Language Alter Ego

Personalities and identities in a multilingual brain

While talking about Language Alter Ego I typically refer to the concept of personality. And sometimes I get challenged about the concept of identity. Here I'd like to clarify what is the difference between identity and personality.

The notion of identity is rooted in the idea “I belong”, people identify themselves with certain groups, and they can also be accepted by those groups. Learners speaking a new language can join a new group by connecting to it through the language, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to be accepted.

In modern daily life, people interact directly with members of many communities: they may be involved in neighbourhood, workplace, educational, medical, and religious communities. While becoming part of these communities they may develop various identities and personalities.

Language could be one of the fastest ways to connect or disconnect from a community and an identity associated with this social group. Thus, language can shape social identity by signalling membership in particular social groups. For example, speaking a specific dialect or regional variation of a language can signal belonging to a particular community or social class.

Multilingual individuals often engage in identity negotiation as they switch between different languages and cultural contexts by developing new personalities. They may adapt their language use and patterns of behaviour (personality) to fit into various social groups, leading to shifts in how they perceive themselves and are perceived by others. And here a personality comes in.

At its most basic, personality is the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that make a person unique. The word "personality" stems from the Latin word persona, which refers to a theatrical mask worn by performers in order to either project different roles or disguise their identities.

Behavioural theories suggest that personality is a result of interaction between the individual and the environment.

The Jungian persona defines the different masks we wear in a social context. Who we are with our family is different from who we are at work. Our persona takes different forms based on our culture, upbringing and general environment. With its origin in theatrical masks, a persona reflects how we adapt to our surroundings — whether to fit in or protect ourselves.

Hence, identity and personality are deeply connected in a multilingual brain. The languages individuals speak, their cultural backgrounds, and their experiences navigating diverse linguistic and cultural environments all contribute to shaping their identity and personality.