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insight by wfx

Welcome to Wordwide FX's new enterprise!

Insight by WFX is a synthesis of our passion for languages and the financial markets. Here you will find technical and fundamental analyses from our clients, media partners and contributors in different languages, as well as discussions on languages and translation. And of course we will keep you updated on what is happening inside Wordwide FX Financial Translations. Hope you enjoy it! Greetings from the Wordwide FX team!

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11/09/2018

People are more honest when using a foreign tongue, research finds

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

New UChicago-led research suggests that someone who speaks in a foreign language is probably more credible than the average native speaker.

Boaz Keysar, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, and Yoella Bereby-Meyer, professor in psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, co-authored a recent paper in Topics in Cognitive Science that sheds new light on the role language plays in the natural impulse to lie.

In the research, native speakers of English, Spanish, Hebrew and Korean in four countries were invited to play a dice game in which they were paid according to the numbers they reported. Participants who used a foreign language were less likely to cheat than those using their native language, researchers found.

“When individuals have a chance to profit from dishonesty with no risk of being caught, their instinctive tendency is to cheat, while they refrain from cheating when they have time to deliberate,” Bereby-Meyer said. Such opportunities often occur in everyday situations, such as lying about a child’s age to get a cheaper ticket price, or not speaking up when you receive too much change. “There is a natural temptation to lie in these situations,” she added.

Roll of the dice

Working with groups in Spain, the United States, Israel and the Netherlands, researchers randomly assigned participants to perform the game in their native language or in a foreign language. They were paid according to the numbers they reported, and because the outcome was private, participants could cheat to inflate their profit without risk of repercussions.

Even though the game itself only involves reading numbers on a dice, all of the interaction was in the designated language and participants clicked on ‘number words’ on the screen, Bereby-Meyer said. “The die paradigm was a natural way to examine language’s effect on honesty.”

Even though the participants’ responses were private, the higher proportion of 5s or 6s selected by native language users showed that participants had a greater tendency to inflate their numbers when working in their native language.

“Even though there wasn’t much language involved, just being in a foreign language mindset made them more likely to resist temptation,” said Sayuri Hayakawa, a UChicago graduate student who was in charge of the UChicago part of the project.

Check your bias

Keysar and Bereby-Meyer argue that the findings challenge theories of ethical behavior to account for the role of the language in shaping ethical behavior. They believe the outcome is due to the fact that using a foreign language is less intuitive, so the automatic response systems that might give rise to cheating may be disengaged. “There is less temptation, so it becomes easier to refrain from impulsive behavior,” Bereby-Meyer said.

The study also provides a compelling narrative about inherent biases toward foreigners. “Studies have shown people with accents are perceived as less credible because they can be more difficult to understand,” Keysar said. These results suggest the opposite may be true.

Keysar believes this research has important implications, particularly in global business, in which companies work with foreign suppliers and customers on a daily basis. Even though a person’s gut instinct may be to trust these people less, the data show that if they are using a foreign language, they might be more honest.

Bereby-Meyer and Keysar plan to continue their work together in a new study exploring how language affects trust. The most recent study was done in collaboration with Shaul Shalvi from the University of Amsterdam, Albert Costa and Joanna Corey from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Sayuri Hayakawa from the University of Chicago.

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03/09/2018

Power Causes Brain Damage

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via The Atlantic

By Jerry Useem

If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he’s sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage?

When various lawmakers lit into John Stumpf at a congressional hearing last fall, each seemed to find a fresh way to flay the now-former CEO of Wells Fargo for failing to stop some 5,000 employees from setting up phony accounts for customers. But it was Stumpf’s performance that stood out. Here was a man who had risen to the top of the world’s most valuable bank, yet he seemed utterly unable to read a room. Although he apologized, he didn’t appear chastened or remorseful. Nor did he seem defiant or smug or even insincere. He looked disoriented, like a jet-lagged space traveler just arrived from Planet Stumpf, where deference to him is a natural law and 5,000 a commendably small number. Even the most direct barbs—“You have got to be kidding me” (Sean Duffy of Wisconsin); “I can’t believe some of what I’m hearing here” (Gregory Meeks of New York)—failed to shake him awake.

