The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Simon Winder, in his recent book Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern, recalls a multilingual friend, who once told him that he could feel his personality change quite drastically when using German or Italian - the former making him punctilious, waspish, acrid, remote, extremely polite, the latter making him expressive, promiscuous and a pleasure to be with.

Remarkable. I'm a bit of a multilinguist myself, and I see nothing remotely different in my behaviour when I switch from, say, English to Hindi. I hem and haw in both languages and I struggle for the mot juste. In fact, not only does my demeanour remain identical in either language, I am interrupted as often. Just the other day, I tried to say something in Malayalam to the wife, and by the time I opened my mouth, she had announced a shopping list and I found myself in front of Tesco, jawing gormlessly at the checkout machine.

I console myself with the thought that Winder's friend is slightly manic and slightly depressive. But before I can conclude that conclusively I'd like to take a poll.

So: who among you finds your temperament changing when you switch from language to language?

And: what sort of temperament corresponds to each language?


Anonymous said...

I don't really notice myself changing when I switch languages, but I do notice that my father becomes more flamboyant when he starts to talk in French. Maybe he is just becoming nostalgic of his student days. And when he starts talking in Sinhalese he starts nodding his head sideways...

Veena said...

I am way more mean, sarcastic and irreverent when I switch to Malayalam. I am more aggressive, irritable and rude when I speak Tamil. But all this has got more do with the people one is speaking to rather than the languages themselves methinks.

Oh, and I doubt if I am a pleasure to be with in any language.

Zahra said...

That's an interesting thought...I realized that I speak fast and vary facial expressions a lot when I speak in English, and am rather irreverent and casual when I speak in Hindi. Switching from one of these languages to Malayalam would mean that I'm very comfortable with the situation...mebbe because I equate the language with home. Tamil usually has me gawping like a goldfish, but that's mostly 'coz my fluency's very limited!!:)

Btw, it's my first time at your a couple of your older posts and really liked them. Hope you're okay with my blogrolling you.

a ppcc representative said...

English, Italian and Hindi here, and I can concur that my personality undergoes drastic Latin Loverization when I switch to Italian. I don't notice this occurring with Eng-Hind-Eng, nor with Spanish/French/Arabic or any other language I claim to be learning.

Hypothesis: I think it has less to do then with multilingualness and more to do with the sheer, raw sexual energy of Italian.

a ppcc representative said...

Let me post one more script: the Latin Loverization is most acute when switching to Roman-flavored Italian. No noticeable change occurs when I speak the cold, unfeeling dialect of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The power of the Mediterranean is strong.

??! said...

I'm not sure whether it's a case of so much my personality changing when I switch languages, or that I switch languages because I associate each one with a particular mood.

For instance, serious discussions with family/friends are always in English. Casual chatter/ribbing is often in Indian. And for a good ol' shouting match, or just generally abusing the heck out of someone, it's gotta be bambaiya Hindi.

Fëanor said...

@chasingbawa: flamboyant in french? making violent gestures, that is?

@veena: hmm. so you're surrounded by insufferable people that force you to be mean in all languages? what's bill got to say about that, then? (i fear for toshi.)

@zahra: thanks for stopping by! so can you not be irreverent in english or malayalam?

@ppcc: heh. i suspect that some of my italian buddies can be damp squibs because they are not from south of naples, then?

??!: (as with zahra) do you find it impossible to be casual in english?

Fëanor said...

so then it appears that the ppcc representative is the only one from this poll whose temperament changes when switching from lingo to lingo. if he (or she) spoke german, i might suspect him (or her) of being simon winder's buddy.

??! said...

Not impossible by any means, certainly not when English is spoken more than the others. But it's more casual-for-acquaintances-and-nondesis. For homebuddies and family, local languages just sort of take over.

Zahra said...

Lol.... I'd phrase it this way.... it IS possible for me to be nice/polite/formal as well in English and Malayalam :)

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