Apr 272012
How Thinking in Another Language Improves Your Decision-Making

The title of the recent study, published in the journal Psychological Science summarizes why mastering foreign languages is good for you and the world: "The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases." Only the abstract is accessible as of now, but even that reveals plenty (emphasis mine): Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases. Four experiments show that the framing effect disappears when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. Whereas people were risk averse for gains and risk seeking for losses when choices were presented in their native tongue, they were not […] Continue reading >

Mar 192012
American Euphemisms and Evasive Thinking, Part 2

In his 1965 essay "On Evasive Thinking", Václav Havel bemoans a degradation of language from being "a means of signifying reality, and of enabling us to come to an understanding of it" to being "an end in itself". Havel saw the "verbal mysticism" or "ritualization of language" cause the word as such to cease to be a sign for a category and instead gain "a kind of occult power to transform one reality into another". Havel discussed this shift in the context of 1960’s Czechoslovakia, but the similarity with American […] Continue reading >

Feb 152012
American Euphemisms and Evasive Thinking, Part 1

Last year’s final issue of The Economist featured an article exploring euphemisms—expressions that substitute neutral, ambiguous wording for a potentially uncomfortable one. The article “Making murder respectable” alludes to the experience every immigrant knows all too well as a cultural and language outsider. American euphemisms are in a class of their own, principally because they seem to involve words that few would find offensive to start with, replaced by phrases that are meaninglessly ambiguous: bathroom tissue for [toilet] paper, dental appliances for false teeth, previously owned rather than used, wellness […] Continue reading >