Different Language, Different People

Are you a different person when you speak a different language?: "People who are bicultural and speak two languages may actually shift their personalities when they switch from one language to another, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research. The authors studied groups of Hispanic women, all of whom were bilingual, but with varying degrees of cultural identification. They found significant levels of "frame-shifting" (changes in self perception) in bicultural participants — those who participate in both Latino and Anglo culture. While frame-shifting has been studied before, the new research found that biculturals switched frames more quickly and easily than bilingual monoculturals. -- eScience News.

Interesting report. I buy the language switching bit because I see that affect personalities every day in bilingual people around me and also in my own kid as well. But I'm not sure I buy the notion of "biculturals" that much. True bicultuals seem rare to me or superficial at best. Perhaps that's because I live in a culture that has such a low level of diversity and mixes very little with the west, I'm not sure. There are many shades of culture within cultures, too, so it's difficult to draw conclusion that apply across larger cultural differences. For instance, I think it's reasonable to say that the distinction between cultures within Europe and the United States (where this study took place) are much more narrow than the distinction between the East and West. I don't doubt the study, per say, but I just question how deep it goes. I've met westerners living in Japan for 30 years who are totally fluent in writing and speaking, yet they haven't even scratched the surface of being Japanese, and I'm told this is quite common.

As a native English speaker (Irish) in France I think I display different personality characteristics in French than in English. When I speak English I am very focused, driven, and quite logical ... When I speak French I come across as being more relaxed, casual, laid back. This is because I learned my French in the cafeteria with the engineers over coffee, with friends in the pub or from the television. I have never worked solely through French. So I believe that how the person learned the language or in what circumstances the person usually uses the language accentuates the link between that language and certain aspects of their environment/culture.
Also, certain things just flow more naturally in one language than in another. I am much more likely to use French is "losing my temper" or entertaining because they are things that are associated with the south European way of life.

Posted by Antoinette O'Sullivan on July 08, 2008 at 02:33 PM JST #

Hi Jim, This is first time I comment on your blog.
Yes. Definitely, I feel that I am a different person when I speak in English.
When I speak Japanese, I am just like Japanese. :-) When I speak in English, I speak freer and more positive. I can crack a joke which I seldom can do at Japanese office. I am more eloquent and logical. These are the qualities that I cannot publicize when I am “Japanese”.
Since Japanese society is so reserved and careful of words, (especially in company), Japanese language has strict rules of honorifics. It varies by the correlation of positions between him and me. So when two Japanese meet first time, we use the highest type of honorifics until we find out what his identity is. This attitude of reserve is taught by mother at park in the very beginning of our life.
Language is not just an electric signal to convey message. It is deeply related with the culture of the society. So speak a language is to adopt it’s culture and people. In the case of English, it is more global than Esperanto. There are many Indians, Singaporeans, Hong Kong, others whom I talk, and when we converse in English, we are neither American nor English man. Rather personality of global communicator.
Article says “biculturals switched frames more quickly and easily than bilingual monoculturals”. When we (Japanese) speak any language other than Japanese, we will be automatically become “bicultural” for we must switch ourselves into different culture.
Most of Japanese does not speak other than Japanese, and when we express English in the manner of Japanese, people will not understand us. For example, when Japanese engineer say, “Kou-iu Katachi-ni narimasu. (This is in this shape.)”, it means “I am sure it is, but I am afraid to say clearly rest I overcommit myself.”

Posted by Ken Okubo on July 09, 2008 at 10:31 AM JST #

Another example why most of these "Research projects" are a waste of time. I am bilingual English and an East European language and have been since a child. I do not "frame shift" I am just as intolerant regardless of what language I am speaking and what country I am in when I speak it. Most of these projects have a possibly subliminal agenda anyway. I have no difficulty in changing manner and expressing myself regardless of where or with who I am. I guess if I had been studied I would have been thrown in the 1% variance group and discounted. perhaps they should go and study if an octopus is right or left tentacled, oh wait that has just been done.

Tolerance is a Virtue, just don't waste it on anyone.

Posted by Chrome Shadow on July 09, 2008 at 12:00 PM JST #

I'm bilingual, Spanish and Italian.
And I completely change my behavior and it's pretty logical.
When I switch to Italian I naturally use all the gesticulations we have when speak. I think that many people already knows what I'm talking about. And the way to make jokes, to see, the intonation, the position of the body and so forth.
When I speak Spanish I don't move so much my hands and the way I do it is completely different from the way I do it in Italian.

I didn't know about it until other people make my realize that I switch. It happens when I was in multicultural groups and switch from Italians to Spanish. They noticed the difference.

I'm not Japanese native but, anyway when I start using it I start using all the modes Japanese people used and I completely stops my Italians gesticulations, because some Japanese people didn't understand it and get scared.

So it depends on people, but definitively the behavior change and it have to change. Different languages means, different cultures, different ways to see the world and life, everything. It's a really huge amount of information.

Jim, I wonder if you learn Italian, maybe your Italian gens wakes up and makes you do all the hand movements and gesticulations :)

Posted by Pietro Zuco on July 10, 2008 at 11:16 AM JST #

I speak Spanish semi-fluently, and know a few hundred words of the other romance languages. I've often wondered whether, if I were to move to a foreign country and learn to speak its language fluently, would I begin to think in that language as well as speak it?

Posted by Jim O'Sullivan on July 11, 2008 at 05:37 PM JST #

+1 to your theory, Jim... with apologies to Chrome Shadow.

I am not bilingual in English/French, but reasonably fluent and did have to live and work in France for some time. I am pretty certain I'm more assertive and direct in French, though of course partly that's simply because I don't speak the language well enough to be able to express the same range of nuance as I would manage in English.

I think Ken makes a fascinating point about the problems of translating literally from Japanese into English. It's one I ran into the moment I tried to get a Japanese colleague to teach me how to say "yes" and "no". "Yes" was easy enough... ;\^)

Posted by Robin Wilton on July 18, 2008 at 05:12 PM JST #

i think this is a nice way of showing about different poeple

Posted by kate on June 20, 2009 at 10:32 AM JST #

very simple question!

Posted by guest on July 01, 2009 at 08:56 AM JST #

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