Author Topic: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language  (Read 485 times)

xSilverPhinx

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How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« on: April 15, 2018, 03:27:33 PM »

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What defines who we are? Our habits? Our aesthetic tastes? Our memories? If pressed, I would answer that if there is any part of me that sits at my core, that is an essential part of who I am, then surely it must be my moral center, my deep-seated sense of right and wrong.

And yet, like many other people who speak more than one language, I often have the sense that I’m a slightly different person in each of my languages—more assertive in English, more relaxed in French, more sentimental in Czech. Is it possible that, along with these differences, my moral compass also points in somewhat different directions depending on the language I’m using at the time?

Psychologists who study moral judgments have become very interested in this question. Several recent studies have focused on how people think about ethics in a non-native language—as might take place, for example, among a group of delegates at the United Nations using a lingua franca to hash out a resolution. The findings suggest that when people are confronted with moral dilemmas, they do indeed respond differently when considering them in a foreign language than when using their native tongue.

Continues here (Scientific American)

This is new to me, and intriguing. I can't say a difference in my moral compass is something I've noticed in myself when switching between languages, though.

Thoughts?

Edited to fix link.
« Last Edit: April 15, 2018, 05:02:05 PM by xSilverPhinx »
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philosoraptor

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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2018, 04:39:55 PM »
An interesting question indeed. I'm inclined to feel that no, language probably has little bearing on an individual's morality, although it may seem that way if one language has words for specific concepts that another language lacks. I'd argue that hypothetically, even if a language lacks specific words for say suicide, abortion, etc... that the concepts themselves may still be recognizable or accessible to speakers of the language, just that the words used to describe them are obviously different.

German is what comes to mind for me, because German has very specific words for these beautiful, ethereal concepts that are familiar to me as a native English speaker, even though there is no single comparable English word. Here is a list of a few of them. I'm partial to Backpfeifengesicht myself, it translate to "slap face" but it's what you would call someone who basically has a punchable face, like you just look at them and low-key wanna slap them. Kummerspeck is another good one, it literally translates to "grief bacon", but refers specifically to the weight you gain from emotional overeating after a traumatic event. We may lack equivalent words in English, but the concepts themselves are not foreign.

Now what I would be interested in seeing though are statistics regarding the incidents of certain behaviors, crimes, acts, etc... that often fall into what we'd call a moral gray area in places where the native language might lack specific terminology to describe these behaviors. Are their languages where there is no word for suicide and do people kill themselves in these places less frequently? Concrete numbers might inlcine me to change my opinion, but as it is, no, I don't think language necessary is a major influence on individual morality.
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Dave

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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2018, 04:57:01 PM »
Not saying it is in exactly the same bracket but I would like to stir in a quote from Edith Simon's "The Anglo-Saxon Manner":

Quote
Language is culture, from which customs spring. In it the national character us firmed. How, for example, could the intrinsic formality of French, the hide-and-seek play of tge verb in German, the teeming syllabary anbiguities of Sino-Japanese or the nercurial flexibility of English, fail to engender peculiarities in modes of thinking and, consequently, eithics?

Sprinkle in Ben Johson for seasoning:

Quote
Lanuage most shows a nan; speak that I might see thee.

Leaven with a dash of Wittgenstein:

Quote
The limits of your language are the limits of your world.

(And, yes, I have them framed!)

I was actually surprised by the idea the author (link needs attention, Silver) being relaxed by speaking French - then I thought about the "Gallic shrug", if it does not "bother" a French person it is not worthy of consideration.

After reading the Simon passsge I did wonder if it were not the other way round, the genetic "national personality" having formed the modes of the language. Us Brits are probably a more diverse genetic mix than the French - and we have swapped from being enemies to frenemies so nany times in history! We are genetic and language hybrids. The French have the Academė Francais to keep them (reaeonably) pure. Our shorter and more "earthy" words are mostly Gernanic, our longer, softer, words come from Norman French.
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2018, 06:01:40 PM »
The human moral compass is rapidly heading south.

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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2018, 07:55:05 PM »
The human moral compass is rapidly heading south.
Wouldn't it be that morals is what makes one human and differentiates a person from animal. At the same time, if morals can change then, what was moral yesterday wasn't moral if it could be changed. It would seem that morals can't be changed as a change in morals also changes the person---to what, and wouldn't that then be a worse person. I think it's morals that make societies compatible.
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2018, 08:12:01 PM »
The human moral compass is rapidly heading south.
Wouldn't it be that morals is what makes one human and differentiates a person from animal. At the same time, if morals can change then, what was moral yesterday wasn't moral if it could be changed. It would seem that morals can't be changed as a change in morals also changes the person---to what, and wouldn't that then be a worse person. I think it's morals that make societies compatible.
Study apes, chimpanzees and bonobos, they have a sort of analogue to basic morals, a proto-morality that is part of their survival tool-kit. But even with non-primates there are rules of behaviour that are built in, especially in group or pack animals, to prevent incest and inbreeding. It could be more of a case that we formulate and codify inherent behaviours - and give them names. Then we think we invented them or had them granted from on high.

