How language seems to shape one's view of the world

(58 Posts)
alexpolistigers Tue 28-Jan-14 19:28:04

I thought this was an interesting article

I've noticed that I do have different mannerisms when speaking different languages. And having spent time in Italy and Greece, I've noticed that people are more likely to suffer from ailments that we English-speakers don't, as there are words or phrases for them in the languages there. For example, colpo di aria in Italy, or tha sou piasei i mesi in Greece.

Bonsoir Tue 28-Jan-14 19:44:57

I agree - language and its associated culture gives us possibilities for thought. Some thoughts are much more common than in others and so learning another language broadens your available spectrum.

alexpolistigers Tue 28-Jan-14 20:19:04

Exactly, Bonsoir. I even look at colours differently, having learnt other languages, and not in the blue/green way. I caught myself thinking of colours in terms of vegetables the other day, and I described something as "cabbage-coloured" in English, where I would probably once have said "pale green". And yet it seems perfectly natural now to see a deep purple and think of aubergines, or a deep red and think of morello cherries, and so on!

MardyBra Tue 28-Jan-14 20:44:12

I found this book an interesting read on this topic alex.

alexpolistigers Tue 28-Jan-14 20:46:05

Oh, that does look interesting, Mardy, thankyou!

CoteDAzur Tue 28-Jan-14 20:56:41

Interesting article, thanks alexpoli.

I'm not sure if this is exactly what you mean, but my best friend is a native German speaker (I'm native English) and she has a pronounced difference in the way she speaks depending on which language she is in. I don't think she even realises it. In German she has a slight "little girl" lisp and intonation (we are both in our 40s) but in English she is very clipped and polished, more businesslike in a way. It's very interesting to see her switch back and forth!

I have no idea if I'm different in French / English / German - although apparently I speak Spanish with a German accent blush

That is really interesting. I always think Latin and Greek being different might account for some of the theology differences West and East, but I'm not sure. I guess part of the difficulty is, how much is it that language shapes how you see the world, and how much is it that if you see the world a certain way, you contribute to changing the language you speak to let you communicate that? I reckon if you studied MN as a language community it'd be quite distinctive.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Jan-14 09:13:43

On MN posters often adopt positions that are PC cliches in the UK. If you state an opinion that is contrary to that accepted cultural norm, you can be guaranteed a very strong reaction without anything much in the way of justification. Monolingual mono cultural posters are not subject to the same range of conflicting opinion that plurilingual pluricultural posters are.

CoteDAzur Wed 29-Jan-14 12:16:37

That is true, Bonsoir but I'm not sure if the determining factor there is being monolingual. It probably has to do with being small minded due to never having ventured outside of their small towns.

CoteDAzur Wed 29-Jan-14 13:29:49

Re how language shapes one's view of the world - There is no gender in Turkish (no equivalent of French le/la or even English he/she) and this is generally accepted as having originated from and perpetuated the equality of women & men in ancient Turkic tribes.

That lasted until Turks adopted Islam, unfortunately. I think we can safely say that language shapes one's view of the world to some extent, but that religion trumps it.

SpookedMackerel Wed 29-Jan-14 15:48:50

Very interesting.

I live "abroad"; we're a family of English speakers trying to learn a new language (German).

The DC will eventually become bilingual; hopefully dh and I will be fluent with time.

At the moment, I feel that people I am friends with through German don't know the "real me". I don't have a range of ways of expressing myself, I can't speak in a nuanced way because I just don't have the vocab yet. I can't be sarcastic, or tell jokes, I can't use's like I'm a completely different person.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Jan-14 16:24:10

It's not just the small town posters, cote. There is quite a lot of "I went to Oxbridge and I live in London ergo I know everything" grin

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:31:44

Actually, Bonsoir, an Oxford English degree is guaranteed to leave you with an enduring conviction that language shapes us utterly. (Or certainly that's what I believe. But then I'm not madly monocultural...come to that, London isn't exactly monocultural either, so perhaps falls outside the parameters of your argument?)

