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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.

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.

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.

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....

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 29-Jan-14 18:21:41

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 18:17:45

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.

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 17:30:46

external thought influences fade

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.

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...

hellokittymania Wed 29-Jan-14 17:19:36

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.

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.

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.

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 29-Jan-14 17:00:10

Thanks buffy. smile

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 29-Jan-14 16:53:38

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.

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 ?

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>

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 29-Jan-14 16:49:17

You don't, MI?! shock

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

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