Monday, August 29, 2011

Susan Ervin-Tripp

Today's post is about Susan Ervin-Tripp, she is a sociolinguist who is a professor at UC Berkeley. In 1964 Ervin-Tripp conducted a study with Japanese women who had married American soldiers after World War II. In the study the women were asked to complete a sentence completion task where they responded to open ended questions twice; once in English, and once in Japanese.

For example:
"Real friends should...
Japanese: help each other".
English: be very frank".

"I will probably become a...
Japanese: housewife".
English: teacher".

"When my wishes conflict with my family..."
Japanese: it is a time of great unhappiness".
English: I do what I want".
As you may have noticed the responses varied based on the language. While the results of this study are fascinating, it does not tell us a lot about why this happened. The results may illustrate that language influences how we think, but it certainly does not prove this to be the case. It is just as likely that the two answers reflect the cultural values that are tied to them respectively.

Ervin-Tripp, S. (1964). An Analysis of The Interaction of Language, Topic, and Listener. American Anthropologist, 66, 86 - 102.


  1. I think that this is related to cultural differences.

  2. The cultural background differs greatly. This of course is also shown in the language.

  3. They changed their response to match the language

  4. I remember seeing some study where the same sort of thing happened, but based on different people speaking different languages, as opposed to one person speaking them. There was a video of a person "accidentally" dropping an egg or something, and when asked to recall the events, the English (or Spanish? It was a while ago) speakers answered in a way that would hold the man culpable (The man broke the egg, etc), while the Japanese speakers seemingly understood it was an accident and said "The egg broke"

    Something to that effect. There was also one based on color recognition, but this is a bit long for a comment, so I'll stop it there.