You don't have to be multilingual or have lived in several countries to understand that language is significant in our social contraction of reality. Reading sociological and epistemological literature will also do the trick grin

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:33:23

So I find it a bit of a truisim, really: perhaps because I've explored it for other things I've written. Of course one is a different person when speaking different languages - languages shape us, utterly, at a level that's even deeper than other stuff like religion.

I think probably any English degree is going to involve a certain amount of work on how language shapes us - but then, lots of them include a compulsory foreign language element.

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:33:57

Or wot Buffy said grin

Words alone are certain good, like the man said.

I do love it when children get to that stage of realizing not everyone speaks the same way they do. My niece has a 'friend' (she's two) and they don't speak the same languages, and they are just beginning to cotton on to this fact. Before they seemed utterly unaware that the other one wasn't actually able to understand them.

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:36:58

And one of the things that is endlessly being reworked in the UK is, in fact, the issues of a multicultural and multilingual society. Look at the veil (outlawed in France, endlessly debated here).

I think it may also be why you get certain philosophical traditions concentrated by language. French post-structuralists, American pragmatists, Critical theorists in Frankfurt etc. Obviously there's an element of physical proximity too, they collaborate and influence each other but there must also be a cultural-lingusitic element that influences their thinking.

YY, I think that makes total sense buffy.

I was thinking this the other day teaching my class - lots of German terms sound really intellectual and scary to them, and they assume the idea is very complicated too, but if you're German, you just think 'meh, that's a perfectly ordinary word!' and you're not scared of thinking about it.

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:41:14

But also children learn to speak different versions of their mother-tongue/s too. Mine sound rather posh and RP some of the time, but also talk the fabulous urban English with its African-Caribbean vowels and plosive Punjabi consonants ("Laaaaaahk a dog) and utterly mysterious terms...


Oh, yes.

I don't think anyone really speaks a single register of a language (if register is the right term). Most people automatically figure out how to vary how they speak so they fit into the culture they're currently in.

It would also come as very little surprise to me if children's brains are structured to think in certain ways depending on the language(s) they learn while their brains are most plastic. Maybe German thinkers think in complex structures because the language is complex and structured? Americans are very no nonsense and pragmatic because their language is? And so the two things, language and thought, feed off one another, compliment one another.

No doubt that's simplistic but I bet it has some influence on how our thinking develops.

CoteDAzur Wed 29-Jan-14 16:44:54

Yes, bonsoir, there is definitely a bit of that, too grin

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:46:33

I can speak Bolshy Lefty, which is slightly different from Nice Middleclass Lady grin.

And the language of the domestic too. My Indian mother says that her father - with his Princeton degrees, and the books he'd written all in English - would only speak endearments to her in Tamil.

I had a great-great-ancestor of some kind in that family who translated the Old Testament into epic Tamil verse. Now there's a cross-cultural shift for you grin
(History does not relate how actually readable it was, mind.)

It must do, buffy.

I believe it's known that bilinguals' brains are structured differently, though I don't remember if the experiments were brain architecture or brain imaging.

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:48:10

I don't do enough on neurology, but I'd think it was bound to.

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:48:32

(Because even though I went to Oxford I don't know absolutely everything. Though I'm working on it.)

grin at MI. Bolshy Lefty, I like it.

That's fascinating about your family. And rather lovely.

I remember my cousin telling me that her grandfather always came across as extremely cold verbally although he was an affectionate man, and she thought it was because while he'd been a little child, his mum spoke Welsh to him and that was the 'affectionate' language - but he forgot how to speak it because it was pretty much forced out during that period. After she died he didn't speak it any more so didn't have the vocabulary.

I think that's really sad.

DS tells me that Einstein's brain was unusually large.

<misses point>

You don't, MI?! shock

Get Out. I bet it's cos you live in a small town or London. sad

SpookedMackerel Wed 29-Jan-14 16:50:40

LRD I think that is what I was trying to get at before - I do speak just one "register" at the moment, and the only "me" there is is totally bound up by being an English speaker. So when I'm in German I'm this totally fake unreal person.

Whereas for my bilingual DC it will be an inherent part of who they are. But I wonder if it is too late for me, if even if I become fluent I'll feel the person I am when speaking German isn't the real me.

