Can Language Affect the Way We Feel?

Can language affect the way we experience emotions? More than ever, researchers are finding that language not only affects the way we communicate, but also the way that we think (see my previous post) and as has recently been discovered, the way that we experience emotions. This may come as no surprise to those who have grown up in a bilingual household, or are bilingual themselves. As is sometimes depicted in movies and TV shows, although it may be exaggerated, bilingual speakers sometimes switch between languages when expressing or feeling different emotions (think Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky).

Recently, Stephen Chen and Qing Zhou, psychological scientists in the United States, published an article about the emotional aspect of “code-switching”, which is the linguistic term for using multiple languages in conversation, in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. According to these researchers, the languages used by parents to talk about and express different emotions can affect the way that their children experience emotions. For example, because it is not common to directly express emotions in Finnish, a parent who speaks both English and Finnish may use English to share feelings of love with children. In turn, these children would come to understand that when their parents speak in English, they are more likely to be expressing emotions.

Although there is still much left to be studied on this topic, I believe that these researchers are on to something. In my own personal experience in speaking with bilingual people, I have noticed that people do tend to switch languages when the emotional tone of the conversation changes. Whether this is due comfort levels, cultural context, or the ability of different languages to accurately express certain emotions, there is still plenty left for researchers to investigate.

This research has many significant implications for linguistics and language. In particular, this shows further evidence of the strong differences in the world’s languages and the importance of using language experts for any translation needs. Trusted Translations, as a Global Leader in Multilingual Translations Services, has access to hundreds of language experts and is happy to provide you with a Free Quote on your next translation project.

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