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Do I really have 4 different personalities?

| Thursday, March 4, 2021

I was grabbing coffee with a friend the other day when my mom called me, so I stopped to take the call. 

“Wow, you sounded way different,” commented my friend. She was referring to the fact that I was speaking to my mother in French. 

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I don’t know, you just sounded more lively but also kinda softer…?” she replied.

I have thought of that conversation for a few days now. Did speaking four different languages mean I had four different personalities? How was my attitude changing as I switched from one to the other?

In a scientific study entitled “Two Languages, Two Personalities,” two Hong Kong Polytechnic University professors who mainly analyzed the difference between English and Cantonese, concluded that their findings demonstrate that cross-language differences exist on some personality dimensions. “When bilinguals interacted with interlocutors from different cultures, they showed characteristics corresponding to their perceptions of normative personality in those cultures.” Examples of this are all over the internet. 

Blogger Nina recounts in a recent article for The Expater, “I once walked in on a South Korean friend speaking to her parents on the phone. I wouldn’t call it a chat, but a prolonged rant with the occasional whine thrown in. ‘Is everything OK?’ I asked, tentatively. ‘Oh sure, I was just catching up about this new restaurant they went to…’ Is South Korean an inherently rude language? Or does it just sound this way to ignorant foreigners?”

New Republic editor Noam Scheiber revealed that he stopped speaking only in Hebrew to his three-year older due to the impact that it had on his persona. Scheiber claimed that his personality became far colder and less articulate when speaking in Hebrew while communicating in English brought out his natural sensibility, patience and a greater level of empathy.

Emeritus professor of psycholinguistics François Grosjean summarized this theory by expressing that “different contexts and domains trigger different impressions, attitudes and behaviors.” The structure and grammar of a language, fluency, cultural backgrounds, social roles, etc. definitely come into play here and affect the way you “present yourself” when speaking a certain language. 

What I am sure of is this: Growing up in a multilingual home has definitely helped shape and refine several aspects of my character. In English, I feel more confident and sometimes even more professional. French reminds me of my childhood; just a bunch of fond memories with my French-educated mother who insisted that French sounded more refined. Indeed, I do feel that French brings out a softer, more refined side of me. In Arabic, I am definitely louder and more lively. Arabic reminds me of my people back home. Laughter, sass and sarcasm … When I speak in Arabic with someone, it just feels like chatting with an old friend even if we just met five minutes ago while waiting for the elevator.

I find it fascinating how divergent languages affect our thoughts and personalities. It might seem subtle at first or even go completely unnoticed. That’s how it was for me at first. But now, after I’ve thought of it (and researched it thoroughly) I do agree with the Czech proverb that translates into: “You live a new life for every new language you speak.”

Krista Akiki is a sophomore at Notre Dame majoring in business analytics. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel-lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she navigates college life and stands up for the issues she believes. She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @kristalourdesakiki

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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