Using a foreign language changes moral decisions

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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:39
Russian to English
+ ...
Well, I don't know--I think it is stretched, and even sounds slightly biased. May 2, 2014

Perhaps the people who have an interest in learning other languages, are just more cosmopolitan or utilitarian.
Many jurors don't understand what the expert witnesses are talking about in any language.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:39
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
fuzzy stuff May 2, 2014

Ah so this article has resurfaced!

So I'll try and remember what I said in the other discussion which was axed...

While I think this type of research is dangerous, leading to hasty conclusions such as "foreigners don't give a d--n", there could perhaps be a grain of truth in it.

Lots of non-native speakers have confessed their love of swearing in English. It seems to be what they retain most easily from watching films with sub-titles. And they do seem to swear more readily in English.

I have always thought that this must be because you mostly learn your native tongue with your mother, whose primary concern is that you grow up to be a credit to her. She thus teaches not only language but above all morals, right and wrong. A lot of people make sure never to swear in front of their parents, and use swear words cautiously elsewhere too, in order not to get too much in the habit of it in case one slips out when speaking with Mum.

Then you learn a foreign language, at school, with a teacher whose primary concern is to make sure you get good marks and pass your exams. And if you swear in that language chances are your Mum won't even understand, which can be very liberating.

People who speak foreign languages obviously tend to be more cosmopolitan but I fail to see how utilitarian comes into it?

When I taught English as a foreign language I remember my adult students often said they felt like little kids again because they could only say simple things in English, they couldn't philosophise as they did in French. Perhaps this could account for them being more likely to push someone under a bus: they were seeing things through child-like eyes?

However this research seems to be pretty fuzzy and it would be a mistake to read too much into it.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:39
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, I think it is just biased nonsense. May 2, 2014

I am even surprised they were even allowed to publish something like that in the US.
Who are the non-native speakers? Tourists from Paris? I don't think you are even allowed to do this type of research on American people.



[Edited at 2014-05-02 20:20 GMT]


 

Petra_44  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:39
English to German
+ ...
none May 11, 2014

I agree with Lilian. What kind of racist BS is that?! People who learn a foreign language can't be trusted, shouldn't be on any jury, will throw you under a bus and love to swear because they don't care about the language they learn?
icon_frown.gif

Why am I wasting my time with this forum when I could read something about the stock market or clean my room instead? Or maybe I should just go outside and throw someone under a bus because I speak a couple of foreign languages? I'm German, too, so that makes me a mass murderer anyway, doesn't it?


 

Trisha F  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
There is a lot more to morals than language. May 11, 2014

If anything, speaking or even attempting to learn a foreign language is a gesture of tolerance and open-mindedness in many cases. People who are extemely insular and narrow the world down to their country / culture / language sometimes struggle to accept anything and anyone that is different so this research strikes me as biased, by what I can read in the article. I wonder about the researchers' views and attitudes towards foreign languages. In essence, do they think it is best not to learn them at all? What good can come out of that?

Also, I do not see the relationship between swearing and morals. I love to swear from time to time in any language I know. That does not make me a bad or immoral person.

I think that perhaps, the moral bias they are referring to is the cultural bias, rather than the use of a foreign language. Perhaps, people who are very attached to their cultural background and do not feel any emotional connection to the new country they are living in will have a more utilitarian view regarding certain matters. Language has little to do with it. I mean, at least they can communicate with the locals.

Having lived in different countries, I have found this situation a lot more complex. Many people elope to foreign lands to make money and other "utilitarian" reasons, do not blend in with their host country and reject the ways of the inhabitants, feeling this massive culture shock and never quite adapting. Others, grow to love the foreign land as much as their own, if not more. From rejection to assimilation and anything in-between, language is but a piece of the puzzle. Will we say that people who move somewhere else and refuse to learn the language are any more "moral"?

"Awareness of this impact of languages on moral dilemmas is fundamental to making more informed choices."

Yes, the impact is well-known. Learning foreign languages increases the chances of people understanding and bonding with each other. The researchers' justification of people being less emotionally involved when they speak foreign languages because they learn them in a classroom is pretty stupid. Foreign language lessons can be very fun and rewarding. People learn languages in different settings, not necessarily a classroom. Besides, there are many interactions and learning opportunities outside a classroom.

I love all of my languages, I think in them and feel them. All of them have contributed to my identity and to the way I see the world. I am sure millions of people feel the same way I do.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:39
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Whoa there! May 12, 2014

Petra_44 wrote:

I agree with Lilian. What kind of racist BS is that?! People who learn a foreign language can't be trusted, shouldn't be on any jury, will throw you under a bus and love to swear because they don't care about the language they learn?

icon_frown.gif

Why am I wasting my time with this forum when I could read something about the stock market or clean my room instead? Or maybe I should just go outside and throw someone under a bus because I speak a couple of foreign languages? I'm German, too, so that makes me a mass murderer anyway, doesn't it?


