According to recent research carried out in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, bicultural and bilingual people shift their personality when they change from one language to another, as language activates culture-specific parameters. Naturally, the change of perception of the surrounding reality seems to happen unconsciously.
When I read about this “personality switch” I had to think of a six-year-old girl I know whose native languages are Spanish and German. It is really nice to see her switching languages according to the situation as easily and naturally as breathing. She even takes advantage of her bilingual nature by switching to German to make comments she does not want other people to understand (she lives in Spain). Really cunning for a six-year-old!
When I commented this with her mom, who is of German origin, she told me she actually senses a slight change in her daughter’s personality when she speaks Spanish. I though then that it was her high empathy level that led her to adopt some of her interlocutors’ manners –while I was playing with her, she started using several words and expressions I have which were alien to her, as mine is Argentinean Spanish-.
Now that I have read this article about language activating certain culture-specific frames, I understand better what the mother of the little girl meant.
I have always believed languages reflect a reality seen through the eyes of the community of speakers, and that each cultural group’s distinct characteristics are represented in their language. For example, Inuit speakers have about 35 ways of referring to snow, there is a dual personal pronoun –referring to the two of us and the two of them– in the Mapuzungun language, etc.
This research seems to imply as well that in turn, language impresses certain cultural characteristics on its speakers which are reflected in the speakers’ personality. Food for though ;-)!
Here is the article on this interesting piece of research on Science Daily.