Language, Thought, Beahviour

Posted by admin at April 13, 2014

I came across an article on the TED blog on a paper and presentation done by Keith Chen on how the language we speak affects the way we think and behave. As I am on a mission to organize my thoughts, improve my cognitive abilities and subsequently my life, this article really held my interest, yea even with the low attention span I have.

According to the paper, Dr Chen compared languages and how they affected human behaviors and how this translates to the different economies:

How timeless languages like the Chinese that makes no distinction between yesterday, today and tomorrow causes the speaker to have more savings than an English speaker, English being a “futured language” as he put it. I also think (I am assuming here) that this is the reason why the Asians make longer term plans than their Western counterparts (I am not gonna say anything about Africa here). I recall the response of an 88 year old CEO of Mastushita Electric in Japan when asked the question: “How long are your long term goals”. He simply said “250 Years!!!” When asked how he was going to achieve it, he replied “Patience”. I believe this attitude provides an insight to the rise of the Eastern economies in the last few decades. The make long term goals and stick it out, all because they don’t speak tommorrow in their language. Amazing.

Dr Chen compared the differences in how we describe people, things and events. Some languages are consize: a single phrase being enough for the desciption, while others will require your to give more details, making you think more. Again Oriental languages fall in the category that make you give more details: ever heard of a lazy Asian? Also some languages requires that you know the gender of a particular thing while other languages don’t bother: the reason I still haven’t learnt French.

However, what I find to be the strangest finding from that article, this time from a paper done by a Lera Boroditsky, is the guilt factor of the English language. Boroditsky describes a study by her student Caitlin Fausey in which English speakers were much more likely to remember who accidentally popped balloons, broke eggs, or spilled drinks in a video than Spanish or Japanese (Asian again people) speakers. This means that Engllish forces the speaker to blame someone during a conflict or crisis while these other languages tend to acknowledge the accident that cause the said conflict. My recommendation, uneducated as it might be, is to make every representative of any government or international non-profit organisations to at least learn a few words and phrases from these guiltless languages.

In conclusion, I am asking myself: why am I still struggling to make French my third language? As much as I love French, the language of love, and as much as I can imagine what I will do with the knowledge the gender of everything including inanimate objects (suppressing dirty thoughts),  I think should go study Mandarin or Cantonese, how ever long that takes me.



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