What was going through Stumpf’s head? New research suggests that the better question may be: What wasn’t going through it?

The historian Henry Adams was being metaphorical, not medical, when he described power as “a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.” But that’s not far from where Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, ended up after years of lab and field experiments. Subjects under the influence of power, he found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.

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Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University, in Ontario, recently described something similar. Unlike Keltner, who studies behaviors, Obhi studies brains. And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy. Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the “power paradox”: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.

That loss in capacity has been demonstrated in various creative ways. A 2006 study asked participants to draw the letter E on their forehead for others to view—a task that requires seeing yourself from an observer’s vantage point. Those feeling powerful were three times more likely to draw the E the right way to themselves—and backwards to everyone else (which calls to mind George W. Bush, who memorably held up the American flag backwards at the 2008 Olympics). Other experiments have shown that powerful people do worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.

The fact that people tend to mimic the expressions and body language of their superiors can aggravate this problem: Subordinates provide few reliable cues to the powerful. But more important, Keltner says, is the fact that the powerful stop mimicking others. Laughing when others laugh or tensing when others tense does more than ingratiate. It helps trigger the same feelings those others are experiencing and provides a window into where they are coming from. Powerful people “stop simulating the experience of others,” Keltner says, which leads to what he calls an “empathy deficit.”

Mirroring is a subtler kind of mimicry that goes on entirely within our heads, and without our awareness. When we watch someone perform an action, the part of the brain we would use to do that same thing lights up in sympathetic response. It might be best understood as vicarious experience. It’s what Obhi and his team were trying to activate when they had their subjects watch a video of someone’s hand squeezing a rubber ball.

For nonpowerful participants, mirroring worked fine: The neural pathways they would use to squeeze the ball themselves fired strongly. But the powerful group’s? Less so.

Was the mirroring response broken? More like anesthetized. None of the participants possessed permanent power. They were college students who had been “primed” to feel potent by recounting an experience in which they had been in charge. The anesthetic would presumably wear off when the feeling did—their brains weren’t structurally damaged after an afternoon in the lab. But if the effect had been long-lasting—say, by dint of having Wall Street analysts whispering their greatness quarter after quarter, board members offering them extra helpings of pay, and Forbes praising them for “doing well while doing good”—they may have what in medicine is known as “functional” changes to the brain.

I wondered whether the powerful might simply stop trying to put themselves in others’ shoes, without losing the ability to do so. As it happened, Obhi ran a subsequent study that may help answer that question. This time, subjects were told what mirroring was and asked to make a conscious effort to increase or decrease their response. “Our results,” he and his co-author, Katherine Naish, wrote, “showed no difference.” Effort didn’t help.

This is a depressing finding. Knowledge is supposed to be power. But what good is knowing that power deprives you of knowledge?

The sunniest possible spin, it seems, is that these changes are only sometimes harmful. Power, the research says, primes our brain to screen out peripheral information. In most situations, this provides a helpful efficiency boost. In social ones, it has the unfortunate side effect of making us more obtuse. Even that is not necessarily bad for the prospects of the powerful, or the groups they lead. As Susan Fiske, a Princeton psychology professor, has persuasively argued, power lessens the need for a nuanced read of people, since it gives us command of resources we once had to cajole from others. But of course, in a modern organization, the maintenance of that command relies on some level of organizational support. And the sheer number of examples of executive hubris that bristle from the headlines suggests that many leaders cross the line into counterproductive folly.

Less able to make out people’s individuating traits, they rely more heavily on stereotype. And the less they’re able to see, other research suggests, the more they rely on a personal “vision” for navigation. John Stumpf saw a Wells Fargo where every customer had eight separate accounts. (As he’d often noted to employees, eight rhymes with great.) “Cross-selling,” he told Congress, “is shorthand for deepening relationships.”

