New Language, New Self?

Me: “Hey William. To continue the discourse on Twitter.. It’s like, to the extreme part, languages reflects different ‘selves’. Misalnya imej lo ketika pake bahasa sama pake English jadinya beda.”

Will: “TRUE. A different persona indeed. But is this more to the written or oral side? Or both? In oral  the proficiency of the language also affects the persona you put on with that language. Actually the same goes with written, but oral shows the persona more clearly.”

Me: “In my theory, proficiency of the language is a prerequisite to actually have that ‘new self’. And yes it covers both written and oral form. So once you really master a language, you’ve created a new self.”

Will: “But another observation I made. Yes that’s true because the thinking process in every language is different as you stated. But in my case I am fluent in both bahasa and English. Jadi saya bisa menggunakan ‘self’ English saya dalam Bahasa. Dan sebaliknya. Seakan dua persona ini berasimilasi.”

Me: “No no no. The approach you’re using is a persona-centered. My approach is more language-centered.”

Will: “And the difference between them?”

Me: “…In which I’ve stated that ‘each and every language is linked to a certain history and paradigm’. Words that you have in English aren’t commensurable in Indonesian. Thus, the self you reveal in English can’t be fully ‘revealed’ in other languages. So…languages are like different windows in a house. You can only see certain parts/rooms from one window and other parts from other windows. I hope you get what I mean…”

Will: “I agree. But that is theory.”

Me: “That is.”

Will: “Sorry I meant that theory has more intricate factors behind it.”

Me: “That’s true. ‘Intricate factors’. Apa itu istilah di ekonomi…ceteris paribus ya. Teori berlaku ketika faktor lain dianggap sama.”

Will: “In a way I can’t really put up an argument since I agree with you. You can speak other languages such too right besides English and Indo. I have an okay proficiency in Japanese and Mandarin; and yes the language can’t be fully revealed in another language. So I fully agree and can’t really put up a fight but I’ll try.”

Me: “You don’t have to, you know. Better save the energy for whatever you’re doing in campus today -.-“

Will: “Lol I actuallly have work. So it’s a wrap then.”

Me: “Err okay.”

Will: “It’s just that from a personal experience I know that there is a different ‘self’. What that self is and the difference between the two I only have an outline of it, but I can’t fully comprehend what it is.”

Me: “I feel like Keohane being criticized by Cynthia Weber.”

Will: “Lol what is that?”

Me: “IR scholars who really like to rebut each other even when they aren’t really opposing the other’s argument.”

Will: “Anyway yes so there’s self A and B for example. It’s just the nature. Since I have mastered both languages I can consciously swap them both. I have a clear outline on what both of these selves are but it comes real close. And there is a default self that shows when you use either language.”

Me: “True.”

Will: “It wouldn’t be quite the same when using Indo with the English self. This requires an very fine understanding of your inner capabilities in both languages.”

Me: “See? You’re using a person-standpoint. Just like what you say, thinking process takes different ways in different languages. You can’t really distinguish the ‘self’ when you’re inside the ‘house’. But for language observers you’ve become a (probably not totally but) different person.”

Will: “That’s why I said from a personal experience. I fully agree with what you’re saying though.”

Me: “Now expressions, sentences, and metaphors are different in each language.”

Will: “Metaphors are true to each language and might not work in the other. Although not to the precise bulls-eye if translated, that lack of 100% is substituted to a 75-95% accuracy.”

Me: “Now that’s the thing. ‘Not to the precise bulls-eye if translated’. The way your environment perceives you will change as the language you use changes. I’m not rebutting at all. It’s just…you might see the same things from different windows; but with different angle, the…’understanding’ might be 95% similar yet your point of view will differ.”


(with more windows, more light can come in, and easier for you to show what’s inside–only if you aim to)

Will: “Yep true. Yes. To add on that the cultural differences also affect the understanding.”

Me: “True! Cultural differences contribute to a certain language’s frame of reference.”

Will: “And a more intricate detail? In oral the tone used also affects a lot. And probably more than what the words really mean.”

Me: “Haven’t really observed that. But come to think of it, true. Are we done with the Keohane-Cynthia rebuttals now? Have a good day!”

Will: “Haha it’s good to share thoughts and experiences. But anyway yeah have a good day. I’m late for work nooooooo.”

Me: “Hahaha good luck with that.”



  1. Good post Afu, interesting for you to bring this up! In psychology, there is a correlation between a person’s linguistic abilities and cognitive perspectives. Someone who has learned a new language is thought to also have acquired a new perspective on life. There is an experiment conducted on people who can speak more than one language and their increased sensitivity towards colors ( All in all, the impact of learning a new language is probably a whole lot deeper than we think.


  2. Thanks, Ra! I believe the big idea of this whole chat is already discussed by psychology scholars under a more sophisticated theme of, as what you’ve mentioned, "linguistic abilities versus cognitive perspectives". The fact that ScienceDaily posted the same topic several days ago makes me rather excited! AND I LOVE THE ARTICLE YOU POSTED, thanks for sharing!


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