The financial crisis causes language confusion

20 April 2012 21:46

(updated: 7 March 2016 21:47)

The financial crisis causes language confusion

Since the financial crisis started in 2007, thousands of newspaper articles have been filled with new, Norwegian economic expressions and terms. 'This can create language confusion,' says Marita Kristiansen.

'Strukturerte spareprodukt' (structured savings product), 'hedgefond' (hedge fund) and 'subprimelån' (subprime mortgage) are examples of expressions that have almost become commonplace in the Norwegian language since the start of the financial crisis.

What they have in common is that they are either loan words, or have been 'Norwegianised' from English, and that they are found in many relatively similar forms.

'This may result in language confusion with respect to what is actually being written and talked about,' believes language researcher Marita Kristiansen.

As Associate Professor at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), she conducts research on LSP terminology in economics and administration. She has recently studied the media's use of economic terms in connection with the coverage of the financial unrest in the global economy in recent years.

Her analysis of newspaper articles from 2007 to 2010 shows that many new Norwegian LSP terms are emerging, but that they are often the result of random translations from English, and that there are many different translations for the same English word.

It is this random creation of new words that may lead to language confusion, the researcher believes.

'Not proper synonyms'

The title of this article is a good example of what Kristiansen means when she refers to language confusion. The word 'finanskrise' (financial crisis) is often used as a synonym for terms such as 'gjeldskrise' (debt crisis), 'bankkrise' (bank crisis), 'boligkrise' (mortgage crisis) and 'økonomisk krise' (economic crisis).

Another example is the term 'subprimelån' (subprime mortgage), which refers to a particular type of mortgage that was common in the USA in the mid-noughties. 'Råtne boliglån' (rotten mortgages) 'høyrisiko-boliglån' (high-risk mortgages), or just 'subprime' are other commonly used ways of writing this term.

'They all refer to the same underlying phenomena, but they sometimes describe them in very different ways, and not all these words are proper synonyms, although they are often used as such.

'This can make it difficult for the recipient to understand the sender's message correctly,' explains the NHH researcher.

'My research suggests that journalists often strive to create new Norwegian terminology, but there is a lot of variation, and not everything fits as well into the Norwegian language,' she continues.

There is also little to suggest that this will improve over time. The various English-inspired terms currently exist side-by-side with the traditional Norwegian language.

'More research is needed in this field to determine what will happen in the longer-term. Will these expressions become more 'Norwegianised' over time and slip more easily into the language, or will they maintain their original form?' This is what the language researcher would like to investigate further in future.

Term databases

Kristiansen believes that the results corroborate the need to put the use of the language to rights.

The establishment of a term database, in which the meaning of the different terms is defined, is researchers' contribution to sorting out the jungle of LSP terminology.

'This should be done while the terms are still of major general interest,' comments Kristiansen.

She points out that there is particularly little language planning in the fields of finance and macroeconomics, which often take up a lot of space in public debate, and that language development has more or less free rein.

The central bank

Together with Professor Gisle Andersen, also from NHH, Marita Kristiansen will work closely with Norges Bank to develop a term database. The goal is to establish uniform terminology in the subjects of finance and macroeconomics.

'It is important for us as language researchers to collaborate with the expert environments during the creation of this type of database. In addition, Norges Bank represents quality and is an institution the users of such terminology look to.'

Kristiansen also emphasises the benefits of having a central bank that uses correct and precise language. In the presentation of future interest rate trajectories, it is often the minor nuances in the language that are important.

'The market reacts immediately to statements from the central bank, almost right down to which adjectives are used.

This is just one example of why it is important to focus on language. Precise language is a precondition for being properly understood,' the researcher concludes.

This article is published in collaboration with

Text: Espen Bolghaug