Professor claims English language makes us save less
An American academic's research says that the language we speak directly affects how much money we save.
An American professor has published a research paper in which he claims the language we speak directly affects our ability to save for the future. Professor Keith Chen of Yale University says his research shows native speakers of languages such as English are less likely to save more than people who have a different native tongue.
Professor Chen analysed people in nine countries with identical incomes, education, family structure and countries of birth, but whose first language differed.
His theory centres around what linguists call future-time reference (FTR) in language. Languages such as English have a strong FTR, in that we specify between the present and future when we speak. He cites the example “I (will go, am going, have to go) to a seminar” in English, whereas someone who speaks Mandarin, which has a weak FTR, would say “I go listen seminar”.
He concludes that global savings rates by country show that people who speak languages with strong FTR don’t save as much because the languages separate the present from the future. Professor Chen believes this causes people “to devalue future rewards”.
His conclusions appear to ring true in the case of the UK, as statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that we have a total annual savings rate (Government and individual) of 16%. Only the US and Greece, also both strong FTR speakers, save less.
However, both economists and linguists have criticised Professor Chen’s findings, saying language only has a tiny influence on a person's future, with cultural behaviour a far more influential factor.
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