If you are bilingual (or multilingual, for that matter), chances are that your personality subconsciously shifts when you switch between the languages. Those who have high levels of emotional and social skills are more likely to realize this shift in personality. To gain a deeper understanding of the matter, specialists reached out to bilinguals to know whether the shift truly existed. One bilingual said that when speaking in English, their speech was relaxed and polite, always using the word “please” and “excuse me”. On the other hand, when they switched to Greek, they tended to talk much faster and in a tone that may appear rude to many. Another bilingual found themselves to be awkward and unable to find the right words when around Anglo-Americans. In contrast, among Latinos and Spanish-speakers, they were more confident, outgoing, friendly and witty.
This shift can also be seen when we are asked to translate something from one language to another. Coming up with the right word that stays true to the meaning, while also ensuring the context of the sentence is not lost, can be quite difficult. A study was conducted by Professor Susan Ervin-Tripp, early on in her career, where Japanese- American women were asked to translate sentences to both English and Japanese. The sentence that started with the line, “When my wishes conflict with my family . . .” had two different endings when translated. Where the English translation was “… I do what I want”, the Japanese translation was, “… it is a time of great unhappiness”.
This, in turn, gave rise to two sentences:
English translation: “When my wishes conflict with my family, I do what I want.”
Japanese translation: “When my wishes conflict with my family, it is a time of great unhappiness.”
However, the shift in personalities should not be seen as drastic and/or as a negative trait. It may be subtle changes in our tone, body language or way of speaking that signifies the shift. Then again, there are people who argue that language and personality do not hold any connection to each other. According to them, the speakers, situation, topic of discussion, etc. is what causes people to change their attitude and tone of speech, and not necessarily the language itself.
What is your take? Do you think your personality changes when you switch languages?