You could perhaps take the trouble to read my whole post, including the qualifiers such as 'I think this type of research is dangerous, leading to hasty conclusions such as "foreigners don't give a d--n"' and 'However this research seems to be pretty fuzzy and it would be a mistake to read too much into it' before starting to rant that you've been accused of being a murderer and shouldn't be on a jury because you know a foreign language. I speak five myself actually!

The point is that language does affect how you think and perceive the world. It may not be PC to say so, but it doesn't make it any less true. Part of opening up to other people is trying to understand not just the words they say but the meaning they give those words. Understanding things along the lines of a NES saying "I haven't had my coffee yet" means that they not only need some coffee but also a bit of peace and quiet until they've had time to regroup after a shrill alarm clock's rude awakening.

Swearing: of course it's great to let a swear word out to let off steam from time to time. The fact is that the vast majority of mothers will teach their children that it is rude to do so and that they should learn not to do so at least in certain situations. Swearing doesn't make you a bad person provided you only swear when it will offend nobody. If you start swearing at a poor shop assistant because the shop is out of pink shirts then that's totally inappropriate. Hey, and nobody said that language is all there is to morals! I did say that speaking a foreign language tended to go with being more cosmopolitan, which includes a certain degree of understanding of other cultures after all, and of course I agree that speaking foreign languages helps to bridge cultural gaps. I put something to that effect in my profile

The thing is that instead of just dismissing this stuff as BS we ought to try to factor uncomfortable truths in, learn from them, to be able to reach out to other cultures even more effectively. Moving forward and all that, rather than taking everything personally.


 

Trisha F  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
Just to be more precise... May 12, 2014

What I meant by swearing is of course in certain situations. If you swear at a poor shop assistant just because then the problem is not only the swearing but an abusive attitude. It depends on the context. If you are happy and you swear at a party with like-minded people, then what would be the problem? What if you are scared, angry and not at your best? You may not even be capable of controlling your language.

Here's a real-life example, I was travelling from York to Birmingham. The train was full and there was hardly any spot for bags anymore. I had a big suitcase and was not allowed to put it in the luggage area because, as soon as I had taken a smaller bag out to squeeze mine in, the drinks lady started pushing me with her cart and refused to wait. She did not even allow me to put the bag that did not belong to me back in so there I was, dragging down the aisle a bag that was not mine and feeling that everybody was staring at me.

Some gent told me not to touch stuff that did not belong to me and started lecturing me when he had clearly witnessed it was the drinks lady who had left me in that strange position. I tried to explain what had happened but he kept on telling me off. I was tired, had been travelling for a while and was deeply annoyed so I yelled: "Listen, I know it is not my fucking bag!" A woman at the back yelled "Mind your language", to which I replied something like "Refrain from meddling".

In all honesty, I would have sworn in any of my languages, no matter in which country this happened. Should I have done this? Perhaps not. It was on the spur of the moment and a clear sign of distress. Does that mean I had no morals? No, because all I wanted was to place my luggage in the appropriate area but people were clearly being unsympathetic and unhelpful. They knew that too so the lack of morals would rather come from them.

I do not link swearing to morals as severely as other people because I always take context into account. I have lived before in a Latin American country where people have a style of being abusive and offensive without saying a "bad word" as these are sort of taboo. They feign politeness but they are practically humiliating you senseless. In such situations I would have much preferred to have been slapped in the face than made fun of that way. This is mainly why I do not think that you need to swear, in order to be nasty. Actually, you can sometimes be much nastier and aggressive without swearing. I have seen that, zillions of times.

Regarding the research, I do think it is biased because language alone would not push you towards making certain decisions. It would be your ideas and preconceptions that would do a great deal of the job. I do not know if these factors were explored and on what grounds they can affirm that speaking a foreign language leads one to less moral decisions.

Now, let's flip the coin a little. I have the hypothesis, for example, that people who are in a foreign country and are not native speakers of said country's language are treated more badly by police and authorities, that they may be sentenced to more years in prison and so on. It could be said that monolingualism also pushes people to dehumanise the foreign party. I cannot affirm that this is true and do not wish to carry out research on the subject but in my perspective, that could also be an interesting subject. Still, I would not blame monolingualism because the fact that a person can only speak one language does not mean he / she is less moral. It would be a person's monolingualism plus ideas and cultural biases that would create an impact on moral decisions.

In a way, I am appalled at research that seems to suggest that learning languages is bad and that speakers of more than one language are less deserving of trust. I do not think you can establish a clear link between language and morality. And, as the researchers seem to assume that everybody just learns a language in a classroom and perhaps, being already an adult, there is a deep flaw in the research. People learn languages at various points of their lives, in a wide variety of settings. The fact that classroom learning equals less emotional involvement to them lacks objectivity. Surely other disciplines such as arts or medicine are learnt at a classroom. Now go tell an actor that they cannot genuinely feel the character they portray because he learnt to act in school or assume all doctors will perform badly because they went to uni and could not care less about patients as it all started in a classroom. At a first glance, in my opinion, the research is deeply flawed.


[Edited at 2014-05-12 16:05 GMT]


 

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
Lilian May 14, 2014

You said: "I am even surprised they were even allowed to publish something like that in the US." Have you ever heard of the First Amendment to the US Constitution?

 


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