Languages and Personality Profiles
“Learn a new language and get a new soul,” according to a Czech proverb.
My interest in psychology and language learning goes hand in hand, since there are many things about language that involves the brain. Well, that is more than obvious.
It was very interesting to discover through my studies that people who are bilingual or multilingual may express different personalities when speaking or writing in one language or the other. How this claim came about was that a group of China-born university students were asked to describe themselves. Mind you, these students both spoke Chinese and English. When describing themselves in English, their descriptions and personality matched those of typical North Americans/Canadians. They described themselves very highly, making positive statements and expressing positive moods.
However, when asked to describe themselves in Chinese, their descriptions matched those associated with Chinese values, having both negative and positive self-statements and moods. So, this just shows that language and associated cultures can influence how we feel and think about ourselves and the world.
Although, a question popped into my mind after learning this: Can this same idea be applied to those who are bilingual, but only have one native tongue?
The Chinese students above were born in China, but spoke English along with their mother tongue. The experiment did not say whether English was also their mother tongue or if they learned it after coming to America, so I made the assumption that it was. For them to be born in China and able to describe themselves in a profile that matched typical North American values made me believe that either their native language was both English and Chinese or they were so assimilated into American culture that the English language influenced how they perceived themselves. It could be both. Cultures can do that to you if you are immersed in it long enough.
But for me, I wondered if it was possible for me to have an entirely new personality profile that matched French cultural values when speaking, writing, or thinking in the French language. I learned French after my critical period, which is a period in which you would have a harder time learning a new language because of the adoption of a mother tongue, or mother tongues. It explains why young children can learn new languages easily and high schoolers/adults cannot as easily. If I learned French and lived in France for awhile, I could probably adopt a new personality. But, I am unsure about this since I am way beyond my critical period. Of course, I am proficient in French, so I wouldn’t have to worry about learning a new language, but I have the feeling that this critical period thing even applies to adopting a new personality when learning new languages.
For bilinguals with more than one native tongue, I think they would have many personality profiles, so long as they immersed themselves in the culture of their languages (which I would assume that would be the case anyways).
But, for bilinguals who only have one native language and happen to become “fluent” in others beyond their critical period of learning languages, is it possible to still adopt different personalities, according to the learned languages and their cultural values?
(I know this is way beyond Duolingo, so I apologize for the complexity of this thought. ^ ^)
On a side note, I always found it interesting that multilinguals often use different languages to express their emotions. For example, a Chinese person may speak Mandarin in casual conversation, but if their angry, they may speak in Cantonese to express that emotion.
Help with information content came from Psychology by David G. Myers and C. Nathan Dewall.
What you describe is the process of altering one's mental state of being, by means of introducing new culture to it. This is similar to taking on a new lifestyle. If I join the military, I will be altered by it to some extent.
The idea of a new personality based upon a language is perhaps somewhat useful as a concept, but I think that what is more accurate is that we simply broaden and diversify ourselves. To a man who has never left a small town in rural America, a man who can speak German, Italian, and French, and who has been to these countries and learned their cultures, may seem to have multiple personalities or multiple identies, but in truth, it is all one and the same. The multilinguist is simply broader. If he appears to be multipolar, as it were, it is because a given situation calls for one facet over the other, such as being militaristic in combat, but fatherlike with children.
Yes, I should have known that this idea is merely cultural adoption. For some reason, I connected that idea with the critical period of learning languages.
So, if I were to live in France for years, based on what you said and my previous statements, I would probably adopt their cultural values naturally, thus my thoughts being influenced by their customs. I would be able to express one mindset and inhibit the other, if I were bilingual at that point. Hm, it makes a lot more sense when I think about it in your way. I suppose it doesn't matter whether you have two native tongues or just one and is fluent in another. It just has to do if you immerse yourself in the culture.
The "personality profile" was just a way for me to understand this concept, so it shouldn't be read literally, regardless of if it is or not. But, I appreciate you pointing that out.
Thank you for your feedback!