Is there nothing to be done?

No and yes. It’s difficult to stop power’s tendency to affect your brain. What’s easier—from time to time, at least—is to stop feeling powerful.

Insofar as it affects the way we think, power, Keltner reminded me, is not a post or a position but a mental state. Recount a time you did not feel powerful, his experiments suggest, and your brain can commune with reality.

Recalling an early experience of powerlessness seems to work for some people—and experiences that were searing enough may provide a sort of permanent protection. An incredible study published in The Journal of Finance last February found that CEOs who as children had lived through a natural disaster that produced significant fatalities were much less risk-seeking than CEOs who hadn’t. (The one problem, says Raghavendra Rau, a co-author of the study and a Cambridge University professor, is that CEOs who had lived through disasters without significant fatalities were more risk-seeking.)

But tornadoes, volcanoes, and tsunamis aren’t the only hubris-restraining forces out there. PepsiCo CEO and Chairman Indra Nooyi sometimes tells the story of the day she got the news of her appointment to the company’s board, in 2001. She arrived home percolating in her own sense of importance and vitality, when her mother asked whether, before she delivered her “great news,” she would go out and get some milk. Fuming, Nooyi went out and got it. “Leave that damn crown in the garage” was her mother’s advice when she returned.

The point of the story, really, is that Nooyi tells it. It serves as a useful reminder about ordinary obligation and the need to stay grounded. Nooyi’s mother, in the story, serves as a “toe holder,” a term once used by the political adviser Louis Howe to describe his relationship with the four-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom Howe never stopped calling Franklin.

For Winston Churchill, the person who filled that role was his wife, Clementine, who had the courage to write, “My Darling Winston. I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not as kind as you used to be.” Written on the day Hitler entered Paris, torn up, then sent anyway, the letter was not a complaint but an alert: Someone had confided to her, she wrote, that Churchill had been acting “so contemptuous” toward subordinates in meetings that “no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming”—with the attendant danger that “you won’t get the best results.”

Lord David Owen—a British neurologist turned parliamentarian who served as the foreign secretary before becoming a baron—recounts both Howe’s story and Clementine Churchill’s in his 2008 book, In Sickness and in Power, an inquiry into the various maladies that had affected the performance of British prime ministers and American presidents since 1900. While some suffered from strokes (Woodrow Wilson), substance abuse (Anthony Eden), or possibly bipolar disorder (Lyndon B. Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt), at least four others acquired a disorder that the medical literature doesn’t recognize but, Owen argues, should.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

I asked Owen, who admits to a healthy predisposition to hubris himself, whether anything helps keep him tethered to reality, something that other truly powerful figures might emulate. He shared a few strategies: thinking back on hubris-dispelling episodes from his past; watching documentaries about ordinary people; making a habit of reading constituents’ letters.

But I surmised that the greatest check on Owen’s hubris today might stem from his recent research endeavors. Businesses, he complained to me, had shown next to no appetite for research on hubris. Business schools were not much better. The undercurrent of frustration in his voice attested to a certain powerlessness. Whatever the salutary effect on Owen, it suggests that a malady seen too commonly in boardrooms and executive suites is unlikely to soon find a cure.

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05/06/2018

Old Norse and Old English: The languages in History Channel “Vikings”

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

I recently started watching History Channel Vikings for the second time. It is a good show, highly recommended, that tells the story of various famous Viking leaders more or less contemporary but often with an age gap that would have made impossible for them to share deeds and adventures. Ragnar Lothbrok, for instance, is a semi legendary figure thought to have died around 860, whereas Rollo, founder of Normandy, is a histotical leader that lived between 845 and 930. But I’m not going to speak about them here – there is plenty of information out there for those who wish to learn more. I’d like to speak a little about two aspects of the show that fascinate me as a linguist and as a lover of historical linguistics: the occasional use in the show of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and Old Norse (among other languages that have been long gone), and the meaning of the names of some of the characters, some of which are still used nowadays but people are unaware of their origin (part II of this post).