The latter is possibly more accurate and part of "godship" is the rump end of our "animal instincts."

Added: to us the morality of Muslims and other ethnic groups is strange, even almost repulsive. Is tgat due to their actual language or due to the demands of survival at the time their language was forming? Girl-child and multiple marriage are not unusual amongst less advanced cultures, it was a way of ensuring the syrvival if the group, women being more important, in sone ways, than men - just do long as there were enough men to do the "manly" work. The language gains words and phrases to make these behaviours legitimate. Then it gets codified in some book that the men decide is scripture. The rest is history.
« Last Edit: April 15, 2018, 08:30:09 PM by Dave »
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2018, 10:25:14 PM »
  The culture, habits, state of the economy, climate extremes, and ....yes religion, and other variables must influence ones frame of mind.  A Kazakistan person has a whole different set of circumstances from a Thailander.  They speak different languages but that is not the deciding behavior factor.

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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2018, 10:54:37 PM »
  The culture, habits, state of the economy, climate extremes, and ....yes religion, and other variables must influence ones frame of mind.  A Kazakistan person has a whole different set of circumstances from a Thailander.  They speak different languages but that is not the deciding behavior factor.
It may not be the deciding behaviour factor but I could be persuaded that cultural values and language have a link. If a culture, and its vslues, is a product of environment, going back a long time, then this might also influence a developing language. Until recently many parts of the world had minjmal external influence, this is changing and cultural values and language are changing with it. In some areas this is causing generational conflict and posdinly violence.

That is a process that is historical, Britain underwent great change during the Industrial Revolution, farm hands moved to the factories snd learned a new culture and language. The Victorian Age grew out of that.
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2018, 11:07:43 PM »
This discussion has taken a different turn from what is in the article, but that's ok, it's very interesting. :smilenod:

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xSilverPhinx

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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2018, 11:08:56 PM »
  The culture, habits, state of the economy, climate extremes, and ....yes religion, and other variables must influence ones frame of mind.  A Kazakistan person has a whole different set of circumstances from a Thailander.  They speak different languages but that is not the deciding behavior factor.
It may not be the deciding behaviour factor but I could be persuaded that cultural values and language have a link. If a culture, and its vslues, is a product of environment, going back a long time, then this might also influence a developing language. Until recently many parts of the world had minjmal external influence, this is changing and cultural values and language are changing with it. In some areas this is causing generational conflict and posdinly violence.

That is a process that is historical, Britain underwent great change during the Industrial Revolution, farm hands moved to the factories snd learned a new culture and language. The Victorian Age grew out of that.

Are you suggesting that moral values are somehow "embedded" in a language? :notsure:
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Dave

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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #10 on: April 15, 2018, 11:56:48 PM »
  The culture, habits, state of the economy, climate extremes, and ....yes religion, and other variables must influence ones frame of mind.  A Kazakistan person has a whole different set of circumstances from a Thailander.  They speak different languages but that is not the deciding behavior factor.
It may not be the deciding behaviour factor but I could be persuaded that cultural values and language have a link. If a culture, and its vslues, is a product of environment, going back a long time, then this might also influence a developing language. Until recently many parts of the world had minjmal external influence, this is changing and cultural values and language are changing with it. In some areas this is causing generational conflict and posdinly violence.

That is a process that is historical, Britain underwent great change during the Industrial Revolution, farm hands moved to the factories snd learned a new culture and language. The Victorian Age grew out of that.

Are you suggesting that moral values are somehow "embedded" in a language? :notsure:

Um, not "embedded" but possibly one might influence the other? If a culture accepts, say, the concept of the child-bride then their language may have a term for it that describes such in a perfectly acceptable way. Our term "child-bride" is pejorative because it is an immoral concept for us, the Arabic term may be perfectly acceptable in traditional culture. Thus the "moral value" of a term, may follow the cultural values whilst the cultural values may possibly grow out of a practice that was a survival necessity in more primitive times. With a long term acceptance of the term, over centuries, it may become resistant to being seen as unacceptable when external influences invade. Some cultures are incredibly resistant to change!

Just a theory.
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2018, 12:56:13 AM »
Ah, ok.

