Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Keith Chen — Whorfian Economics [wonkish]

In a nutshell: I find a strong correlation between how a language treats future-time reference (FTR), and the choices that speakers of those languages make when thinking about the future. Specifically, in large data sets that survey families across hundreds of countries, I find a strong and robust negative correlation between the obligatory marking of FTR in the language a family speaks, and a whole host of forward-looking behaviors, like saving, exercising, and refraining from smoking. These correlations hold both across countries and within countries, even when comparing effectively identical families born and living in the same country. While the data I analyze don’t allow me to completely understand what role language plays in these relationships, they suggest that there is something really remarkable to be explained about the interaction of language and economic decision making. These correlations are so strong and survive such an aggressive set of controls, that the chances they arise by random lies somewhere between one in 10,000 and one in 10^32....In short, I believe the data suggest a strong and robust relationship between linguistic and economic data, a relationship that bears explaining. Where this leaves us is what I think is an exciting place: one where Economists have a lot to learn from Linguists.
Read it at Language Log
Whorfian Economics
by Keith Chen

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