The languages of the Germanic tribes

Around 100 AD, the Germanic tribes moved out of southern Scandinavia and northern Germany to adjacent lands. The Saxons and the Angles settled in Celtic Britain, controlled by romanized Briton tribes until the sixth century, the time when the historical King Arthur lived - if he ever did so (Arthur would have been a Briton chieftain uniting Celtic and Roman tribes to fight the Saxon invaders). Other tribes stayed in Scandinavia. All of these tribes spoke a language or dialects of a language that we call Proto-Germanic (or Common Germanic) and which was in turn diversified into several dialects. In the Northern countries it got to be Old Norse. In the Anglo-Saxon territories it got to be Old English. The Germanic tribes settling in the British Isles, who spoke basically the same language as their Scandinavian (and German) cousins, got relatively isolated, both socially and linguistically, for 200 years, until they got in touch again during the Viking era. In those 200 years, the two dialects of course underwent some changes (Old English is more syntactically like German than like Old Norse, although Modern English is more syntactically like Swedish than to German), but scholars believe they remained mutually intelligible to a great extent.

These are two main old languages we can hear on Vikings: Old Norse and Old English. Old Norse is the ancestor of the Scandinavian languages and Anglo-Saxon is the ancestor of English (this is a deliberate oversimplification, since how modern-day English got to be is a quite complex matter).

The Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons needed no interpreter to understand each other

So, Old English and Old Norse were cousin languages, but in the show we often see that the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons need interpreters to communicate with each other. In Ragnar’s second journey to England, the Viking longships drift to the Wessex coast where they are met by a group of Anglo-Saxon soldiers. They try to speak to each other, but to no avail. How realistic is that? The mutual intelligibility of the two languages is a topic of study in historical linguistics and it is believed that differences between the two Common Germanic dialects (Old English in England and Old Norse in Scandinavia) derived from that 200 year isolation period would not have posed a problem of intelligibility. The literature of this period supplements these notions of mutual intelligibility. Therefore, even though linguistics (and specially historical linguistics) is not an exact science and there are obvious syntactic differences between the two languages, we believe that Ragnar Lothbrock and his Anglo-Saxon friend, the monk Athelstan, would have been able to speak to each other quite well.

As a testimonial from those times, the author of the thirteenth century Icelandic Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu makes a reference to the spoken English language in the time of Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred (986 – 1016 AD):

Ein var þá tungu á Englandi sem í Nóregi ok í Danmörku.
“One was the tongue in England as in Norway and in Denmark”

(Quote from Old English and Old Norse: An Inquiry into Intelligibility and Categorization Methdology. Master's Thesis by Eric Martin Gay. University of South Carolina - Columbia (2014).

 

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10/05/2018

Of ‘standard’ languages and ‘impure’ dialects

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via Livemint

Why a certain variant of the language came to be regarded as the ‘standard’ and why its variants were demoted to ‘dialect’ status is a product of history and politics

The socio-linguist and scholar Max Weinreich once said, “A shprach eez a deealekt mit an armee un flot”, which translates to, “A language is a dialect with an army and navy.” The original sentence is in Yiddish and, in that fact, lies a delicious irony. 

Yiddish originated during the ninth century in central Europe, providing the Ashkenazi Jewish community with a vernacular that was largely Germanic-based and incorporated elements from Hebrew and Aramaic (incidentally, Aramaic was Jesus Christ’s mother tongue). The influence of the Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Serbo-Croatian and others) and traces of the Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese and others) is also discernible in this language. It also has a fairly extensive literature. 

The irony is that many remain unconvinced about the extent of the linguistic independence of Yiddish from the languages that it absorbed. It’s been said that Yiddish is actually just broken German and more of a linguistic mish-mash than a true language. In other words, according to some, Yiddish is itself a dialect…of German!

