For Bilinguals, Identity Is Influenced by Language

A new book reviews influences of speaking more than one language.

Language plays a significant role in all aspects of human social and cognitive life. People communicate with each other in a language. The language they speak also structures a number of aspects of the way they think. These effects become even more complex when people speak more than one language. Bilingual (or multilingual) individuals are those who have excellent fluency in two (or more) languages.
A great new book by the cognitive scientist Viorica Marian called The Power of Language explores a number of influences of speaking multiple languages on the way people engage, think, and act. One of the more fascinating sections of the book examines how people think about themselves depending on the language they are using to think about themselves.
If you speak more than one language, chances are you use them in different circumstances. For example, you may have one language that you use at home with family and another that you use at work and in your interactions with people around where you live. You might have a language that you spoke growing up, but that you speak more rarely later in life. You might have a language you speak only in professional situations, but another language that you use in your daily interactions.
These differences in context influence what memories you call to mind when you are asked questions (or ask yourself questions) in the different languages you speak. For example, suppose you speak one language at home and another at work. If you are asked to think about something you have done recently that is fun, you might be more likely to think of an event with your family when asked in the language you speak at home, but an enjoyable interaction with colleagues when asked in the language you speak at work.
The language used to answer the question makes it easier to think of memories associated with using that language. The memories you retrieve in a situation affect what you are likely to do and even how you are likely to feel in that situation.
In addition, properties of the language itself can affect your decisions. In the book, Dr. Marian points out that some languages (like English) require you to use a different tense when talking about events in the present versus the future. For example, if you say “I am walking in the park,” you are talking about something happening right now, but you have to say “I will walk in the park,” to talk about a future walk you are going to take. Other languages (like German and Mandarin) do not require a different grammatical tense to talk about present and future events.
The evidence suggests that people who speak languages whose grammar requires a distinction between present and future are less likely to make choices that benefit their future selves (like saving for retirement) than people who speak languages that do not. Consequently, the actions you take when speaking different languages can have very different implications for your future.
How people think, act, and feel is a significant part of their identity. So, in a very psychologically real way, the language bilinguals are speaking affects their identity in that moment. They are going to be reminded of different experiences. They are going to have different emotional reactions to situations. They may even make very different kinds of decisions.
Interestingly, many of these effects of speaking more than one language can happen without the speaker being aware of them. In the moment, people are engaging with the world in one of the languages they speak. They have no clear way of knowing what they would have done had they been speaking their other language. So, they have no good way to compare their reaction to what they might have done otherwise.
That means that in important situations, bilinguals might want to try asking themselves questions in both of their languages before moving forward. This exercise might lead to insights about ways that their identity is somewhat different depending on the language they’re speaking—and that might lead to different (and hopefully better) outcomes than when they engage using only one language.

psychology today

18 replies
  1. Paniz shhabazi
    Paniz shhabazi says:

    The language bilinguals speak affects their identity. Bilingual people are creative and better at solving problems than monolingual people. Also, bilingual people have more access to people.

  2. Alireza noche
    Alireza noche says:

    In my opinion, those who are multilingual or bilingual can have intimacy and better communication with other people in the world, and this has a positive or negative effect on people’s lives.

  3. mohammad parsa younesi
    mohammad parsa younesi says:

    this is really an interesting topic. it is a fact that people have different personalities in different languages. for example you may be a fun person in your mother tongue language but you barely joke while speaking your second language. because when we face into an original word of a language, we face a new concept that makes us think about it.

  4. Mobina Mohammadinia
    Mobina Mohammadinia says:

    Hello, language definitely has a great impact on the life, expression and personality of a person. A bilingual or multilingual person has high intelligence and has a different personality from other people

  5. parsa younesi
    parsa younesi says:

    this is really an interesting topic. it is a fact that people have different personalities in different languages. for example you may be a fun person in your mother tongue language but you barely joke while speaking your second language.

  6. Nasim vafaii
    Nasim vafaii says:

    For me, the human ability to speak several languages ​​was always surprising and I thought that people who are multilingual think differently or in what language they review memories in their minds. This article was an answer to the question I. Thank you very much

  7. Zeynb nami
    Zeynb nami says:

    Individual identity is influenced by language and this issue is very important for bilinguals. Language is one of the main factors of a person’s knowledge, and with the change of language, a person’s personality and identity also change. In addition, knowing two languages ​​in bilingual societies allows a person to communicate with two different societies and gain a better understanding of different cultures. As a result, learning two languages ​​is very important for a person and helps in the development of the person.

  8. Anis Farasat
    Anis Farasat says:

    Children who are born in a family with more than one language, I believe it definitely affects in their identity, personality and future a lot. Although in compare with other people it is easier for them to travel to different countries, choose their future where they want to live and what to do, but it absolutely will affect in their life routine too. They speak at home, with their friends and people who are around them with one language, but might think with themselves in the other language.

  9. Zhina Alikhani
    Zhina Alikhani says:

    If you change the theme of the site and put better quality photos among the articles, the feedback of the site will be better.

  10. Arefeh akbarpur
    Arefeh akbarpur says:

    Hi, I think that I am bilingual, if we ask ourselves in the language we speak at home during important reactions at work, we will have softer and more flexible reactions.

  11. Mohadeseh khan mirzaie
    Mohadeseh khan mirzaie says:

    In my opinion, in today’s globalized economy, the ability to speak multiple languages can be valuable in the job market. Many companies are looking for employees who can communicate with customers from different parts of the world.
    Speaking multiple languages can also help people better understand and appreciate different cultures. This can lead to greater empathy and understanding, as well as opportunities for personal travel and growth.

    By regards Mohdeseh Khanmirzaei from Iranian University

  12. Azadeh shokri
    Azadeh shokri says:

    Hi Master
    Itself to me to be abiling ualfunctioning and to control the quidance and management of this cognitive ability to help us get unrelated information and pay attention to important issues

  13. Khadijehsedaghat
    Khadijehsedaghat says:

    Dear Dr. Aziz, Iranian press and media always introduce Ali Pirhani as the second multilingual person in the world. In fact, Ali Pirhani has the ability to speak 19 living languages ​​in the world.

  14. mahnaz nouruzi
    mahnaz nouruzi says:

    hi dear professor
    also Studies show that being bilingual gives cognitive benefits. Being bilingual means that you are constantly switching from one language to another. Many other studies show that bilingualism can also reduce the risk of stroke. Cognitive benefits actually affect both bilingual children and adults. At the age of seven months, children who are exposed to more than one language adapt better to environmental changes. For the two big languages, it is also present in dementia and Alzheimer’s, and people who speak a second language are less likely to be distracted, focus more on tasks, and learn faster.
    good luck

  15. Sevda.jafari
    Sevda.jafari says:

    Familiarity with history, culture and art, the possibility of creating economic connections and job opportunities, the possibility of traveling to tourist destinations, increasing the sense of altruism, etc. are a small part of the common languages ​​of the world. However, more than 7100 languages ​​that are used on this earth is not possible.

  16. Shirin farrokh
    Shirin farrokh says:

    I think that the number of grammatical patterns is different in each language, but it is visible in all languages, and therefore, it is not difficult to master them, because the human memory stores generalized phenomena better than individual ones.

  17. fatemeh zare
    fatemeh zare says:

    Hello, dear professor. The article was excellent. In that part that was said The language used to answer the question makes it easier to think of memories associated with using that language. In my opinion, this point shows the effect of emotional factors on remembering memories and forgetting them. Because we have memories with a specific language, when we use that specific language, we remember memories that we may have forgotten.

    My name is Fatemeh Zare, a student at Iranian University


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