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How Language Shapes Our Identity

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For millions of years, humans have been using language to describe themselves, others, and anything else one may come into contact with. Language has become so strong to the human race, that it completely has the ability to shape one’s identity. The usage of certain words and thoughts strongly affects a person’s identity, and how others perceive them. When one speaks to another, the attitude, tone, and posture play a key role in impressions others gather. This is important to know because this can have a big impact on actions such as, making new friends, applying for a job, and many other actions that require personal information. Four major ways language can shape identity are body language, dialect, tone, and mood. These four examples show how language can influence one’s identity.

Have you ever been engaging in conversation with another person whose body language is poorly influencing the way you perceive them? Almost every human on the planet has had some interaction with another person that has been negatively impacted by another person’s body language. This can also go in the opposite direction. Almost one hundred percent of the time, there is one of two people that is dominant in an encounter. One way one can try to get a point across is by asserting dominance within the encounter. Body language has a major impact on this. In Huffington Post, Amy Cuddy gave a Ted Talk on easy ways that people can change others’ perceptions of them. The main subject that Cuddy focuses on is body language. She states in her Ted Talk, “people can change people’s perceptions of them by spending two minutes “power posing” with their arms or elbows out, their chin lifted and their posture expansive.” Like earlier said, doing these things can assert dominance. Cuddy’s research, done in collaboration with Dana Carney, has shown that adopting the body language associated with dominance for just 120 seconds is enough to create a 20 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, adopting these postures makes a person feel more powerful. Having these qualities whether it may be meeting someone for the first time, or having a conversation with a coworker, strongly influences how others remember certain people.

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Next is dialect. Dialect is defined as, “a particular form of language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” Oftentimes, what people think of when they think of dialect, has something to do with language, but not particularly the way that it is spoken. Almost every different group of people, whether it be as big as the southeastern united states, or maybe something as small as the Florida dialect, influences the way one’s identity is formed. There are different preconceived perceptions of certain dialects, and some are perceived as good and some as bad. For example, most of the time a dialect from central Alabama is perceived to be a person who is not very intelligent, while someone from a northern state with an extensive vocabulary is perceived to be smart. On “News Republic” a team of researchers from the University of Southern California experimented to see if the accent of someone would influence the way that people make decisions. They had a group of 62 mono-cultural and then 80 Chinese-Americans. They watched a video of a man thanking them for being in the experiment and then he gave them instructions on what they would be doing. Half of the time he spoke in the Chinese accent and the other half he spoke like a native American. After everyone watched this video, they were shown a picture of a group of fish swimming with one out in front of all of them. Then the researchers asked them, “Was it because one of the fish was leading the other, or because it was being chased by the pack?” They assumed that Chinese culture would choose the second choice, that the fish was leading the pack, but the students thought that the fish was being chased. Americans however, had a different idea, they thought that the fish was in front of the pack and leading it. This can show that the dialect of a Chinese American person has lots of effects on the way people listen to them.

In many ways, tone-shaping identity is very similar to body language in a conversation with someone. If someone has a very energetic tone and has a deeper and more intimidating voice, then you are more likely to listen to that person and have a positive perception of that person. If you are speaking to a person that has a very negative tone, for example, them being monotone, then you are more likely to shy away from that person and not be around them because of their negative tone. Think about it this way, all of the leaders of the united states are very enthusiastic and positive when they talk so that people will be more likely to support and have faith in them, than if they were very monotone and boring. I found the website of Northwestern University helpful because they talk about how a well-rounded student should act with their tone. Two main points they explain are to have a positive tone and to take the audience on a journey. Doing these two things helps people associate a person with being positive and enthusiastic.

The mood is also very similar to the tone. If someone has a positive mood about the task at hand, then others are more likely to want to be around them. As stated in “BC Campus” it is said that a positive mood increases helping. There are many examples they give, but one main example is when you ask your parents for something. If your parents are in a bad mood, and you ask them for money, they are more likely to say no than if they are in a better mood. This shows that if someone has a good overall mood, then they are more personable and others are more likely to perceive them to always have positive emotions.

In conclusion, four major ways language can shape identity are body language, dialect, tone, and mood. These four examples show how language can influence one’s identity. Language has been the way that humans have communicated forever. People have been associating language with an identity all of the time even if they have not realized it, and I have a feeling that this will go on forever because all of these four points will always be analyzed by others.

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