The influence of native versus foreign language on Chinese subjects’ aggressive financial reporting judgments

Peipei Pan*, Chris Patel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Researchers have suggested that ethical judgments about “right” and “wrong” are the result of deep and thoughtful principles and should therefore be consistent and not influenced by factors, such as language (Costa et al. in PLoS ONE 9(4):e94842, 2014b, p. 1). As long as an ethical scenario is understood, individuals’ resolution should not depend on whether the ethical scenario is presented in their native language or in a foreign language. Given the forces of globalization and international convergence, an increasing number of accountants and accounting students are becoming proficient in more than one language, and they are required to interpret and apply complex ethical pronouncements issued by various global standard setters both in their native language and in English. There have been calls in the literature to examine whether subjects make systematically different ethical judgments in a foreign language than in their native language. We contribute to the literature by drawing on culture, linguistics, and psychology research to provide empirical evidence that Chinese subjects are more aggressive in interpreting the concept of control when providing their consolidation reporting recommendations in English than in Simplified Chinese. We applied a 2 × 2 within-subject and between-subject randomized experimental design using a sample of Chinese final year undergraduate accounting students at a leading Chinese university, where accounting courses are taught in both Simplified Chinese and English. Students in our study are proxy for entry-level accounting practitioners. Our findings have implications for the globalized business world and cross-cultural research by challenging the commonly held assumption that an individual’s ethical judgment is consistent in different languages. We suggest that systematically different ethical judgments in native and foreign languages needs to be recognized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)863–878
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number3
Early online date2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Aggressive financial reporting
  • Ethics
  • Globalization
  • Simplified Chinese
  • Utilitarianism


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