I’ve always been fascinated with how language affects our perception and our habits. I believe that depending on what language we speak, it influences how we think.
In today’s TED Talk, we explore the idea that depending on how we speak about the future influences how we perceive it and how we save for it. The idea is that in countries where language is “future-less” save more money than those who have “futured” languages. A “future-less” language exhibits a unique characteristic that is easily exemplified in German or Chinese. Within these languages, a speaker can say “it rain tomorrow” or “it rain yesterday” and it would be grammatically correct. Contrast this with a “futured” language like English where language denotes a specifi point in time, e.g. “it is raining today”, “it will rain tomorrow” or “it rained yesterday”.
Language as exemplified above, forces English speakers to constantly think about the time spectrum and divide it into distinct periods of past present or future. As spoken language forces us to see the future as a distinct and separate period of time from the present, it makes it more difficult for us to save. Why? Because by virtue of the language, we think of the future as something quite far away.
“Future-less” languages on the other hand make no clear distinctions between the present and the future. Since it is the same period of time, saving is easier to do since effectively, the future could be as soon as 2 minutes from now.
Everyone thinks that they should save and it is a good idea to prepare for the future. But the biggest stumbling block for most people is that given the choice of spending the money now or saving it for the future, most people will spend it now since they assume that the future is very far away. They think that since the future is a long way off, there will be more opportunities between then and now to save.
If you speak a language that does not make a distinction between present and future, the same stumbling block does not exist and we begin to think of the future as something a lot closer than would happen a lot sooner.