I have no idea. :notsure:
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2018, 09:50:59 AM »
Thinking about it, and taking child-brides again as an example, the age for martiage in Anglo-Saxon England was 7, but that was between peers, not between an adult and a child. In early cultures it could be that children "matured", in some respects, at an early sge. There is evidence that they did far more work carrying at an early age than children today (bone "spurs" at muscle attachment points caused by lifting whilst bones still growing). Living in single room huts nudity and sexual activity would have been familiar, everyday things. Young girls would have helped with childbirth, if only by heating and bringing water. Boys would have started training for adulthood almost as soon as they could walk, could throw something to "tune" their reflexes and spatial sense.

Also possibly, in a culture with strong clan and tribal affiliations and a patriarchal structure, taking a child-bride may not have meant sex with a child but a formal adoption into a family, with the protection that entailed. But, of course, power and "basic instincts" can corrupt even the best of traditions.

So, our modern Western morality may be a sort of fashion or a mask behind which older habits hide.

A friend used to say, of her son (and other kids), out of his hearing, "They need permission and the space to be children...". To his face she would say, with force or even anger, "Grow up!" The first is a "fashion" the second maybe an historical, even genetic, imperative.

Seems off the idea of the thread but I think, as individuals, there is still a link between language, instilled cultural vslues, what we think, what we do (language as a form of displaced aggression) and what our genetic disposition is. All of these may effect our own behaviour. A nation is a group of individuals where we try to "smooth out" the high and low spots to find a compromise that is acceptable to all. Laws are changed by public opinion.

To this group of individuals instilling a belief system, beyond that which we currently accept as "civilised behaviour",  into the minds of children is immoral - yet those very "instillers" claim the moral high ground. They have a different use of language to us.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2018, 10:40:49 AM by Dave »
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2018, 10:56:07 AM »
I think there is more to it than language.  My family migrated to Australia from England in 1964.  My uncle and his kids stayed in England.  Over the years although we have retained a fairly close relationship, given the kilometres between us, I have noticed a distinct drift in overall attitudes between the two branches of the family.  The English branch seem much more "closed in" than we Aussies.  I'm not sure whether I would call this a moral difference, but it is certain that things like moving house and changing jobs seem much more uncommon amongst the English part.  Australians seem to me to be more open than the English and I know that my Aussie family is much more accepting of things like same sex marriage and migrants of different ethnic backgrounds.  Mind you, my parents are still somewhat old fashioned about those things.  The thing is, Australian English, despite all our abbreviations of everything in sight, is still firmly based on British English, so I don't think the difference are due to language.   Although thinking about it, the casual way we Aussies use language* is perhaps a counter point to my argument. LOL!

*The following, I assure you makes perfect sense to an Aussie:
Let's go to Broadie this arvo and grab a slab and some goon from the bottle-o.  Better stop at the servo on the way back too, the old man wants some bardies and scrubbies to take to the river tomorrow. 
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Re: How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language
« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2018, 11:58:31 AM »
I think there is more to it than language.  My family migrated to Australia from England in 1964.  My uncle and his kids stayed in England.  Over the years although we have retained a fairly close relationship, given the kilometres between us, I have noticed a distinct drift in overall attitudes between the two branches of the family.  The English branch seem much more "closed in" than we Aussies.  I'm not sure whether I would call this a moral difference, but it is certain that things like moving house and changing jobs seem much more uncommon amongst the English part.  Australians seem to me to be more open than the English and I know that my Aussie family is much more accepting of things like same sex marriage and migrants of different ethnic backgrounds.  Mind you, my parents are still somewhat old fashioned about those things.  The thing is, Australian English, despite all our abbreviations of everything in sight, is still firmly based on British English, so I don't think the difference are due to language.   Although thinking about it, the casual way we Aussies use language* is perhaps a counter point to my argument. LOL!

*The following, I assure you makes perfect sense to an Aussie:
Let's go to Broadie this arvo and grab a slab and some goon from the bottle-o.  Better stop at the servo on the way back too, the old man wants some bardies and scrubbies to take to the river tomorrow.

I agree, culture shapes the use of language and the behaviour of people rather than the other way round. You need yo u derdrand ghst rdlatiinship yo understand the people in that culture. Sociologists cannot be judgemental in doing their jobs.

I was told, as a kid, "The Eskimo has no word for snow," as a stand alone fact. True, no generic word for snow, the understanding of the nature and possible uses of different kinds of snow can be a matter of life or death, so each kind needs a unique identity.

As I said before my college research project covered the future of English and the way other cultures, ex-colonies included, changed it. Any chance of a translation, Bluenose?

A person from the 19th century would struggle a bit to understand everyday modern English.
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