Emotions shape the language we use, but second languages reveal a shortcut around them

A taxi driver recently cut me up on the motorway. Without hesitation, I machine-gunned a string of vulgarity at the poor man. What struck me was that every word that came out of my mouth was in Spanish. As a native speaker of English, having learned Spanish as an adult, English should have been the more readily accessible language. Yet there I was, cussing out this stranger in Mexican-accented Spanish alongside an assortment of inappropriate hand gestures.

Most people will know what it’s like to have your emotions take control of you in a scenario like this, but why is it often so much easier to vent frustration in a language that is not your native one? As most foreign language learners will appreciate, anything taboo is fairly easy to pick up in a second language and even entertaining to use. While I wouldn’t profane in English in my grandma’s presence, in Spanish I’m a wannabe Tony Montana.

Most people will know what it’s like to have your emotions take control of you in a scenario like this, but why is it often so much easier to vent frustration in a language that is not your native one? As most foreign language learners will appreciate, anything taboo is fairly easy to pick up in a second language and even entertaining to use. While I wouldn’t profane in English in my grandma’s presence, in Spanish I’m a wannabe Tony Montana.

Incidentally, there is a scientific explanation for why we often demonstrate greater emotional detachment in a foreign language. While this detachment can make it easier for us to say rather distasteful things, recent studies have also shown that it can affect our perception of morality.

Read more: The Conversation

By | 2018-06-05T13:08:28+00:00 June 5th, 2018|Emotions, Language, Second languages|0 Comments

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