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Off topic: Being a different person in a second language
Thread poster: Anthony Green

Anthony Green  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 16:11
Italian to English
Jan 18, 2006

As a Brit livng in Italy for the last years, it has often struck me what a different person I am in one language and in another.
So today I was pleased to read about a scientific discovery which in some way I feel helps to explain my subjective sensation:

http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/EMIHC267/333/7228/453989.html?d=dmtICNNews

Any comments would be welcome!

Anthony Green
Bari, Italy


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:11
Dutch to English
+ ...
Truly fascinating Jan 18, 2006

Thanks for the link, Anthony!

I also become a different person depending on the language spoken in the country I am in.

The most noticeable difference is my volume. When in Spain, my volume goes up and I use my hands and the rest of my body to talk. In the Netherlands, my volume also goes up but in the UK I often feel I am whispering. I had a funny situation a few years back. I was waiting for a train with my girlfriend and all our kids: 5 ranging between 7 and 10. They were clowning around and there was another older couple waiting for the train. My British girlfriend had been telling the kids not to go over the safety line with no effect. I suddenly used my Dutch voice to tell them in English to keep to the safe area. The older couple nearly jumped out of their skin. So did the British kids. My kids must have been used to it because they did not bat an eyelid. We speak Dutch at home.


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Ana Brause  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:11
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Thank God Anthony!! Jan 18, 2006

So I'm not crazy then... that's quite a relief! Of course I was blaming my parents, we all do, don't we Cheers!

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Yolande Haneder  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:11
German to French
+ ...
Loud voice Jan 18, 2006

Marijke Singer wrote:

Thanks for the link, Anthony!

I also become a different person depending on the language spoken in the country I am in.

The most noticeable difference is my volume. When in Spain, my volume goes up and I use my hands and the rest of my body to talk. In the Netherlands, my volume also goes up but in the UK I often feel I am whispering. I had a funny situation a few years back. I was waiting for a train with my girlfriend and all our kids: 5 ranging between 7 and 10. They were clowning around and there was another older couple waiting for the train. My British girlfriend had been telling the kids not to go over the safety line with no effect. I suddenly used my Dutch voice to tell them in English to keep to the safe area. The older couple nearly jumped out of their skin. So did the British kids. My kids must have been used to it because they did not bat an eyelid. We speak Dutch at home.


I am a bit like you. I am much louder when I am speaking with french people as with german people. I try to explain it by the fact that (at least as far as I know) nobody in french is leaving you the time to answer and you have to cut the other's voice to get noticed whereas in Austria it is seen very rude not to wait that the other is ready with its speaking.
My husband is then calling this loud voice trying to get over the others my "phone" voice (because it is occuring most of the time at the phone). Now my son is getting this way of speaking as his normal way of speaking, since I cut everybody's speech at home, the others are doing it too and it can get quite loud at the time. The problem is that my son is scaring at the moment some unused granny over here because he is shouting so loud.
Still, I can't say they are used to everything because once I really get upset, I don't hear a sound for at least 3 minutes - everything is frozen (except for my husband who is not here at the time because he is otherwise the first to shout).
We are happy to have a house and a big garden.


[Edited at 2006-01-18 10:49]


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 07:11
English to French
+ ...
Language vs culture Jan 18, 2006

Interesting topic!

The way I see it, a language carries a culture with it, and we probably switch that culture on, so to speak, when we switch languages as we learn the culture along with the language, usually.

soooo... are we all schizo or what?


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:11
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Esperanto Jan 18, 2006

Anthony Green wrote:
As a Brit livng in Italy for the last years, it has often struck me what a different person I am in one language and in another.


One some Esperanto web site I have read a similar comment, about two friends who spoke Esperanto to each other, but when both switched to the one person's native language, that person "became" a different person to the other. And it makes perfect sense, too.


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French Foodie  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:11
French to English
+ ...
So true Jan 18, 2006

I often refer to "my linguistic selves" How different I am when I catch up with my Canadian (English speaking) girlfriends compared to my day-to-day French existence. In English I am seen as somewhat of a leader, I have a wacky, sarcastic sense of humour, I am more spontaneous: this is normal to my English-speaking friends. In French life I am more timid, more reserved. At first I thought this was because I was less comfortable with the language, but now I don't think so anymore, after 10 years living with a Frenchman in a French village, raising 2 French kids, I can say that I am pretty darn comfy. But I have to admit that I am not fully comfortable with my "French me" - often longing for my entourage here to understand my personality as a whole. Sometimes part of my wacky Anglo me will surface before my more reserved French self can control it, and I can see the utterly perplexed looks on the French faces around me. The Anglo me laughs and finds this amusing, whereas the French me worries about it for hours afterward!!
I've actually joined a French theatre troupe to try to overcome my shyness in French and "bridge my linguistic selves" so to speak! And I'm having a great time with it
Anyone looking for a good read on this topic should run out and pick up Nancy Houston's series of essays called "Losing North" or "Nord perdu"


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Marcela MF
Italy
Local time: 16:11
English to Romanian
+ ...
the real sound of your native tongue Jan 18, 2006

Very nice! I feel many times strange speaking Italian all the day and sometimes when I hear my native language in TV it seems to me “ that I hear the real sound of my language”....so strange.
Marcela


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PB Trans

Local time: 15:11
French to English
+ ...
UK / Canada Jan 18, 2006

sarahl wrote:

Interesting topic!