The "personality profile"
Good to hear that. Because it is a frame of reference. And when people speak in different languages, sometimes they communicate in different ways. And it is not just words either, but emotions. Tone and body language are part of communication, related to language, yet that dynamic does not exist here when I am typing. One thing I have tried is when writing college papers I sometimes say what I want to speak, and it comes out more concise and cogent for some reason. It is kind of neat. But my point with this is, language is about sounds and organized structures to communicate (grammar, symbols, etc), but there is a lot of other stuff that can be related to it in body language, topics talked about, tone, practices, that how I see is that these sounds communicate meaning and part of these other things. I think one can go to toher countries and absorb culture wihout learning the language, but it is not always possible, and is much more complex and dependant on many factors.
I think in addition to the possibility of broadening and diversifying ones self, certain characteristics and patters of speech that add up to themes are present in different language. Thus it doesn't have to be widening ones horizon, but emphasizing different parts of ourselves. And we do this framed through culture. If I go the Gaza and talk about gay rights in arabic, that isn't something in the majority of peoples consciousness, and it is not going to be in the language too. Those things are related. Because language is this audible and sometimes symbol based construction of sound that is rooted in histoy and is used to communicate what is on peoples minds. And what is on peoples minds is in part determined by socialization, which somes through languages. Someone who learned a language in a good context can have a positive association with it. Its cool. So while language can expand ones horizons, it can also further emphasize parts of ones self. Or just be more of the same, which is what I think a lot of the people who learn to speak spanish with out thinking in the language. Their basically just being how they are in english.
You pick up cultural values in a different way than you pick up language. You can learn a language without learning anything about the cultural values of its native speakers and vice versa. Think about this: Americans and British people both speak English, but do both groups of people act and speak the same way? Nope. Americans act American and British people act British.
However, the way that you speak a language does change depending on the situation you are speaking it in, and if you speak multiple languages, you may find yourself using them in different settings. For example, if you were learning French in school and spoke French with your teacher and classmates, and were learning Spanish from some close friends about your age, and spoke Chinese natively but exclusively at home with your family, and spoke English because that's the main language of the place where you live, and were leaning Korean from an elderly tutor, you would probably speak all of those languages in different ways. But that would not be because of any kind of "inherent values" that the language imbues on your personality, but rather because you learned/spoke those languages with different kinds of people and used them in different ways
Interesting train of thought... I happen to yell random things in Greek or some other random language when I'm frustrated or angry.
Like you have in some of your comments, its a way to understand. I act differently in Spanish rather than english, and I started learning spanish like really when I was 19. Yeah. There are things I have purposely not translated to english from spanish because they have the right feel. Sometimes I think I use some distinct word choices, which a lot of the time have made me sounds more ducated I think, but that is a another story. It all has to do with the context in which I learned spanish. Supportive, interesting, really diverse, because I have traveled a lot of places and used it.
Here is another thing I got some basic capacity in arabic, but I don't like speaking in it because how I have learned it, it has soooo little emotional weight. Especially MSA, which not really anyones native language and it feels really empty to speak in. Haven't gotten to talk with a lot of arabic speakers, however I am sure WAY more than anyone who was in my class, but I don't like it because there is not an emotional weight attached.
I don't think it is personality really, but socialization that comes through through the medium of language. Unless someones doesn;t want to leave direct translation from english, which is strange and not the best strategy, but I think it is a comfort thing. The sounds that we make, and the grammar that organize them, are influenced by the past and how that language has developed in coalescence with cultures. Inuits have a lot of words for snow, which makes sense considering they are living in a snowy region where that is part of there life and having many words to describe the differences. There is a spectrum, and how we talk about that comes through the organized structures that ar elanguage. And kids gets socialized to talk like their contexts—we learn through listening and absorbing for times—then we talk, and we then put out what is a long chain of history of why things are said a certain way, or what are the common things to talk about, or how metaphors and sayings come about. I don't think it is personality, because that implies different consciousesses, which we can have in a sense—like acting differently around ones family or friends, but it is that different things are being emphasized at different times like with family and friends. Someone who learns spanish for buisness and living with a host family will probably talk different, and may have a different association with the language. DEPEnding on if they direct translate everything, or go for a mix, or absorbing this other culture. Kids don't really have a choice, and I think people learning at later stages of there life are a mix.
Fascinating. I look forward to reading all the comments. Thanks for the post. I use German endearments for animal frequently, but that's about it.
I'm glad you like it! I have heard many people use German commands when training dogs, though I don't know specifically why. Maybe because the sound of German sounds more authoritative? That is probably wrong, but it's just a thought. ^ ^