Do (bilinguals) trilinguals have (two) three different personalities?

My Consumer Behavior Professor at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business recently invited Prof. Lynn R. Kahle (university of Oregon) for a discussion about the stability of social values. Prof. Kahle’s research topics include international marketing, lifestyles and psychographics, sports marketing, attitudes and values, sustainability and communication. He has also been honored by the American Marketing Association and is the president of the Society for Consumer Psychology (SCP).

During his speech he brought up his longitudinal study about the stability of values of bilingual students in Singapore. Students were given surveys measuring the importance they placed on different social values. First, they had to complete the questionnaire in English, and three weeks later they received an identical survey in Chinese. Research findings showed that the responses from the Chinese questionnaire tend to be more extreme than those collected from English questionnaires. During focus groups, students explained that their personalities change with the language they use. In Singapore, English is mainly spoken with friends, while Chinese is used when communicating with elder family members.

This got me thinking about my own use of languages. Coming from a diverse linguistic background, I regularly use four different languages: When talking to family back home I speak my native language, Luxembourgish. At work and in school, I speak English and when communicating with friends overseas, I use French resp. German. If I had different personalities with each language, someone would have mentionned this, no?

Let’s have a look at Kahle’s LOV, a list that contains 9 values, that respondents said influenced their lives: self-respect, being well respected, warm relationships with others, a sense of belonging, fun and enjoyment in life, excitement, self-fulfilment, a sense of accomplishment, security.

Indeed, I rank those values differently when I use different languages.

The English “me” is ambitious and highly competitive: I want to win that competition and get that internship! I am more likely to put high importance on being respected and on accomplishing my goals. Belonging to a community or building meaningful relationships seem less significant.

The French “me” is rather looking for fun and enjoyment: Remember that great summer I spent in Paris? Professional goals take a back seat. I am more likely to be focused on social interactions and excitement. Reminded of my time spent in Paris, I opt for self-fulfillment, being all you can be.

Finally, the Luxembourgish “me” brings out my sense of belonging: Where are my roots? Being separated from my family by several thousand miles, I am only reminded of my life back home when I use my mother tongue. Warm relationships with others and security are crucial values in this case.

I guess this will make future job interviews a lot more interesting when asked: “Please tell me about yourself.”

Next: From the corporate rainforest to the Asian jungle

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2 thoughts on “Do (bilinguals) trilinguals have (two) three different personalities?

  1. I agree here, but there is nothing wrong with it, as languages shape us subconsciously, language is also part of the culture, so either you are taking it in or it will take you by force, you have no choice.

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