The effects of multi-lingualism on personality

A sign displayed outside a college provides instructions in several languages. (Source: The Economist)

A sign displayed outside a college provides instructions in several languages. (Source: The Economist)

An article in The Economist discusses the impact of multilingualism on the personality of the speaker:

Yet it is different to claim—as many people do—to have a different personality when using a different language. A former Economist colleague, for example,reported being ruder in Hebrew than in English. So what is going on here?

Benjamin Lee Whorf, an American linguist who died in 1941, held that each language encodes a worldview that significantly influences its speakers. Often called “Whorfianism”, this idea has its sceptics, including The Economist, which hosted a debate on the subject in 2010. But there are still good reasons to believe language shapes thought.

Back in March, I wrote about behavioral economist Keith Chen and his research of this phenomenon as it correlates to spending habits of people who speak different languages, and considered the impact of reading the Guru Granth Sahib — the Sikh scripture — in its original languages versus English translations:

For Sikhs who were born and brought up in the west or who are more recent converts and whose knowledge of Gurmukhi and Punjabi are woefully inadequate (as is mine), Chen’s research is illuminating. We may be losing more than we realize when we depend upon English translations of the Guru Granth Sahib that offer a very different character and influence compared to the original.

Certainly, being able to read and understand language in its native format offers a level of communication that goes beyond literal translation of word.

Read more about the effects of multilingualism on the speaker at The Economist.


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