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What’s linguistic relativity and how does it impact your savings?

By July 24, 2015October 6th,

What’s linguistic relativity and how does it impact your savings?

July 24, 2015

Language influencing finances? The idea is beyond farfetched! Well, although you may think this is a logical deduction, this is one instance where your deduction is 100% incorrect. The language you speak has a profound influence on your finances and your lifestyle.

It’s called linguistic relativity and it impacts everything you do.

Linguistic relativity

Although linguistic relativity is not entirely a new concept, there’s still a lot of research needed on the subject.

In short though – linguistic relativity postulates that the structure of the language you speak influences the way in which you conceptualise your world. Behavioural economist, Keith Chen, researched how this concept impacts people’s propensity to save and drew some interesting conclusions.

Although languages can be classified in various ways, Chen focused on the differences between speakers of futured and futureless languages. The difference between these language classes lies in the divergent focus on tenses – futured languages distinguish between tense, while futureless languages don’t have (or have limited) tenses. A language like Chinese, for instance, does not distinguish between events in the past, present or future. In Chinese you can say; “yesterday I run, today I run, tomorrow I run” – something which sounds bizarre to the English ear.

Chen discovered that speakers of futureless languages – those languages with no concept of the future – are:

  • 30% more likely to save in a given year
  • 20-24% less likely to smoke
  • 13-17% less likely to be obese
  • 21% more likely to have used a condom in sexual interactions

Why do languages influence these behaviours?

The problem with futured languages is simple – they put the future in the future. These languages disassociate the future from the present and anything that needs to happen in the future is therefore has no effect on the present. If you’re a futured language speaker, something like retirement is so far off, your mind simply cannot reconcile this event with your everyday life. And unfortunately for South Africans, all our languages are futured.

So how can you overcome this issue?

Well, the easiest way to overcome this issue is to learn a futureless language and use it regularly. But of course, not all of us have this linguistic aptitude. Another way to beat the futured language lag is making a conscious effort to consider your financial future on a regular basis. This may mean checking stock markets every morning, calculating a weekly budget, or simply calling your financial adviser once a month for a chat.

Who knows, maybe globalisation will lead to a monolingual society where everyone will be able to save one day. For now, it’s clear that the key to understanding our own behaviour lies in dissecting our linguistic and cultural heritage.

No matter your GPS location on the globe – your roots are bound to follow you there.

If you are interesting in any of our financial emigration services where you can save by using our help to transfer your pension or retirement annuity to cash, let us call you.

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