Scientists and linguists have conducted various studies and researches on how language shapes the way people think and behave. Language is part of culture and culture has an effect on the way a person thinks, which initiates behaviors.
Chinese American behavioral economist Keith Chen, an Associate Professor of Economics at Anderson School of Management at UCLA, posed a question during a presentation. He asked if a person’s ability to save is affected by his language. He presented several examples of the delivery of the same information in different languages. In one example he compared the same sentence written in English and Chinese. The English language has different verb tenses, whereas in Chinese, the translation is the same, regardless of time.
The researcher found out that the linguistic discrepancy shows economic differences as well. His findings showed that speakers of languages that do not define time strictly such as Chinese tend to have higher savings than those who speak languages that distinguish past, present and future actions.
Several languages have grammatical gender systems, which the English language does not have. For example, inanimate objects have genders in German, Russian, Spanish or French.
Colors are distinguished differently in other languages. In some languages, there are no separate names for orange and yellow even if the people know that there are differences between these two colors. The Russian language distinctly identifies the lighter blues as “goluboy” and calls the darker blues as ”siniy.”
In Japan, the range of shades from green to blue is identified by a single term – ”ao” (青) or blue, although the term is used in many contexts as green. The term identifies the color based on the situation. It was only after WWII that the word ”midori” was specifically used for the color green. Even today, the Japanese refer to specific vegetation, apples and vegetables as ”ao” (such as blue apples, blue leaf, blue grass). It can be confusing, because in Japan, their traffic lights have red (stop), yellow (caution) and blue (go). A 1973 decree specified that the ”go” light should be in green’s bluest hue in order to qualify to the international standard of traffic signs, which should be red, yellow and green. Japan’s vision test for people applying for a driver’s license requires them to distinguish between blue, red and yellow.
The difference in the way languages define colors directly affect the way speakers give meaning pertaining to colors.
Influence of language
The way speakers interpret the things they feel, hear and see can be complicated because it is influences by personal experiences, norms, cultural rules, traditions and languages. Thoughts come from words and these thoughts initiate behaviors.
International communication and global business are also affected by languages, thus the pressing needs for localization. To effectively do business in other countries, a company must be able to deliver messages to their employees and target audiences in a language that can be correctly and clearly understood. Localization means that all forms of communications must be translated into the local language so that the interpretation is clear. Local employee training and corporate culture must conform to local culture.
While intercultural training of expatriates and global executives can be done in another language, it should be very personalized and written according to the experience and culture of the people who are to receive the training. If you look at the similarities and differences between languages, you’ll be able to discover clues on what constitute proper and improper behaviors.
Study of linguistics
People use language daily in order to celebrate, communicate, negotiate, learn, legislate, document and argue. You use language each time you need to express something. People are exposed every day to language from media, outdoor and indoor signs and websites. In societies that are not too far advanced in technology, oral transmission of knowledge is prevalent. The study of linguistics opens a way to better understand languages – how they are spoken and the people who speak them, which lead to an understanding of how society operates. Linguistics also helps to improve society.
Linguistics starts with the descriptions of the structures and sounds of different languages. It then moves on to the global communication to the local dialects that people in remote places on earth speak. Theoretical linguists constructed grammars to view the relationships and similarities among languages. It enables researchers to trace the history of languages and understand the breadth and depth of the powers of the human language.
Linguists combine different methods from several scientific fields of study such as computational, biological and psychological techniques, aside from the theoretical or documentary field.
The various methods permit linguists to dig into the linguistic behaviors in different settings and apply what they find in various disciplines.
Connection of language and culture
Language bridges several scientific disciplines. Linguistics provides various techniques and tools to help document and describe the diverse world of languages, which range from standard languages to different dialects and their variations.
Expectations drive perception of a language while language develops expectations the impact the speaker’s general perception of the world. This is because aside from using language for communication, people use it to think for themselves.
Every language shows the world in a different light, meaning that the speakers of a particular language view the world in a way that is dissimilar to other languages.
Views of Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker, author of the book, “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature” is a linguist, cognitive scientist and experimental psychologist from Canada. He posed several questions in his book, such as why people cannot directly say what they mean or why people have to veil their intentions and expect the listeners to guess what they really mean.
In an interview he said that language is a specialized and complex skill that develops in young children even without formal instruction. Language provides the ability to behave intelligently or process information, which originates from the mind instead of from books. He wants to understand why adult immigrants struggle to learn a new language while their young children pick up the language quickly. He studied many aspects of language and categorized them into three main points:
- Language is instinctive in humans
- Language is an adaptation that is a result of natural selection through human evolution
- Language is a characteristic of science where human nature is the first to be understood.
Learn more about Pinker’s theories here.
Relationship between behavior and language
In a scholarly article that was first published in 1991, which still applies today, it says that adults do not realize the impact their words have on young children. The effect is greater the younger the child is. Because a young child still does not have a firm concept of time, denying the child something could mean a protest through bad behavior because the child’s facility to express himself or herself is still limited.
With this result, it can be said that the normal behavior displayed according to age is akin to language development. As the facility to express oneself in a language develops, the behavior of the child improves.
Language is a communication tool. It is important in showing social behaviors as well. It is used by people, especially younger children to interact with the rest of the world. Self-regulating social behavior requires the presence of language. A child expresses his or her feelings and emotions through language. The child learns how to use language to influence other people’s behaviors. The same rules often apply to adults as well.
Language shapes your world view
According to George Steiner, a literary critic, the way people understand the world dies when a language disappears. Different cultures have different ideologies and perspectives about the world. The difference in the structure of a language, with its syntax and specific logical rules affect how a person looks at the world.
For example, the Kuuk Thaayorre, an Aboriginal tribe in Australia navigates their surroundings with cardinal directions – east, south, west and north. For them, the answer to the question of where one is going is to specifically state the direction they face, the particular direction such as southwest or northeast.
German speakers often correlate the action to its end goal. For example, when shown a picture of a woman walking in a parking lot, English speakers usually say that the woman is walking. German speakers on the other hand are likely to day that the woman is walking towards her car.
Day Translations, Inc. handles different languages in the course of business every day. Thus our experience translators are well aware of the nuances and grammatical differences of each language. They understand that each translation must fully convey the messages the original document has to impart. The knowledge transfer affects the reception and perception of the people who will be reading the translations. Rely on the native speakers of Day Translations to deliver accurate translations in any language, in any subject matter. Contact us any time of the day, any day of the week at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us.
Image Copyright: stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo