Language was nothing more than a tool used for speaking until the beginning of the 20th century. After that, we slowly became aware that it is also a discrete system which shapes the social surroundings and experience of every speaker. We became aware that without language our experience would be dramatically reduced. We could have no social interactions. It means no friends, no job, no education, no anything! Using a language is so deeply rooted within us that we rarely reflect on it even today.
LANGUAGE SHAPES OUR THOUGHTS
Not only do we use language, but it also makes an impact on us. Without us ever knowing it.
Each language has it’s own unique structure making it into a unique system. We use languages to interpret the world, so it is not surprising that by speaking two languages we interpret the world through two distinct systems. Multi-linguists usually notice this through comparing different tongues. This way we can see how differently different languages guide our thoughts regarding similar matters. Same could be said about expressions, phrases and grammatical structures.
EVERYTHING IS EITHER A MAN OR A WOMAN
Take gender for example. While a German or a French see nouns as males, females or neutrals, for an English speaker it is quite difficult to understand that nouns have genders. Therefore for an English speaker the world changes when he/she has to look at a table as a male or a bed as a female. To add to that, one study found that the nouns used to describe the same word in different languages changed depending on whether the noun was masculine or feminine. German and Spanish speakers were asked to describe objects having opposite genders in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny”.
CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE AND YOU’LL CHANGE YOUR PERSONALITY
We know now that language influences our cognitive process. But can we also say that for every language a person speaks, one has an additional personality? That bilinguals have two personalities and multilinguals even more? Surely this doesn’t mean they are all schizophrenics. But there are some aspects of our behaviour that are influenced by language as much as our thoughts.
Numerous social researches have been conducted in effort to understand how speaking several languages influence us. The results are diverse and many of them are rather subjective, but most often they agree with the notion that our thoughts and behaviour are indeed shaped by the tongue we use. Bilinguals often give differing answers when they use different languages to the same questions. Particular aspects are stressed depending on what the language system allows to express more easily and straightforward. For example, English forces us to focus on the action, while German makes us pay more attention to the beginning and the end, instead of the whole act as a continuous process. It doesn’t mean that we don’t understand it as such, only that we arrive at such conclusion differently.
Some people even notice a change in their character when they use another language. They say they have more patience in one language than in another. They are generally nicer towards others, they swear less or find it easier to apologise, to show affection and their true feelings. While this is subjective, it is nonetheless a fascinating effect which can be used by multilinguals to their own advantage.
Languages shape our personality
Saying that each language applies a unique personality to the speaker might be a little exaggerated, but there is little doubt regarding influence the language has on our thoughts and even actions. The structures, words and rules of sentence construction shape our understanding of the same events and phenomena in ways that can sometimes be unthinkable in another language. Words and various phrases bring cultural context as well. The derivation of words are extremely distinct and it carries its meaning as well, which can even contrast among different languages.
Language and culture are two sides of one coin, so by embracing new languages, we tap into new cultures. We become more tolerant towards that culture and its people, we understand the way they think and see us and the world. We become more tolerant, more experienced. Even if our personalities do not change, with every new language we grow and become the better versions of ourselves.