three types of translation problems are defined and described in the texts: (1) translation error; (2) translation misfit; and (3) translation omission. The results of these comparisons show that there is a substantial failure on the part of banks in Los Angeles to serve their non-English-speaking clientele. The economic consequences for banks that do not adequately interact with that significant segment of the market can be inferred. 1The findings of this study suggest that corporate banking policies concerning written banking documents reflect banks’ compliance with regulations, though the policies may not be entirely effective. It is hoped that language-planning efforts by banks might be applied more uniformly and strategically to enhance profitability in minority language communities and to serve minority communities more effectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-456
Number of pages30
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • banking
  • business translation
  • discourse analysis
  • language planning
  • language policy

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