In popular telling, a dialect is viewed as something of a “lesser” language. When we speak of a dialect, we sometimes mean a mere spoken language (without a script) and sometimes, a variant of a standard language which, while resembling the standard, also has independent elements of its own that make it different from the standard language. 

In reality, language and dialect are ambiguous terms, terms that scholars have difficulty applying to specific situations. The ambiguity stems from the fact that why a certain variant of the language came to be regarded as the “standard” and why its variants were demoted to “dialect” status is a product of history and politics. It has little to do with any special features of the so-called “standard” language. 

Standardization is a process by which a language is codified and this involves the development of dictionaries, spelling forms, a grammar and possibly, a literature. It involves people reaching an agreement and developing a “model” language, a model that people aspire to achieve, even if they have not achieved it at the time of its creation. 

Standard English essentially developed from the language (actually, dialect) that was spoken in London, which is where the court moved to (from Winchester) after the Norman Conquest in 1066. This happened organically over the course of several centuries and, gradually, a standard English came to be accepted as the norm. The many variants of English like Cockney, Scots, Yorkshire English are compared to the standard and termed as dialects. 

In the case of French, the development of standard French was orchestrated by the government. In 1635, Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII, established the Academie Francaise. Over the next few centuries, the Academie oversaw the creation of a standard French even as its many variants stubbornly defied the Academie’s attempts at standardization, well into the nineteenth century when centuries of language reform coupled with the iron hand of government-mandated language use rules ran the old dialects into the ground. Standard French was soon on its way. 

Among the more interesting attempts at standardization has been that of Turkish. The modern state of Turkey was formed in 1922 with Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) as president. Atatürk then initiated a series of political, legal, religious, cultural, social, and economic policy changes to transform the new Republic of Turkey into a secular, modern nation state. The adoption of the Latin alphabet and the purging of foreign words was part of Atatürk’s programme of modernization. 

The Turkish Language Association (TDK) was established in 1932 and one of its tasks was to initiate language reform by replacing words of Arabic and Persian origin with Turkish equivalents. By banning the usage of imported words in the press, the association succeeded in removing several hundred foreign words from the language. Many words, newly derived from Turkic roots, were introduced to the language. Equally, Old Turkish words, which had not been used for centuries, were pressed back into active service. A new Turkish thus became the standard. 

Owing to this sudden change in the language, older and younger people in Turkey started to differ in their vocabularies. While the generations born before the 1940s tend to use the older terms of Arabic or Persian origin, the younger generations use new expressions. Atatürk himself, in a lengthy speech to the Parliament in 1927, used a style of Ottoman Turkish which has become unintelligible to later listeners and hence it has had to be “translated” three times into modern Turkish: first in 1963, again in 1986, and, most recently, in 1995.

In similar fashion, in the subcontinent, a Sanskritized Hindi and a Persianized Urdu were “created” from the Hindustani base that was the foundation for both languages. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, “Hindi” was willed into existence by Hindu zealots keen on a language purged of Muslim influences. The Hindustani that was spoken in the bazaars of north India was the vehicle chosen for this dream and was purged of its Arabo-Persian words, which were replaced with Sanskrit equivalents. This new creation was held up as standard Hindi. 

Other allied languages like Maithili, Bhojpuri, Braj and many others, many of which were centuries old and had extensive bodies of literature, were then cast as “dialects” of Hindi. The fantastic claim that such a Sanskritized Hindi is likely to have existed in the past before the Muslim invasions was made and the language thus endowed with a history that was nothing more than a purloining of the histories of its “dialects” and more than a dollop of imagination.

Parallely, Urdu was purged of “polluting” Hindu influences. Turkic, Arabic and Persian words were preferred to words from Indian languages and an acceptable Urdu was willed into existence much in the same fashion as an acceptable Hindi was. Both languages jostled for acceptance and legitimacy among their target audience and aspired for “purity” even as the common man continued—and continues to this day—to use what in effect must be rightly termed “Hindustani” (known as Hindi in India and Urdu in Pakistan). In effect, Sanskritized Hindi claims a history that isn’t really its own while Persianized Urdu, on the other hand, chooses not to dwell on that history much, choosing instead to look to Persian and Arabic as its forerunners.

