This article written by Manon Jones and Ceri Ellis tells us that the perception of truth is slippery when viewed through different languages and cultures. This occurs so much that someone who speaks two languages can accept a fact in one language, while denying it in the other.
According to the authors, bilingual people often report that they feel different while switching from one language to another. The change in language goes hand-in-hand with perceptual, cognitive and emotional trends. Research shows that language is linked to experiences and helps shape the way we process information.
Psychology experiments have also shown that languages shape aspects of our visual perception, the way we categorize objects in our environment, and even the way we perceive events. This is basically saying that our sense of reality is constructed by the confines of the language we speak, according to the authors.
In the research done by Jones and Ellis, bilinguals interpreted facts differently depending on the language they were presented with, and depending on whether the fact made them feel good or bad about their native culture. This is important because until recently it was assumed that one’s understanding of meaning was shared across all the languages one speaks.
Jones and Ellis asked Welsh-English bilinguals- who had spoken Welsh since birth and considered themselves culturally Welsh- to rate sentences as true or false. The sentences had either a positive or negative cultural connotation, and were factually either true or false. The participants were asked to read them in both English and Welsh, they were asked to categories each one, and were attached to electrodes to record the implicit interpretation of each sentence.
The researchers found that in Welsh participants tended to be less biased and more truthful, and therefore they often correctly identified some unpleasant statements as true. In English, their bias resulted in a surprising defensive reaction: they denied the truth of unpleasant statements, therefore they would categorize them as false even when they were true.
This research showed the way in which language interacts with emotions trigger asymmetric effects on the participants interpretations of facts. They found that while participants’ native language is closely tied to their emotions – which perhaps comes with greater honesty and vulnerability – their second language was associated with more distant, rational thinking. These findings were reassured through the brain activity measures- because functioning in the second language appeared to protect them against unpalatable truths, and deal with them more strategically.