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Title:Accounting as Language: A Linguistic Approach to Accounting
Author(s):Mcclure, Malcolm Mckenzie
Department / Program:Accountancy
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Business Administration, Accounting
Abstract:It is frequently stated that accounting is the language of business. This dissertation investigates the consequences of taking that assertion seriously.
Accounting is not a language in the sense used by linguists, but only in a more vague, general sense. One cannot therefore apply linguistic results to accounting without further justification. The dissertation establishes a structural and functional analogy between accounting and natural language based on the equating of the journal entry and the sentence. Using this analogy it examines the syntactic structure of accounting, and the classes of accounting verbs.
It is possible to apply certain tools of linguistics to the account titles of accounting since those titles are members of a closed semantic set in the English lexicon. The structure of that set is investigated using two approaches: (1) The set of account titles is investigated using a distinctive feature or componential analysis. This type of analysis focuses on the differences between the terms. (2) The definitions of the term 'asset' given in the literature are examined to find a multidimensional space in which the term is embedded, and to determine the extent of the area in this space which it occupies.
Based on its functional and structural similarities to language, it is argued that accounting exhibits many of the same characteristics with respect to change that languages do and that changes in accounting systems and in the basic structure of accounting will be relatively slow when they violate its basic structure, and relatively rapid when the changes lead to a linguistically more favored structure. It is not possible to predict changes in accounting, but a linguistic analysis of its structure can make us aware of the areas which are relatively more exposed to change, and of the areas which are relatively unlikely to change.
Using the notions developed in the dissertation, the history of depreciation accounting and of accounting change is examined. It is found that the explanation of accounting change proposed by the "positive theorists" lacks theoretical support, and that a method of analysis based on linguistic methods provides a better basis for such explanation.
Issue Date:1983
Description:242 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1983.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8409997
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-16
Date Deposited:1983

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