To return to Yiddish, its lesser status was affirmed when the state of Israel chose the classical language of Hebrew to be its state language, ignoring the claims of Yiddish. When Israel was born in 1948, Yiddish did come to possess an army and navy, but lacked the “divinity” that Hebrew—the language of the Jewish scriptures—had. Hebrew, which was effectively a dead language when this decision was made, then underwent a spectacular revival and is now a widely spoken language in Israel. It is the only instance of a dead language that has undergone a complete revival.

A standard language is thus a product of many things. In the common telling, it has a hallowed status. In reality, its status is a mere accident. Armies, academies, the hand of god and other things are what take humble dialects to the dizzying heights of “standard” status.

 

Below,  Hebrew is the only instance of a dead language that has undergone a complete revival. Photo: iStock

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13/04/2018

The English language is the world’s Achilles heel

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via The Conversation

English has achieved prime status by becoming the most widely spoken language in the world – if one disregards proficiency – ahead of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. English is spoken in 101 countries, while Arabic is spoken in 60, French in 51, Chinese in 33, and Spanish in 31. From one small island, English has gone on to acquire lingua franca status in international business, worldwide diplomacy, and science.

But the success of English – or indeed any language – as a “universal” language comes with a hefty price, in terms of vulnerability. Problems arise when English is a second language to either speakers, listeners, or both. No matter how proficient they are, their own understanding of English, and their first (or “native”) language can change what they believe is being said.

When someone uses their second language, they seem to operate slightly differently than when they function in their native language. This phenomenon has been referred to as the “foreign language effect”. Research from our group has shown that native speakers of Chinese, for example, tended to take more risks in a gambling game when they received positive feedback in their native language (wins), when compared to negative feedback (losses). But this trend disappeared – that is, they became less impulsive – when the same positive feedback was given to them in English. It was as if they are more rational in their second language. 

While reduced impulsiveness when dealing in a second language can be seen as a positive thing, the picture is potentially much darker when it comes to human interactions. In a second language, research has found that speakers are also likely to be less emotional and show less empathy and consideration for the emotional state of others.

For instance, we showed that Chinese-English bilinguals exposed to negative words in English unconsciously filtered out the mental impact of these words. And Polish-English bilinguals who are normally affected by sad statements in their native Polish appeared to be much less disturbed by the same statements in English.

In another recent study by our group, we found that second language use can even affect one’s inclination to believe the truth. Especially when conversations touch on culture and intimate beliefs.

Since second language speakers of English are a huge majority in the world today, native English speakers will frequently interact with non-native speakers in English, more so than any other language. And in an exchange between a native and a foreign speaker, the research suggests that the foreign speaker is more likely to be emotionally detached and can even show different moral judgements.

And there is more. While English provides a phenomenal opportunity for global communication, its prominence means that native speakers of English have low awareness of language diversity. This is a problem because there is good evidence that differences between languages go hand-in-hand with differences in conceptualisation of the world and even perception of it. 

In 2009, we were able to show that native speakers of Greek, who have two words for dark blue and light blue in their language, see the contrast between light and dark blue as more salient than native speakers of English. This effect was not simply due to the different environment in which people are brought up in either, because the native speakers of English showed similar sensitivity to blue contrasts and green contrasts, the latter being very common in the UK. 

On the one hand, operating in a second language is not the same as operating in a native language. But, on the other, language diversity has a big impact on perception and conceptions. This is bound to have implications on how information is accessed, how it is interpreted, and how it is used by second language speakers when they interact with others.

