I found myself today commenting/reflecting on a (FB) posted article quite extensively, so I decided to put that comment here as a blog. The article was called "How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language: Fascinating ethical shifts come with thinking in a different language." You can find it linked at the base of this blog. What the piece inspired in me was recollecting on various behavioural principles I noticed when I first went travelling in Europe in my mid-teens. Particularly how I noticed that not just morality, but also how we view the world and our social permissions seem to be dictated by concepts inherent in the culture/language. More specifically that even in countries that appear similar (my case studies: England, Holland, France, & Germany) social reality can be quite different. Anyway, here's what I wrote:
I remember when I first noticed that people process/think/judge differently from culture to culture. Coming from a repressed English environment, and then the first foreign country I lived in and learned the language being France. It was quite a difference. It felt like my brain had new wiring put in place by the new language. I observed that certain concepts in English didn't even seem to exist in other languages! (And vice versa.)
Varying social permissions seemed to be somehow present in the way people put together concepts and perceptions in different languages. The next country I spent time in and learned the language was Germany. That was a huge eye-opener about how the language structure appeared to restrict and channel thought processes and perceptions, not to mention social permissions. Then later I added some Dutch (Netherlands) and Spanish (Ecuador) to complete the research package.
Morals (right & wrong) became apparent as being to some extent arbitrary. Rather than being these things I'd been told were set in stone actually depended on the language you were using. They varied in different countries. It was very interesting to notice the freedom in that. (I'm talking about self-expression and social interactions, not criminal activities!) It felt that the differences were embedded in cultural values, and those values were embedded in the language structure itself - which framed concepts differently from other languages.
It felt to me as if language structures reflected psychological and emotional beliefs. It was a bit of a 'chicken and egg' conundrum. I was asking myself questions such as: “Do people think a certain way because their language structure encourages them to think that way? Or did the language structure evolve to reflect the way people thought originally, and if so how come people in diverse countries thought differently from one another in the first place?”
My main conclusion (at the time) to myself was that whatever the origins of concepts/judgments etc (language or original ways of thinking) when one is born into a culture, the structure of that culture's language moulds and restricts how one sees the world, interacts with the world, perceives the options of self-expression and judges what is right and wrong. It was a very expansive experience to learn some new languages and in so doing to liberate more of my options for being an alive and expressed human being. (Beyond those structures taught to me through being English.)
Later on (mainly in Melbourne) I was very fortunate to study NLP with a few different organisations, but most prominently with James Tsakalos. This gave me more of an understanding of what was happening in the human 'mind' when it came to 'processing the world'. How variation in language structure even in the same language could have an enormous difference on one's experience of life and relationships. I still to this day, for instance, gain huge beneficial mileage from entertaining the concept: “One's quality of life entirely depends on the quality of the questions you ask yourself.” But that's another huge topic, and I digress from the original focus.
Arven (29 Sep 2016)
Click here if you would like to check out the original article mentioned at the start of this piece.
Arven Alexander is a self-development enthusiast, currently residing in Melbourne, Australia.