There is plenty of research dedicated to the topics of bilingualism and biculturalism, but they may often be lumped together and defined as one in the same. Grosjean (2015) attempts to describe how a bicultural bilingual can take on different meanings. He highlights the plethora of research dedicated to bilingualism and how the topic of biculturalism is, at times, less explored. A simple internet search of bilingualism will yield countless articles on the relationship of bilingualism and cognition, education, and the various types of bilingualism. Grosjean proposes that this difference is to the distinct nature of how each is studied and how those researchers tend not to overlap in their work; in essence, linguists study bilingualism and biculturalism is studied by social psychologists. Grosjean highlights that one can not only be bilingual and bicultural, they can also be bicultural and monolingual or monocultural and bilingual, and monolingual and monocultural.
Grosjean explored the various ways in which one can become bilingual, learning a home language and later learning a host language at different points in life, or bicultural, the byproduct of migration to another region. Of interest is the individualist process by which a person identifies as bicultural, independent of their bilingual status, however, proficiency in an alternate language can impact how they view themselves.
Grosjean highlights an experiment conducted with bilinguals where participants were administered the TAT (Thematic Apperception Test) or sentence completion task. In each experiment, there were significant qualitative differences in the responses given in English and responses in their home or base language (French and Japanese). For example, with a TAT stimulus card, a response in English highlighted a man going to college at night and having a supportive wife whereas the response in French indicated a man wanting to separate from his wife. A similar pattern emerged with Japanese/English bilingual participants.
Another experiment mentioned in Grosjean’s article reveals parallel results several years later. A group of bilingual/bicultural Hispanic, Spanish speaking women were asked to interpret advertisements with women as the protagonist in English at one time and in Spanish some months later. Result revealed participants viewed the women in the advert as more independent and intelligent when interpreting in Spanish, whereas they viewed the women in the advert as adhering to more traditional roles when interpreting the ad in English.
Chen (2015) noted differences on some personality traits when assessing native English vs native Chinese speakers, specifically, native English speakers were “perceive to be higher on extraversion and openness to experience” (p. 5) when compared to native Chinese speakers. Chen also explored if a bilingual individual behaves differently depending on whom they are speaking with. Her work reveals that language, activated “normative traits of that culture and shifted bilinguals’ expression of personality” (p.5).
Studies, like the ones mentioned above, highlight the complex nature of the interplay that bilingualism and biculturalism can have on our personality development. This research highlights need for further exploration culture and language, not just specifically English/other language, but also the nuanced differences between how we each define culture within the context of bilingualism and vice versa.
Chen, S. X. (2015). Toward a social psychology of bilingualism and biculturalism. Asian Journal Of Social Psychology, 18(1), 1-11. doi:10.1111/ajsp.12088
Grosjean, F. (2015). Bicultural bilinguals. International Journal Of Bilingualism, 19(5), 572-586. doi:10.1177/1367006914526297
Jennifer Roman, M.A.
WKPIC Doctoral Intern