Does speaking a new language give you a new personality?
How cool would it be if you could morph into a whole new personality in a matter of seconds?
You have probably noticed that when you talk in a foreign language, you sound a little different. Your tone, demeanour, and body language changes as well. Do you know why this happens?
Learning a language is a form of mimicry. We learn our native languages by imitating the speech of those around us. In a sense, we mimic the little nuances and gestures of the people we learn them from. Humans have extraordinarily robust associative memories. How we perceive things, and consequently what we value and how we behave, is influenced by the setting in which we learn and use them.
American Bangladeshi Zara Chowdhury, living in Chicago, expresses her feelings about speaking Bangla, "I never truly practised Bangla until I went to Bangladesh for a visit, despite the fact that I grew up hearing it in my home. I felt self-conscious and restrained, as if I were trying too hard to please."
Shaina Sabria, a student who can speak multiple languages, describes Bangla as "a warm, cosy blanket". She feels safe when she communicates in her first language. While speaking in English makes her feel knowledgeable and confident, French gives her a sense of sophistication, she says.
Every language has distinct syntax and structure. The occurrence of this personality transition is supported by a number of hypotheses. The contentious Sapir-Whorf hypothesis tries to explain why some people's thoughts in a foreign language are incomprehensible to those who do not speak that language. The Inuit, for example, can think more intelligently about snow because the Inuktitut language contains more intricate and exact terminology for different types of snow.
Language and cultural values are inextricably interwoven as well. A study found that a bilingual person who is also bicultural will make decisions dependent on the circumstances. Cultural frameshifting is the term used to describe this.
When you actively strive to learn a language, you absorb some of the language's cultural norms. The cultural accommodation hypothesis strongly supports this assertion. For example, when you interact in, say, Japanese or Korean, your tone rises, and your behaviour becomes different. Based on who we're speaking to and what they believe in, we instinctively adopt cultural conventions into our speech.
So, does learning a language transform you into a completely different person? Perhaps not. However, it does make you "feel different."
"To have another language is to possess a second soul," said medieval emperor Charlemagne. He was onto something.
1) Medium (June 15, 2020). Do you feel like a different person when you speak a foreign language? Here is why!
2) LSE (February 21, 2020). Different Language, Different Personality
Farnaz Fawad Hasan is a disintegrating pool noodle wanting to stay afloat. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.