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Conclusion

Due to the importance of finance and accounting, the terminology used in this field has also been the subject of research in a variety of disciplines and sub-disciplines. This paper has tried to provide a brief overview of the various strands of research. At the same time, an increasingly globalised world economy has made the topic of standardisation in accounting, and particularly financial reporting, a central issue. It would thus be reasonable to expect that, as accounting and reporting systems converge, so will the terminology involved.

However, different traditions and cultures, regarding both terminology and its underlying concepts, have in many cases proven surprisingly resistant to standardisation efforts and effects. In practice, companies seem to use a mixture of terms and definitions drawn from international standards and local practice, with significant differences when using English or their local tongue (Edelmann 2010). Part of the reluctance to switch to IFRS terminology can be explained by factors inherent in IFRS, with the problem of finding accurate translations being of particular importance. Moreover, accounting terminology shows a great deal of variety, ambiguity and inconsistency, not only across languages, but also within individual languages. This further inhibits a faster take-up of new terminology and thus faster harmonisation.

In pointing out these problems, it is hoped that practitioners as well as learners can become more aware of the difficulty, and indeed at times impossibility, of finding terminological equivalence in two languages. That, in turn, can develop a greater sensitivity to the vagaries of terminology in accounting and finance, as well as other lexical fields. Lexicographers and translators can also benefit from research in this field. On the one hand, greater efforts might be taken to rectify inaccuracies. On the other, awareness of the situation and broader knowledge of the factors involved could further new attempts to overcome these obstacles. Simply suggesting that “in case of doubt the original International Accounting Standards Board text should be consulted when answering accounting questions” (Wiley 2014: xix) might be sufficient for the publisher of a bilingual textbook, but it is hardly a satisfactory solution to the translation problem.

Research into accounting terminology is also of relevance for the teaching profession. Teachers should make sure that students become aware of the irregular use of terminology, the lack of equivalence in both terms and concepts between languages and also the flaws in IFRS from a terminological point of view. This is not only of practical relevance but also fosters critical thinking about the accounting industry as a “hegemonic system for the production of truth”, as Graham (2013:125) puts it. The findings of this paper and of previous research provide some basis for doing so.

This chapter has only been able to provide a brief overview and sketch out the most pertinent elements involved in the language of accounting in the light of the ongoing standardisation process. Future research can contribute much to providing more detailed and more substantial data. It would be interesting, for instance, to conduct a large-scale study of company reports across multiple languages to establish more precisely the degree of acceptance and use of IFRS terminology. Also, by delving more into the numerous problem areas of translation and inaccuracies within IFRS texts, it may be possible to prompt standard-setters to contribute more to linguistic harmonisation. Existing errors could thus be corrected, and conclusions fed back into existing translation procedures, thereby improving them. Greater awareness on the official bodies’ part might even make them realise that asking the impossible is bound to be less effective than developing more workable solutions. In such ways, language harmonisation could contribute a great deal to the overarching objective of accounting standardisation.

 
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