On the Psychology of Languages

By Vijetha D Jois

Communication is a means of exchange and expression between people, but the process of speaking and understanding is only complete with the help of language. For several days, I’ve been quite amused with the ways in which language is psychologically linked to an individual’s brain.

While doing some research on languages, I came across a brainstorming topic about how people can learn more languages and how understanding the ways in which language works involves many branches of psychology — from basic neurological functioning to high-level cognitive processing.

This article is a follow-up to my first in MultiLingual, which was all about the basics of languages, from a primary school pupil’s point of view, and how important language is in shaping the future of young minds.

Learning a language seems magical, because when we are born, we do not know what language we will speak in the future. Simply because the people around us speak a certain language, our brains adapt to it, and we begin to speak similarly.

But how does this happen?

When a baby is born into a family, it does not know which language it will speak first. When the baby’s mother carries it and shows her love in a particular language at birth, this is considered to be the newborn’s mother tongue. The baby’s first language begins as a simple, unconscious imitations from its lips. This is the stage at which it tries to speak its mother tongue. Language is gradually implanted in us simply by hearing the language spoken by the people around us.

No matter how many languages we learn as we grow up, whether from our family, friends at school or colleagues at work, the phrase “mother tongue” still gives us goosebumps. Why is that?

Well, as the saying goes, the family is the greatest asset a child can have. We grow up with our family from the moment we are born. Psychologically, the cerebrum of the brain, which controls language and perception, understands the language spoken by our family. Our brain then sends a message to the nerves that this is the particular language we will have to speak as our mother tongue in the future. That seems rather mystical when you think about it.

So, we get the understanding that this is the language we should speak.

Since the time of our ancestors, we’ve spoken language, and this language has been passed on to future generations. This particular language, one among many, is our mother tongue. The term “mother tongue,” then, basically refers to the very first language we learned in our home and continue to use in our lives to collect, understand, comprehend, and converse to meet our basic needs for the day.

Consider, for example, a class of students listening to a teacher’s lecture in English. To fully understand what the teacher is saying, our mind delivers the message in that particular student’s native language. In this way, the students can fully understand the information.

This is a very common example that we are confronted with all the time, either while we’re listening to another speaker or engaged in a bilingual conversation.

Now that we know a lot about the mother tongue and how it works in the human brain, many of us may still be asking a follow-up question — why don’t we call it the father tongue?

According to many genetic and anthropological studies, the metaphor of mother tongue traditionally defines our primary caregivers as mothers, and thus includes our native or primary language more towards the maternal line. Learning to speak in one’s mother tongue is very important for a child’s overall development and health.

All this time we have been discussing the emotional and psychological relationship between our family, our mother tongue and our brain. But what exactly do we call it?

The study of how language is connected to our brain in ordinary language is called psycholinguistics. It is mainly the study of how language is connected to our minds and how we understand and are able to feel emotions and conversations while performing an action verbally or through writing, which affects and influences a student’s life in a very significant way.

Knowingly or unknowingly, this helps to improve the student’s life by making a significant contribution. It is the essential root through which young minds get to know and connect with each other, leading to a better understanding of the world, as the sphere of languages is the key to grow afoot.

MultiLingual’s audience comprises a wide range of readers from many different generations. In January 2022, we published an essay by one of our young readers, Vijetha D Jois, who is an eighth-grade student in Bangalore. Vijetha is back with another essay for MultiLingual, this time with a piece about the psychology of languages.

Vijetha D Jois is an eighth-grade student at Auden Public School, Bangalore. She loves to read and write and enjoys learning about languages, psychology, and global cultures.



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