Your Language Changes Your Future

Mandarin. Finnish. Estonian. German. What do these languages have in common?

Well, contrary to English, they all have weak future tenses.

Take the phrase “I’m going to go for a walk tomorrow” in English. In languages with weak future tenses would put it a different way. Something like, “I go for a walk tomorrow.”

Grammatically, those languages consider the present to be equivalent to the future.

A study conducted by economist Keith Chen discovered that native speakers of these languages tend to make better future-oriented decisions.

The statistics are quite remarkable. Speakers of languages with weak future tenses were 30 percent more likely to save money, 29 percent more likely to exercise regularly, 24 percent more likely to avoid smoking, and 13 percent less likely to be obese.

Chen’s conclusions held across different cultures and went beyond demographics.

Why is this?

We, as speakers of a language that has a strong future tense, view things in the future, as… Well, in the future.

In contrast, those languages don’t place as much importance on the future. They find the future equivalent to the present because their language offers them no choice. They don’t view their lives as a timeline but as a whole.

English sets us up to view our future as distant, and thus, not as important as the present.

Does this indicate that we shouldn’t think as much about the future? Maybe.

Or maybe the difference is constrained to the native language itself and shouldn’t be extrapolated to mean more.

Whatever the case, it is interesting to think of all the ways that our native language influences the people we are and the way we live our lives.


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