Sunday, May 25, 2014

On (corporate) mothers and daughters

Business language has its peculiarities, including expressions that only make sense to those who use it daily.  One interesting example is the description of that slave-like relation between the controlling company and the controlled company, .i.e. when one company owns 100% of another company.  Curiously, there seems to be slight but meaningful differences between languages on how to describe this relationship.

English refers to the company owning the shares as the parent company, reflecting the fact that non-animate nouns do not have a gender in English.  By contrast, since the word for company is feminine in Hebrew and French, the parental relationship is expressed through the mother with a small difference, i.e. חברת אם [hevrat em], mother company, in Hebrew and maison mère, mother house, in French.  Spanish assumes the blood connection and  emphasizes the main point, the power, using  empreza matriz, meaning master or founding company, derived from the word for womb. Russian, for some unknown reason, opts to express all the options, i.e. компания-учредитель [kompaniya uchhyeditel], компания владеющая [kompaniya vladtyushaya], материнская компания [materinskaya kompaniya], and родительская компания [roditelskakya kompaniya], meaning founding, leading, mother, and parental company, respectively.

On the other side of the coin, English refers to the owned company as a subsidiary, from the Latin subsidiarius meaning help or support.  Spanish follows this lead, referring to such a company as a subsidiara. Keeping with the parental connection, Russians and Israeli treat their subsidiaries as daughers, using the terms дочерная компания [doshernaya firma] and חברת בת  [hevrat bat], respectively.  The French call it a filiale, which is linked to the Latin word for son, but generally refers to children in general. 

If Turgenev about physical fathers and sons, who will write a book about mothers and daughters of the legal body variety?

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