The directionality of uncertainty expressions and the foreign language effect

Yuqian Zhang, Anura De Zoysa, Corinne Cortese

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    Purpose – This study investigates two issues inherent in accounting judgements: (1) the directional influence of uncertainty expressions and how they might positively or negatively affect accounting judgements and (2) the foreign-language effect (FLE), which refers to the reduction of judgement bias that occurs when an accounting judgement is made in one’s foreign language. This study examines both issues in the context of accounting judgements made in Chinese and English languages. Design/methodology/approach – This study conducts two experiments. The first experiment applies a 2x2 between-subject research design, and the second experiment adopts a 2x2 within-subject approach. Findings – The overall results reveal that directionality biases exist in the exercise of accounting judgement in subjects’ native and foreign languages. However, when switching the language from the subjects’ native tongue to a foreign language, overall directionality biases are reduced. Research limitations/implications – This study suggests that the use of native and non-native languages can have unintended consequences on accounting judgements. However, due to the limitations of using students as proxies for professionals and applying self-assessed language scales, the literature would benefit from future research that extends the subject profile to professional accountants and that assesses language skills more objectively. Originality/value – This study contributes to the literature on cross-lingual accounting, both theoretically and methodologically. It also extends the FLE theory to an accounting context, providing insights on how language is involved in judgements concerning uncertainty expressions.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalMeditari Accountancy Research
    Issue numberahead-
    Early online date4 Jan 2020
    Publication statusPublished Online - 4 Jan 2020


    • Accounting judgement
    • Directionality bias
    • Foreign-language effect
    • Uncertainty expression


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