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Language in Economics and Accounting Research: The Role of Linguistic History

    This article is part of the issue:

    This paper investigates whether a consideration of linguistic history is important when studying the relationship between economic and linguistic behaviors. Several recent economic studies have suggested that differences between languages can affect the way people think and behave (linguistic relativity or Sapir–Whorf hypothesis). For example, the way a language obliges one to talk about the future might influence intertemporal decisions, such as a company’s earnings management. However, languages have historical relations that lead to shared features—they do not constitute independent observations. This can inflate correlations between variables if not dealt with appropriately (Galton’s problem). We discuss this problem and provide an overview of the latest methods to control linguistic history. We then provide an empirical demonstration of how Galton’s problem can bias results in an investigation of whether a company’s earnings management behavior is predicted by structural features of its employees’ language. We find a strong relationship when not controlling linguistic history, but the relationship disappears when controls are applied. In contrast, economic predictors of earnings management remain robust. Overall, our results suggest that careful consideration of linguistic history is important for distinguishing true causes from spurious correlations in economic behaviors.

    JEL: D83, M41, Z10


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