Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Split Linguistic Personalities
August 10, 2011 - By: - In: Language - 33 comments

In a recent study by psychologists at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, researchers discovered that bilingual Chinese English speakers have a split personality, at least when they are speaking English and Chinese. “[Native] Chinese students who were fluent in English appeared more assertive and aggressive and open to new experiences,” which are the kinds of personality traits often associated with blue-eyed foreigners in a Chinese cultural context.

In Scientific American, writer Nathan Collins reports that the personality effects of language also varied depending on whether the interviewer was a Westerner or Chinese, even when both used English. “Personalities are not fixed. Instead the language a person is speaking—and with whom―can lead individuals to take on the personality traits of the culture associated with the language or the person.”

In my own bicultural household, I get grief from my wife for the way I act in Japanese. Seems I come off too fake, plus I speak Japanese like a girl. Apparently my NYC “Fuck you and have a nice day” persona plays better for her, but come to think of it she complains about the way I act in English too. Fuggedaboutit.

So I’m going to tell a story about Japanese wives. The other night, our friend and client Jim Nolan, a great immigration lawyer BTW, invited us to a Tea Ceremony at Urasenke, just north of Turtle Bay. I first discovered Sado or the Way of Tea as an immigration dodge when I was an illegal alien in Japan, but grew to love the green tea slurp and never refuse an invitation. Anyway, on this particular occasion, there was a bunch of bilingual Japanese East Side-type wives in our party.

Now at tea, it was all Manyoshu, ancient court poetry style, very refined, and the women were talking about the etiquette of not stepping on the cracks between the tatami mats. (For 30 years, I’ve been walking all over those cracks; wish someone had told me that sooner.) All proper, all correct. After the tea ceremony (and a couple of bottles of Chianti), the poetry citations shifted to English and the poet drunk Charles Bukowski and his poem “Japanese Wife,” which is a far cry from The Tale of Genji, and in fact involves a certain Japanese wife keeping Charles under the bed at knife point for two days running, which I could only interpret as a warning. So between English and Japanese personalities, the same but different, although only her EKG technician knows for sure.

There are obvious cultural differences in effect and cognition between East and West, where OCD meets ADD. With all the different gestures and behaviors between those languages, differences in effect will be obvious. Looking for some good stories from readers, particularly between languages where behaviors aren’t as different as between Japanese and English.

Yoroshiku – Translation Guy

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