Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Language and the effect on personality

“So I’ve gone through your underwear draw…”, I contained my expression as best as I could but I was seriously wondering what was going through her head.  I’d let a Swedish acquaintance stay with me for a couple of nights and she had helped herself to my intimates, aptly named because they are INTIMATE.

What was happening inside her head? She was multilingual, spoke reasonably fluent English and Norwegian and as well as Swedish.  She spoke English with an American accent and I wondered what language did she think in, count in, dream in and if learning English in America had that influenced her ‘English’ personality.


As someone who is unimpressively unilingual, I was really curious as to how multilingual people manage to express their thoughts. Do they think in their native language then translate? Then what about untranslatable words, if you can’t translate a feeling can someone that doesn’t speak that language properly understand that feeling?

‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’ Ludwig Wittgenstein thought that the limits of your language were the limits of your world. How, if at all, does this affect personality?

I had previously read that bilingual people subconsciously have different personalities for each language. I was initially unsure of how deep this went as we all have ‘separate’ personalities for different situations such as how we communicate to our boss is different from how we talk with our friends.

Research however shows that people are limited by the grammatical constructs of their language.  The experimental design tested English and German speakers and how they analysed observed situations.  English verbs tend to be ‘on-going’ and thus the 75201112_languagesresponse when given in English was of the ongoing event in the observed situation. German language focuses more on the goal of the verb and therefore the responses were about the end goal.  For example, if the scene shown was of a man walking towards a door, the English speakers focused more on the action of walking whereas the German speakers focused on the arrival at the door.

Another study asking bilingual Japanese American’s to complete a series of questions in either Japanese or English. The answers varied considerably depending on which language the questions were answered. The incomplete sentence “I will become…” was answered by Japanese speakers as “a housewife” and generally with English speakers with “career”.

In a wider context, how does this affect psychology internationally? How much can psychological theories blend across language borders?  Our thoughts are restricted by the grammar of our language and the words we have. Building on this our culture is deeply intertwined with our language that can’t really be separated and should be thought of as a unit which I think is an important social discovery.





2 comments on “Language and the effect on personality

  1. jordancambie
    April 14, 2016

    First sentence, WOW, extremely engaging. I like how you have added real-life situations into your blog piece, especially something so outrageous!
    Such an interesting concept, the thought of others thinking and interpreting things differently. The thought that maybe speech is initially interpreted in the native language, and then translated to english fascinates me.
    Maybe just let us know where in the report we can find your readings.
    Sourcing studies actually made me follow it up further, and it was an engaging read!


  2. Adam
    April 28, 2016


    Very fascinating topic, and you certainly draw the audience in with the first sentence! Have you looked into the work of Noam Chomsky? He makes some very interesting points about how language and the structure of language is fundamental to how we think.

    Just a small note on formatting, I find that having too much space between paragraphs makes the blog look less appealing.

    I would also suggest going through and checking your grammar and perhaps getting a family member or friend to help. You have some ‘junk’ words that could be removed.

    All the best,


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This entry was posted on April 12, 2016 by in Burwood - Thursday 2pm.

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