19 March 2012

The Guardian: “When present self meets future self”

Languages can be divided into those that use grammar to make a strong distinction between the present and the future (linguists say these have strong "future time reference" or FTR) and those that blur the two (weak FTR). Where you'd say, "I'm going to buy a house" in English, which is a strong FTR language, you'd say, "I buy house" in Mandarin, with the timing implied by the context. Chen's number-crunching revealed extraordinary correlations. Weak-FTR speakers are 24% less likely to smoke and 29% more likely to exercise; strong-FTR speakers saved far less money. Chen's argument is that the more you think of the future as a radically different thing, the easier it is not to worry about how too many cigarettes – or too little money – might cause problems in that future. It's not your fault you're a wreck. It's your grammar's. Oliver Burkeman

Interesting idea, although the argumentation is sketchy at best. As always, it’s good to keep in mind that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Be sure to read the last paragraph, it puts the entire article in a different perspective. Correlation

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