How a language’s effect on an audience’s perception of the future could prove instrumental in a successful business pitch

When a language blurs the present and the future, the prospect of a future reward becomes more enticing

How languages create differing perceptions of the proximity of the future can influence investment decisions, a new study finds.

Co-authored by Professor Vangelis Souitaris of Bayes Business School, the research paper, ‘Closeness of the future: Influence of language future-time reference on individual behaviour’, investigates whether variations in the language characteristic known as Future-Time Reference (FTR) can influence future behaviour.

FTR refers to how the perception of the relative distance of future events is affected by language. The study looks at investment decisions on crowdfunding for entrepreneurial ventures to estimate any effect.

Two complementary studies were conducted to test the authors’ language-based crowdfunding investment model.

Initial testing on crowdfunding

The first tested the main effect of language on the volume of crowdfunding, utilising data on crowdfunding investments in 53 countries.

It finds that countries with a weak-future language, that is one which creates the perception of a future barely distinguishable from the present, engage more heavily in crowdfunding entrepreneurial ventures than those countries where a strong-future language is prevalent.

Chinese is an example of a weak-future language that is used in the study, with English being an example of a strong-future language.

Second study with bilingual students

The second study involved 77 bilingual Chinese students and was conducted to establish that the first study’s findings were driven by linguistic rather than cultural differences. It finds that these bilingual individuals were more likely to invest following a pitch in a weak-future language pitch than one delivered in a strong-future language.

Overall findings

The effect of language can therfore be said to dominate the stable effect of national culture.
Professor Souitaris said:

“The research finds that the way spoken language is structured has an effect on our behaviour, over and above cultural characteristics.”

“The overall study demonstrates that the perception among weak-future speakers of a future that is close, results in the future assuming greater psychological importance, which increases the higher present value of a future reward. This in turn inspires higher current investment.

“It therefore contributes to the entrepreneurship literature by linking entrepreneurial finance to a linguistic perspective of entrepreneurship.”

The study ‘Closeness of the future: Influence of language future-time reference on individual behaviour’ is published in the Journal of Business Venturing Insights.

About Professor Vangelis Souitaris

Vangelis Souitaris is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Bayes Business School. He founded the Entrepreneurship group at Bayes and is the subject-group leader. He joined Bayes in 2004 and became the school's youngest full professor in 2006 (age 34). In 2011, he was recognised as one of the top 40 business school professors under 40 years old, by the online business education magazine Poets and Quants. As the PhD director (2011-15) he has instrumental in the academic transformation of the Bayes PhD programme (extending the duration to 4 years, introducing formal training and scholarships).

Vangelis specialises in behavioural and social aspects of technology entrepreneurship. His sociologically driven work includes studies on institutional and network influences on technology enterprise. Currently he focuses on 3 specific areas: 1) behavioural aspects of entrepreneurial decision making, 2) entrepreneurial finance and 3) academic entrepreneurship.