Hidden Brain Podcast: Watch Your Mouth

This episode of Hidden Brain revolved around bilingualism/multilingualism and how the structure of the languages we speak can alter the way we view the world. I will share some interesting categories they analyzed. Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky discusses how language can be structured by factors like direction, gender, and time and how that affects the way we speak in our languages and settings. It has been observed that bilinguals are constantly shifting between two languages. Our native language is never turned off in our brain but may feel closer to you depending on the setting or context of conversation. I have found it easier to sometimes describe powerful or intense emotions with Spanish words. Also, if I am speaking about a person who I was close to in early childhood before I acquired English (L2) I will catch myself code switching almost like my brain relates that person to that time in my life when I only spoke Spanish and was the way me and that individual connected. Has anyone else experienced something like that?

Grammatical gender are assigned to nouns and vary within each language and affect how bilinguals view concepts. An interesting study mentioned regarding this subject was by a Russian linguist who was the first to suggest that grammatical genders are changing the way humans perceive the world. In this study, Russian speaking participants were asked to act like different days of the week. Results showed that participants who were asked to personify Monday would act like men and those personifying Wednesday would act like women. These grammatical genders and the categorization we were taught of objects convince our brain that it’s real and causes us to think that certain objects are more feminine or more masculine.

English speakers are better at processing events bc they are likely to say he did it are likely to remember who did what in an accident versus Spanish speakers who are better at memorizing that an accident was actually an accident rather than who played a role in it due to how the languages are structured. This processing aspect was very interesting to me as i’ve been reading a lot of articles on emotional processing of emotional language (i.e. reprimands, slang, taboo words, etc.) within bilinguals and trying to discover which language bilinguals feel closer to emotionally when processing such words. What has been found is that there is a relationship between the words and how bilinguals categorize them depending on their experience related to it. Emotional language can be categorized into categories such as fear, happiness, disgust, sadness, etc.. Results show a difference in emotional processing when presented with auditory stimuli of a female speaker and male speaker. I’ve noticed the articles i’ve read so far never mentioned grammatical gender of the languages which could be a limitation to the studies. The grammatical gender could be affecting the difference in reactions to male and female auditory stimuli due to a relationship between the language structure and childhood experiences. This raises a question of whether the age of acquisition has to do with the processing despite feeling more connected to one language.

Lastly, linguist John McWhorter mentions the recent changes in English as it’s constantly rapidly evolving. For example, there has been a recent trend of overusing “like” and women in the U.S under thirty will typically extend words adding “uh” at the end when excited (i.e. babeuh, youuh, moveuh, I knowuh!). I immediately noticed I do this all the time and if you begin to think of the women around you or even shows you watch, you will catch it there as well!


Vedantam , S. (2018, July 20). Hidden Brain: Watch Your Mouth. episode, National Public Radio.

3 thoughts on “Hidden Brain Podcast: Watch Your Mouth

  1. Wow, this podcast episode seems to be full of information I only vaguely remember reading about before—it was a pleasant surprise to see it again & to have it explained more clearly. I’m also bilingual but my L1 is my heritage language, not my dominant language, so sadly I can’t relate to feeling more connected to emotion words in Darija. (English is the default for my internal monologue as well.) But you’ve gotten me so curious about emotional processing in bilinguals now! Which is really too bad because my own research is nowhere near this topic 😅 please keep us posted as you learn more!

  2. While I was reading this I found myself relating to a lot of the different things you mentioned! I am a bilingual speaker as well and learned my second language (English) during the 4th grade. I also find it easier to speak my native language (Arabic) when I am in an environment or setting where there are other Arabic speakers. Whenever I see my childhood friends I find myself talking to them in Arabic more than English, and I think it is because like you said, different languages seem to emphasis different things in different ways. For me, I always find Arabic jokes funnier than English ones. In terms of grammar, I completely agree with what you said because I know in Arabic the words for certain objects or places sometimes have a gender attached to them. For example, I always associated the Arabic word for table as a woman, and the Arabic word for chair as a man. Your topic definitely seems very interesting! I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts about it!

  3. Polish also genders the days of the week, just like Russian. But it’s super funny that they were shown to personify the days of the week as more ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’.
    In Polish it’s:
    Monday- masc
    Tues- fem
    Wed- fem
    Thurs- masc
    Fri- masc
    Sat- fem
    Sun- fem
    What makes Thursday more masculine than Wednesday? I have absolutely no idea.

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