In our modern world, one most vital human ability we have developed is the ability to use language. Language as a skill, is quite impressive an ability for a species, when comparing us to other animals, so psychologists are very interested in how this ability is related to and effects our behaviour in the social world. This research may be useful for helping those with poorer language and communication abilities to improve, and language is so connected with every part of our lives, that it is relatable to most other psychological understanding.
Much of the way we think may itself be determined by our language. When we think about the world, we tend to do so in terms of spoken language, and this may be related to cultural differences in behaviour, since in different languages, there may or may not be words for certain things. In Eastern cultures there are far more words relating to honour and family values, since these are seen as more important than they are in Western cultures. Vygotsky, an important developmental psychologist, believed that language was particularly important to our overall behaviour, since our inner thought involves us having a sort of inner conversation with ourselves. The most extreme version of this theory is known as Linguistic Relativity, and it poses that people from different cultures in fact see the world in a completely different way because of the database of knowledge they have collected in language.
A further example of this is that the Inuit people, who live in snowy regions have far more words to describe snow, and the Hopi tribe of North America does not differentiate between living and non-living things that fly, meaning that they may see birds and aeroplanes as far more similar objects than we do. This aspect of language may be one of the big barriers that people face when learning languages, as words do not simply translate as you would expect them to. Many languages give genders to all objects, which feels odd to someone whose first language is English since the majority of nouns are neutral in that language. Because our world is now more international than ever before, with travel becoming increasingly easy, words are often simply borrowed from other languages, since this is much simpler than to describe the meaning in any other language.
Speech style, regarding accents, languages and dialects can also be important in the psychology of group membership. One’s national or ethnic identity may be in part indicated by their accent, and those who view their place in that ethnic group as less important will de-emphasise their accent or language and may try to fit in with the mainstream language style of the area they live in. For example, some older Welsh people may have stronger pride in their heritage and so will choose to keep speaking Welsh as their primary language, whilst some, perhaps of the younger generation may care less about this national identity and so will use English most of the time.
Language has the power to alter our perception of events and to solidify group loyalty. This is perhaps best illustrated in George Orwell’s book ‘1984’, in which the language ‘newspeak’ is invented by the rulers of the society to stop people thinking anything other than what is desired, since words for these things are non-existent. While this kind of conspiracy is an exaggeration of the power the media really holds over us, it shows very neatly why this area of human behaviour is of particular interest to psychologists and it could hold the answer to understanding exactly how the human mind is shaped into the adult one from birth.
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