The way I see it, a language carries a culture with it, and we probably switch that culture on, so to speak, when we switch languages as we learn the culture along with the language, usually.


I agree. I even notice a difference when I am speaking English with my Canadian accent in the UK. And if I am using a typically British expression or word, I will pronounce it with a British accent. And when I'm back in Canada, I find myself using British expressions that no one understands! My friends make fun of me and tell me I am starting to sound like Madonna when she speaks! LOL


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 07:11
English to French
+ ...
Same here ;-) Jan 18, 2006

Mara Bertelsen wrote:

I often refer to "my linguistic selves" How different I am when I catch up with my Canadian (English speaking) girlfriends compared to my day-to-day French existence. In English I am seen as somewhat of a leader, I have a wacky, sarcastic sense of humour, I am more spontaneous: this is normal to my English-speaking friends. In French life I am more timid, more reserved. At first I thought this was because I was less comfortable with the language, but now I don't think so anymore, after 10 years living with a Frenchman in a French village, raising 2 French kids, I can say that I am pretty darn comfy.


I don't think language proficiency is the issue here as I am your mirror of sorts.I behave exactly the way you do while the situation is reversed. I feel confident in the US, much less in France. The surrounding culture is probably the key to our behavior.


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Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
certainly Jan 18, 2006

sarahl wrote:
The surrounding culture is probably the key to our behavior.


Whenever I visit Spain it takes me a few days to "shed" my American instincts. I can literally feel this happen physically, as my entire composure rearranges itself to match the environment. Most striking physical adjustment happens in my mouth, as invariably for the first few days of my visit I will labor to produce certain sounds that do not exist in the English language. By the end of my visit I have usually fully readapted phonetically...just in time to return to the U.S. and have to struggle with English phonetics for a few days

I love this topic, I too thought I was the only one with the split linguistic selves

A thought regarding the above: I grew up in Spain in a fully bilingual and bicultural setting, as my mother was French and insisted we all attend the French education system. We spoke both Spanish and French at home indistinctly, and often visited with relatives across the Pyrenees. I honestly don't remember ever feeling a split between these languages/cultures, but I certainly feel it between my current "incarnation" in the U.S., and the personality I revert to when I spend any time in Spain. This makes me wonder if the phenomenon is more prevalent when the other language/culture is adopted later in life, as a fully formed adult, as opposed to something one experiences from childhood. What do you think?

Susana


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:11
Dutch to English
+ ...
Chameleon syndrome Jan 18, 2006

Susana Galilea wrote:

A thought regarding the above: I grew up in Spain in a fully bilingual and bicultural setting, as my mother was French and insisted we all attend the French education system. We spoke both Spanish and French at home indistinctly, and often visited with relatives across the Pyrenees. I honestly don't remember ever feeling a split between these languages/cultures, but I certainly feel it between my current "incarnation" in the U.S., and the personality I revert to when I spend any time in Spain. This makes me wonder if the phenomenon is more prevalent when the other language/culture is adopted later in life, as a fully formed adult, as opposed to something one experiences from childhood. What do you think?

Susana


No, I don't think so. I grew up speaking three languages: Dutch at home and English and Spanish at school/with friends. I think it is more of what I call the "chameleon syndrome". We know we are different and yet we try to blend in. Maybe this is why we are good translators since we are very aware of the cultural nuances even if it is on an unconscious level. Does this make sense?


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Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
don't know if it makes sense Jan 18, 2006

Marijke Singer wrote:
Maybe this is why we are good translators since we are very aware of the cultural nuances even if it is on an unconscious level. Does this make sense?



...but it does add a nice spin to the conundrum

Susana


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xxxsarahl
Local time: 07:11
English to French
+ ...
Probably not Jan 18, 2006

Susana Galilea wrote:

This makes me wonder if the phenomenon is more prevalent when the other language/culture is adopted later in life, as a fully formed adult, as opposed to something one experiences from childhood. What do you think?

Susana


I think the main difference is not age, but exposure. You were exposed to two cultures all the time as a kid, when you're immersed in a single one now.

Phonetics have never been a problem for me when I visit the old country, but I can tell I'm different because we don't discuss the same things. And this doesn't change no matter how long I stay.

Sarah the alien


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Elizabeth Rudin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:11
Member (2005)
Hungarian to English
+ ...
‘You are as many persons as the languages you speak’ Jan 19, 2006

My own experience and the previous posts remind me of an old Hungarian saying: ‘You are as many persons as the languages you speak’.
I came across a similar Slovak saying recently, quoted in the new Framework Strategy for Multilingualism of the European Commission: ‘The more languages you know, the more of a person you are.’ (http://europa.eu.int/languages/servlets/Doc?id=913) Similar sayings may exist in other languages, too, and who knows, they may all originate from ancient Latin wisdom… In any case, it just goes to show that those who went before us experienced the same transformation when using other languages, and passed down their wisdom to us through the centuries…:)


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