Multilingual = Multi-personality?

By June 16, 2014March 25th, 2020General

It is hardly a new proposition that language affects our world view. However, some studies are now suggesting that people who speak more than one language may unconsciously change their personality as they switch languages.  So what is going on here?

Multipersonality blog infoLast week, I shared this picture on MasterWord’s Facebook and received extremely high response. The vibe was tangled with mixed thoughts and tied to speculation. I was impressed by the great volume of shares, likes, and even comments. Of the followers who commented, there were three who wholeheartedly agreed, one noncommittal “maybe,” and a firm “no.”

To put this high buzz theory to deeper investigation, I take you behind the scenes at MasterWord to interview four team members who speak different languages. This is their take on whether language influences their actions.

Multipersonality blog photoPhoto: By Sandy Pham of Lucy Borrego

Lucy, not Maria

“I do think I switch the way I behave from one language to the other.  When I speak Spanish, I am way more proper and behave very differently.  Even with my names.  When an English speaker calls me Maria, I have no problem with it.  When a Spanish speaker calls me Maria, I immediately correct them and let them know that it’s Lucy.  It is very strange, but I do see a change in my behavior,” says Maria, Training and Assessment Coordinator, speaker of Spanish and English.

Numbers game

“I wouldn’t say that my personality changes dramatically when I switch between Vietnamese and English, but for some reason, I’m much more focused when counting and comparing numbers in Vietnamese than in English. This only happens when I say it inside my head, not out loud. It’s kind of weird. Another thing to note is that when I am talking to my parents, only Vietnamese comes out. I think my brain has been trained that way!” says May, Assistant Manager of Accounting Division, Vietnamese and English speaker.

Direct or indirect

“Absolutely, I believe that a speaker’s personality changes depending on the language.  If the pronunciation of the language itself is soft, as in French, then usually the social interaction becomes softer.   As an American who formally studied language and didn’t grow up bilingual, I think the personality changes depending on how the person views the culture itself as well.  For example, if you view a culture and language as direct, like in Russian, then you’ll become more direct because you think it’s appropriate,” quotes Clay, Training and Assessment Coordinator, who speaks French, Russian, and English.

Visibly funny

“When I’m communicating in sign language, the way I joke changes, especially because of the visual nature of the language. I see irony in places that I just don’t see in English,” says Ryan Foley, ASL Interpreter and Training and Assessments Manager.

Based on these comments, we have reason to believe that personalities could be fluid and affected by language and context of setting for persons speaking. We are curious to hear your input. Care to share?