The Big Five personality test
In an older study, from 2006, Nairan Ramirez-Esparza, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Connecticut, gave Mexican-Americans two versions of the “Big Five” personality test: one in English and one in Spanish. The “Big Five” measures the following common human traits:
What she found is that participants scored higher in extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness when they took the test in English. Ramirez-Esparza and her colleagues relate this finding to the fact that more individualistic cultures (such as the U.S.) value these traits to begin with. When asked to describe their own personalities, in a follow-up study, participants focused on their relationships, hobbies, and families when writing in Spanish; in English, they focused on their individual achievements, schooling, and daily activities. “Language cannot be separated from the cultural values of that language”, Ramirez-Esparza told Quartz. “You see yourself through the cultural values of the language you are speaking.”
These studies raise an interesting question: do these “personality” changes reflect different feelings about oneself on some stable internal level, or do they only exist in the context of a social exchange?
“When someone says their personality changes”, writes Bonny Norton, a professor of language and literacy education at British Columbia University, “what they’re saying is: ‘When I talk to other people, my personality changes.’”
Be that as it may, other researchers have found that internalized grammar does affect one’s perception and behavior, if not personality, regardless of whether one is engaged in communication exchange.