Monday, October 24, 2016

Are We Different People in Different Languages?

I love using foreign languages to speak to new people, to learn about different cultures, and to look at the world through a different set of eyes. Littwengstein said "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world". Does that mean different languages occupy different worlds, and if so, am I a different person in each of them?

There's a Persian proverb that states "a new language is a new life", and a Czech one which says "those who know many languages live as many lives as the languages they know". Are these just fancy metaphors or is there more to it than that?

Broca's area, where languages live.
Studies dating back to the '60s show that we respond differently according to the language we're speaking. In one such study, when respondents were asked to create a story from an illustration, the language used altered the general themes of the story. Similar results were achieved when participants were told to finish sentences.

These experiments were just the beginning and were fairly subjective. Later studies showed that language could affect how outgoing you are and the way you behave. Does this mean that certain languages promote assertiveness while others discourage it? Or is it a cultural thing, since different languages usually exist within different cultures?

It's very difficult to separate language and culture. I would imagine (and hope) that you behave differently in a job interview than out at night in the pub. When you speak different languages, you often do so in vastly different social situations too.

If you speak one language with your parents and another with your friends, perhaps you're more respectful in one, while outgoing and relaxed in another. If you work in one language but "play" in another, surely this also affects your behaviour.

More recent studies seem to show that while we aren't completely different people, our personalities do change depending on the situation, who we're with, and which language we're speaking. We sort of develop alter egos, further supporting the idea that multilinguals are indeed superheroes!

Do different languages change your personality or not? Tell us what you think in the comments below!