Can the Language we speak affect the way we behave?

January 17, 2020

Does the language we speak affect our behaviour? In particular our economic decisions; a concept that I doubt many #linguists would concur with. However, Behavioural Economist and Yale professor Keith Chen has set out to prove otherwise.

 

In his study, Chen concludes that people save more or spend more depending on the language that they speak. And the reason that he gives is the treatment of time and tenses within a language.

 

Chen divided the #languages of the world into two groups- those that strongly distinguish between present and future tenses (such as English, Greek and Arabic) and those that do not (e.g. Mandarin, German and Norwegian).

 

Chen theorises that speakers of languages that have a separate #verb tense for the future find it harder to associate their present behaviour with their future selves, which in turn makes them 30% less likely to save money than those speakers from the other, future tense free language group.

 

Naturally, the findings have caused some controversy. Morton Lau, director of Durham University’s Centre for Behavioural Economics, commented that “You have to be careful with the inferences you make from correlations like these. It is very difficult to control for multiple factors."

 

"It's a tempting idea that simply doesn't make any sense."

 

Professor Chen, however, staunchly defends his findings: "What's remarkable is when you find correlations this strong and that survive so many aggressive sets of controls, it's actually hard to come up with a story of what else might be causing this."

 

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