Revolution starts with Language

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If you’ve ever wondered why English, Tamil, Korean, Arabic, Montenegrin, Swahili and French languages are suspiciously similar – because I’m sure you have – it’s not because of their shared speed, charismatic twang or romantic lilts. It’s because each language is based in a strong future tense.

There are an estimated 7,000 different languages in the world, but despite this variety, there are essentially only two types: those with a strong future tense, such as English, and those with a weak future tense, such as German, Cantonese, Swedish and Kikuyu. Much to the upset of linguists, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that language directly affects the behavior or thought in the speaker.

UCLA economist Keith Chen has built on the hypothesis for a paper in the American Economic Review last year. Chen suggests that because strong future tense speakers distinguish the future from the present, the speakers create a distance from their future. This creates a hedonist attitude in the speaker and as a result they eat, smoke, drink and spend more, with little consideration for their health. He also argues it impacts on corporate social responsibility.

Those who use a weak future tense language, such as Danish, actually have a stronger sense of their future as they interchange the future for the present in their speech. This means that they save more, prepare for their retirement and are concerned with their health.

Swedish linguist Osten Dahl disagrees with Chen’s findings suggesting that he fails to provide a causal connection between language and behavior, rather than merely a correlation. But anyone who’s watched a Scandinavian detective series will agree their disgruntled killers are met.

To view the original article at io9 click here.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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