I love language. I love the way clever people can play it like a musical instrument. I am very glad to have stumbled across the postmodern evocative tradition in research because it encourages academics to write stories and poetry instead of dry dull reports grin

motherinferior Wed 29-Jan-14 16:52:19

Yes, it's the stuff about jokes and nuances, isn't it, SM.

I think you'll find it was Einstein's hair that was unusually large, Buffy. <misses even more points>

Buffy, I think it is the other way around!

Because the Germans are a complex structured people, they have a language that reflects this.

Also, may I say, as in "import", that the English language is fascinating and beautiful? It is also very complex and nuanced and at times a little bit difficult, though always pleasant to the ear….like it's people ?

YY, spooked. How long have you been learning? I just wondered - I am hopeless at languages, but my brother is married to a German woman. For a couple of years he felt, I think, very like you. These days not so much. I do notice he has a slightly different persona in German, but it's not a one-note persona at all.

buffy - the which?! I have not come across this.

NomDeClavier Wed 29-Jan-14 16:55:15

MN language is fascinating. I wrote a corpus linguistics module essay on it a few years back. I suspect very few of my conclusions are still valid wink

I definitely have different mannerisms in different languages, possibly shaped by how I was when I learnt them. I sound a lot more confident in Italian than French despite being much better at French, for example.

CoteDAzur Wed 29-Jan-14 16:57:35

"languages shape us, utterly, at a level that's even deeper than other stuff like religion"

There is definitely the theory I have read worked into several very good books that language is the software that shapes the brain (hardware) that we are all born with. By now there is also no doubt about the cognitive advantages of bilingualism, for example.

Still, specifically re 'shaping how one views the world', I'm afraid brainwashing religion still has the power to trump the perspective gained through language ime.

The [ this]] LRD. Well that's an example anyway.

Writing as a way of knowing in and of itself. A creative, generative process. And not boring. It's liberating and wonderful.

Fuck, link fail. First time in ages I didn't preview to check.

The this

Thanks buffy. smile

BalloonSlayer Wed 29-Jan-14 17:00:12

I am fascinated by the way some languages, like Chinese, are tonal, so that you say the sound of a word, but the way you say it - rising, falling, flat, alters the meaning.

MardyBra Wed 29-Jan-14 17:06:31

"MN language is fascinating. I wrote a corpus linguistics module essay on it a few years back."

That sounds fascinating. Yes, there is a definite MN style and tone imo.

TunipTheUnconquerable Wed 29-Jan-14 17:10:44

Mardy, there is.
I'm fascinated by the Twitter style because I've found myself imitating it when I'm on there. It's partly to do with the 140 character limit, obviously, but it's also to do with projecting a particular terribly enthusiastic, positive persona at all times.

I moved to Vietnam when I was 23 and speak it almost fluently. I picked up the local accent, unfortunately. I am studying to be an interpreter and not being able to speak "Standard" Hanoian Vietnamese is a bit of a challenge.

Anyway, I picked up habits and different ways of thinking here. I'm 30 now and many locals ask me if I'm half Vietnamese. I'm 76 pounds so very small as well. I have a lot of friends here, and act very much like a local.

I speak 7 languages and I'm "different" in each one.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Wed 29-Jan-14 17:27:16

I'm glad someone's mentioned Chinese... I accept what everyone says about how there can be shifts in personality when using different languages - but I've never found, when mangling a European language, that my understanding of the universe had to change.

And then I tried Mandarin. And found that the relationship between say "pencil" and "desk" was not what I had previously believed. "On" just didn't work in the same way between the two. It actually hurt my brain and I never went back...

Bonsoir Wed 29-Jan-14 17:30:13

I think that the personality nuance that each language confers tends to fade with age and you become the same person whichever language you are speaking: as you get older and are more self-assured, external thought influences.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Jan-14 17:30:46

external thought influences fade

alexpolistigers Wed 29-Jan-14 18:07:53

I don't know if that is always true, Bonsoir.

