Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, January 05, 2021

Does speaking more than one language bestow upon you more than one personality? Petite Anglaise thinks so, as she detects different mannerisms between her French-speaking and English-speaking selves.

Being brought up bilingual, I’ve got some insight on this…

I wouldn’t go so far as to characterize my Greek-speaking mode as a wholly separate personality, or even as a different frame of mind. But there may be some extremely subconscious gear-shifting there. Certainly, my choice of diction is somewhat more formal in Greek as compared to English.

However, a chief reason for this is probably the audiences I’m addressing in each language. English is my everyday tongue, used with intimates, friends, colleagues and strangers. Greek is used exclusively for family, and elder family members at that. I’m not in a situation where I speak to a wide range of people in Greek, so that affects how I speak it.

Also, unlike Petite Anglaise, I don’t have any opportunity to speak both English and Greek to the same people. My peer relatives (brother and cousins) are as bilingual as I am, but we never speak anything but English amongst ourselves. That’s just how it’s always been.

The other difference between me and Petite Anglaise is the way we acquired our other languages. She learned French as a second language, well after being raised to think and speak in English. I learned English and Greek concurrently, from birth. I can see how acquiring a second (or third or fourth) language, well after linguistic skills are ingrained, can be akin to adopting another persona; it’s an efficient means of expression. But learning multiple languages during your fundamental developmental years is different: You can’t separate things because you don’t have a base personality from which to distinguish your “other” language — both have equal standing in your mind.

The litmus test would be how I, with that background, would acquire additional languages: Would it be natural to take this third language as distinct from my two native tongues? I wish I could remember. I took Spanish in high school, and got pretty good at it; but it didn’t stick, because I forgot it all after abandoning study for a year. I took German for a year in college, but never got particularly good at it. In both cases, I just don’t remember what my thought process was; fact is, I never bothered to consider it.

So, should you avoid picking up additional languages, for fear of mental instability? I can’t say I’m an exemplar in this area. I guess, if anything, you should embrace your subject fully, and not separate it within yourself.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 01/05/2021 09:37:58 PM
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  1. I enjoyed that posting. Thanks!

    Comment by Isaac — 01/06/2021 @ 04:50:19 PM

  2. I definitely have a different personality when I speak English and when I speak German. I haven’t been speaking German that long and so I am still quite shy and not very confident when I speak. However, that is a total 180 from my real (or English-speaking) personality!

    Comment by Renee — 01/06/2021 @ 05:30:15 PM

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