Econolinguistics. Interesting. The word sure sounds impressive: I can imagine it might get you some extra brownie points with recruiters if you had it on your resume. Just imagine: an interviewer asks “So, econolinguistics, tell me a bit about what that means?”
“Well, econolinguistics deals with how language and various economic factors interact. “ you reply. “In my research, I looked at how different words and phrases can improve the appeal of a resume.”
“The word ‘Econolinguistics’ scored highly, I take it?”
BOOM. Mind: blown. Job: secured.
So what do I make of your newly crafted field? Well, first of all, there apparently already exists the field of ‘ecolinguistics’ which (based on my brief Wikipedia scan) mainly focuses on the way language affects ecological factors, though also indirectly deals with economic repercussions. The seminal paper in the field discussed how English speakers are biased by their language to associate ‘Economic growth’ with other positively inclined words such as ‘grow’, ‘large’ and ‘tall’.
That said, language and economy still looks to be a largely unexplored overlap. I can think of two major ideas that may be interesting to discuss.
First, marketing. This is inline with your point about the ‘value’ of words. How do we get into (and stay in) our conscious and subconscious mind through language? Do some words naturally ‘stick’ better and should therefore be valued more? What are the effects of the following:
1) ‘Foreign’ sounding names such as Häagen-Dazs and IÖGO.
2) Famous name changes and re-branding efforts such as Datsun to Nissan, RIM to Blackberry.
3) ‘Catchy’ names such as ‘Bing’ vs. descriptive names such as ‘Microsoft Live Search’.
Second, the way our grammar affects our economic choices. Can the language we speak really have a measurable influence on the way we earn and spend our economic power? I think, intuitively, there must be some deep links. Language is a reflection of the society we live in. Despite a few ‘regulatory agencies’, most languages around the world evolve quite fluidly and could in theory reflect the fiscal tendencies of a region.
One interesting study I stumbled across is one by Keith Chen, a professor of economics at Yale. It concludes that people who speak languages which have ‘strong’ future tenses (i.e. the future person is distinct from the present in colloquial speech) save less money than those who speak languages with ‘weak’ future tenses (as an example of strong vs. weak future tense, in English we say ‘I will meet you at 6pm’ whereas in German and Cantonese one says ‘I meet you at 6pm’). As with any ‘sociology’ result, caveat emptor goes without saying, but the result seems intuitively appealing.
This corroborates a result I saw in a Google Author talk by Kelly Mcgonigal, a professor at Stanford who recently published a book called ‘The Willpower Instinct’. One of her main recommendations for planning for the future is to ‘write your future self a letter’. In one of the studies she mentions, people who have been shown a digitally aged picture of themselves are willing to invest more into a savings account for their retirement. Other studies have shown that when we talk about our ‘future selves’ the same areas of the brain are activated as when we talk about ‘John Travolta’ or ‘Natalie Portman’. So if we speak in the present tense, can we empathize with our future selves and alter our economic choices? It certainly seems plausible.
Post: finished. Rebuttal: anticipated.
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