My mother, now in her late 60s, is bilingual (from birth), and has always been different in each language. That's as true today as it was 20 or 30 years ago. She also uses a lot more body language, gestures, facial movements, etc, when speaking one language, and uses a lot less when speaking English.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Jan-14 18:17:45

Body language I agree is more part of the expression attached to the words themselves.

But the actual thoughts, I think, tend to get more integrated.

I live a bilingual life - I don't speak French to some people and English to others in two separate spheres but rather speak both languages, depending on context, to a lot of people, all of whom are plurilingual. So it would be odd if our personalities changed according to the language we were speaking IYSWIM.

I wonder if it matters what status the different languages have. I've only got historical examples, but Gower the poet, at the end of his life, basically stopped writing in French because his thoughts fitted better in Latin - even though Latin wasn't anyone's mother tongue and certainly wasn't his.

There must be cultures today where one of the languages has wildly different prestige to the other(s), in a way that the major European languages don't relative to each other.

Bonsoir Wed 29-Jan-14 18:23:58

My DP tells me I write English in French - that my French spelling, grammar, expression etc are like those of a French person but the thoughts I express are not those of a French person because I give myself so much more freedom than a French person could or would.

PortofinoRevisited Wed 29-Jan-14 19:50:01

Hmm, I have to think about this. I live surrounded by people who mostly speak at least 3 languages with a reasonable degree of fluency. I don't really notice a personality change when they move from one to another in a meeting. Maybe a comfort level - when worked up they prefer to speak their mother tongue. I was irrationally annoyed with dd earlier when she watching some "Jedward go visiting" crap on CBBC and she insisted on pronouncing Oxford in a French way. OxFooord. When I corrected (I do this not in a hectoring way, but just repeat the word in the correct English pronunciation) she replied that she preferred to say it like that....

MrsSchadenfreude Wed 29-Jan-14 22:54:51

I've just spent an evening with the Anglo-Hungarian branch of my family, and noticed that when they switch into Hungarian they get notably more shouty and excitable (these are women who were bilingual from birth) than when they speak English.

Bonsoir's DP's take on her French is interesting. When I lived in Poland, my Polish was quite fluent, but I was very definitely foreign. It was automatically assumed that I was born overseas to at least one Polish parent - I wasn't, it was a language I had learned. One of my Polish friends told me I spoke it like an emigre (can't do accents on this computer) - it was very correct Polish and I didn't swallow the word endings. She said it was the Polish of an older, educated Pole who had left Poland several decades before - a perfect description of my teacher! The Dutch assume I am Dutch or Flemish with an odd accent - I am tall and fair, so I think this influences their assumption. I become very German when I speak German, I think - very straightforward, and a bit strident. And I only ever feel like a foreigner when I speak French or Romanian, but I wonder if this is because I haven't grown up with these languages? I heard German, Polish and Hungarian spoken in the family during my childhood, and spoke German from a young age, but Latin languages don't "fit" with me at all.

steppemum Wed 29-Jan-14 23:32:03

dh is fluent in english, but is dutch.
When we married we moved to Holland so I could learn dutch, and as soon as I had the basics, we switched from english with friends and family to dutch. I remember being amazed at the personality changes I saw. I knew all these people well through eng lish, and they spoke english well, but in their own language they were very different.

I think your language can change your perception. My mum and I were talking about this this morning. I lived in Indonesia, and while they have words (mostly imported words) for lots of colours, they only use a very limited range. So a dark purple colour is described as blue or red, and they would never use the word for purple. One of the common colour words that they use is red which covers any colour from pink, through orange to red and then burgundy. This isn't just a language use thing, they don't discriminate between colour in the same way we do. If asked if two colours are the same, they are much more likely to say they are than we are, and I think that is to do with language, we have 30 words for colours, so we divide colours, and see differences between them.

There is also a close link between language and culture. I never knew the actual names of many people as you use their title, (like saying Mr and Mrs but without a name after it) and you use different speech patterns for those 'higher up' than you and for those 'lower down' than you. By the same token, you can signal a lot by a subtle shift of language.

I am different when I speak in different languages, but a lot of that is fitting the cultural pattern, rather than my personality changing.

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