What is the influence of mother tongue on English

Study on the influence of language: you think how you speak

German-speaking people think differently than English-speakers, according to a study. She examines how language influences our view of the world.

We think differently in English than in German. Image: marqs / photocase

BERLIN taz | What is language It doesn't just consist of sounds and letters. It is not only a means of communication, it also influences our thinking. According to a study published in March by the University of Lancaster, English speakers think differently than German speakers when they observe an action.

English speakers are more likely to focus on the course of an action, while German speakers are more likely to perceive the goal. This is the result of a research team led by the linguist Panos Athanasopoulos. They suspected that the ing – form with which actions taking place at the moment are described leads to actions being viewed as less goal-oriented than in German.

To verify this hypothesis, the team formed three comparison groups: 15 monolingual English speakers living in Great Britain, 15 monolingual German speakers living in Germany, and 30 bilingual participants in both countries.

The test subjects were shown three short videos each. The first film featured a person walking aimlessly down a country road. The next film showed a person walking purposefully towards and entering a house. In the last clip, a person was walking down a street with a car at the end. It was unclear whether she was heading specifically for the car.

The way as the goal?

After watching the three videos, the test subjects were asked to decide whether the last video with the parked car was more similar to the first or the second. At the end, the last film scene shown should be described. As assumed, the test subjects interpreted what they saw differently depending on the language.

40 percent of the only German-speaking test subjects were of the opinion that the person had specifically approached the parked car. In contrast, only 25 percent of the only English-speaking participants saw a targeted action.

Significant differences were also found in the 30 bilingual test subjects, half of whom were tested in German and half in English. If they described what they saw in English, fewer people saw a targeted action than among those who took the test in German.

In a second experiment that the bilingual subjects were subjected to, the subjects had to repeat a sequence of numbers while watching the videos. This should block the language used to recite the numbers. When the English language was blocked, more people saw a targeted action in the videos than when the German language was blocked.

The research team therefore speaks of a “highly adaptive and flexible human conceptualization system that is decisively influenced by language.” In other words: you think as you speak.

Unemotional foreign language

Other research published in recent years supports this thesis. A study published in doi / 10.1371 / journal.pone.0094842 & representation = PDF: 2014 showed that we make more useful decisions in a foreign language than in our mother tongue.

The willingness to throw a person in front of a moving train to save five other people increases when you talk about it in a foreign language. Probably because the so-called emotional reactivity is lower in a foreign language than in the mother tongue, according to the authors of the study.

The emotional distance in the foreign language was also shown in an experiment at the University of Chicago. The test subjects were confronted with statistically attractive betting offers. It turned out that they were more willing to take risks in the foreign language than in their mother tongue, probably because they were less afraid of losing. So making financial decisions in a foreign language would pay off, the study concluded.

The economist M. Keith Chen also examined the connection between language and financial decisions. He caused a stir two years ago when he claimed that some languages ​​were more likely to encourage saving than others. This has to do with the fact that languages ​​that prescribe a strong future tense instruct people to act less future-oriented.

In German, for example, one would say: “Tomorrow I will save”, which is more future-oriented than the English version: “Tomorrow I will save money.” This is how Chen argued the German savings dictation in a linguistic way. Understandably, he received criticism for this. For example, the linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum pointed out that English has both weak and strong future tense forms, thereby invalidating a central thesis of Chen's.

Our language cannot be used to justify all of our thinking. Not yet?