Are language and health related?

I am sure you have heard that speaking more than one language may help ward off dementia, and we know that swearing makes stubbing your toe on a door seem less painful. But does this mean that language and health are associated in any way?

How language affects health

Some language structures may help reinforce certain positive habits

Research shows that speaking languages with a weak distinction between present and future is associated with positive habits, such as looking after your health and saving money. Languages that fall into this category include Mandarin and German.

In contrast, languages such as Spanish or Italian have very clear separation between present and future, resulting in future seeming very distant and far away. This may mean that positive habits do not seem like such an important priority when speaking these languages.

How health affects language

Depression is a good example of how our health can affect our language. People with depression do not speak in the same way as people without depression.

Depression may change the way we communicate

A recent study has compiled a class of words that can help to predict whether someone is suffering from depression. They found that depressive symptoms were associated with the following changes in language: excessive use of words to describe negative emotions, frequent use of first person singular pronouns and infrequent use of second/third person pronouns, and use of many absolutist words e.g. always/nothing.

In a nutshell, language and health do appear to be intrinsically linked. We currently do not understand this relationship very well but some clues are starting to appear. It will be interesting to see what we discover in the not so distant future!

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