Finweek English Edition - - COVER -

IT SOUNDS A lit­tle funky, but let’s face it – lin­guists have been telling us for years that the way we read, write, and talk shapes the way we see the world. So why shouldn’t our lan­guage have an im­pact on our fi­nan­cial be­hav­iour as well?

This is pre­cisely what be­havioural econ­o­mist Keith Chen is propos­ing. Chen has pub­lished re­search that sug­gests speak­ers of lan­guages with­out strong fu­ture tenses tended to be more re­spon­si­ble about plan­ning for the fu­ture.

“Af­ter scour­ing many datasets with mil­lions of records on in­di­vid­ual house­hold sav­ings be­hav­iour – along with a num­ber of pe­cu­liar health per­for­mance met­rics like grip strength and walk­ing speed – I find that lan­guages that oblige speak­ers to gram­mat­i­cally sep­a­rate the fu­ture from the present lead them to in­vest less in the fu­ture,” Chen ex­plained on his TED Blog last year. “Speak­ers of such lan­guages save less, re­tire with less wealth, smoke more, prac­tise more un­safe sex and are more obese. Sur- pris­ingly, this ef­fect per­sists even af­ter con­trol­ling for a speaker’s ed­u­ca­tion, in­come, fam­ily struc­ture and re­li­gion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Chen, lan­guage could ac­count for the fact that “Ger­mans save 10 per­cent­age points more than the Bri­tish do [as a frac­tion of GDP] while Es­to­ni­ans and Chi­nese save a whop­ping 20 per­cent­age points more than Greeks and In­di­ans.”

What then, does that say about South Africans? Eina!

Keith Chen

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