We can come to the conclusion that a balanced exchange of ideas, as well as consideration for others’ emotional states and beliefs, requires a proficient knowledge of each other’s native language. In other words, we need truly bilingual exchanges, in which all involved know the language of the other. So, it is just as important for English native speakers to be able to converse with others in their languages.

The US and the UK could do much more to engage in rectifying the world’s language balance, and foster mass learning of foreign languages. Unfortunately, the best way to achieve near-native foreign language proficiency is through immersion, by visiting other countries and interacting with local speakers of the language. Doing so might also have the effect of bridging some current political divides.

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10/04/2018

Right and wrong ways to spread languages around the globe

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via The Economist

Emmanuel Macron’s plan to boost French-speaking puts means before motive

REMARKABLY, a French president had never addressed the Académie Française before. The French have a soft spot for authority, and the mighty presidency (atypical for Europe) and the academy (founded to guarantee the purity of the French language) are both symbols of that. So when Emmanuel Macron told the academicians—modestly known as les immortels—of his ambitions to revitalise French around the world, it was a very French affair indeed.

In some ways Mr Macron constitutes a break with Gallic tradition. He speaks English not only well but gladly, in contrast to his predecessors, François Hollande (whose ropy English was the butt of jokes) and Jacques Chirac (who often pointedly refused to talk in English, though he could). But in the best French tradition, Mr Macron spoke with passion about French and confidence in its future. He announced more money for the Alliance Française, for example, to teach the language, and more support for teaching French to refugees who have arrived in France. His aim is to see French go from being the world’s fifth-most-spoken language to its third.

It is very French to think that this can be accomplished by determined state action. Yet people don’t learn a language because somebody has built a fancy new school nearby. These days there are plenty of language-learning options, especially online. The cost of learning a language is mainly measured not in money but in time. You have to give someone a reason to do the work, before even bothering with the means and opportunity.

Think about the rivals to French. One is English. Americans and Britons might think foreigners learn English because their culture is appealing. But if that was ever true, it no longer is. Foreigners learn English simply because there are already a lot of people to speak it with—a majority of them, today, outside the chief Anglophone countries. A Swede learns English to do business in Brazil. This is why, despite the irony, English will probably still dominate the European Union after Brexit.

Or consider Chinese, a language of booming interest to foreign learners. It is in a way the opposite of English: the vast majority of its speakers live in just one country. But what a country. China’s economy will soon be the world’s largest, and its people still do not speak very good English. Learning Chinese is an obvious way to exploit an unrivalled economic opportunity.

Finally, take German. In the 19th century it was a posh language of science and scholarship, expected of all educated Europeans. Early Zionists pondered making it the national language of the Jewish state. But two wars, horrific atrocities and four decades of division wrecked its image. However, it has recovered. As Germany’s economy roared back from a long post-reunification slump, German-learning increased by 4% between 2010 and 2015 (a lot, in historical terms). Perhaps more surprisingly, a country once considered stolid and conservative has developed a reputation for cool. Berlin is seen as the hippest capital in Europe. German is both useful and attractive.

French could combine all these attributes. Like English, it is found around the world. Like Chinese, it is economically important: French-speaking countries account for 8.4% of global GDP. And like Germany recently, France has long had cultural cachet. How, then, to revive the optimism for the language itself?

Much of the work will be done outside France, and by growth in Africa in particular. Mr Macron knows this; after an initial announcement, in Burkina Faso, that he wanted to give new vigour to the French-speaking world, he was seen as neocolonialist. His speech at the Academy was better, conceding that French had “emancipated itself from France”. He told the Academy that it was high time French schools began teaching literature written in French outside France.

By one projection, in 2050 there will be 700m French-speakers—80% of them in Africa. To keep that forecast on track and keep Africans speaking French—not switching to English, as Rwanda did—France would be wise to continue this approach of fraternité rather than autorité with its African friends, by helping those countries develop economically. And the best thing Mr Macron could do at home is release the talents of the French people. Reforms that get the French economy growing as Germany’s has done would do more than all the shiny new French-teaching schools in the world.

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