Culture vs Behavior vs Language

This article is motivated by a post of Julia Moisand Egea

Since years I often thought about the interplay of user experience and expectation vs culture and all the influencing factors.
The world is full of different cultures and languages, even within America and Europe, and it's also different within single countries.
Culture is part of several external influences that impact us as human being, as team member and consumer.

Culture is a system of interdependent components like knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits - but as I discover again and again also language.
Sometimes it's very obvious that language is an substantial element of culture. It should be realized that regional differences may be understated and not so obvious. For example, one word may mean one thing in one part of a country, but something naughty or rude in another.

But what I realize more and more is that language change the way of thinking and behavior. It starts when you can speak various dialects of one language. There are often large variations in regional dialects of a given language.
The differences between U.S., Australian, and British English are actually modest compared to differences between dialects in Europe. Most of the European countries have coastal and alpine regions - and their culture and dialects are commonly completely different. I lived in various parts of Germany and I am able to talk three dialects - but when I start talking in one of these dialects I realize I change my way of thinking too - even if it is very tiny - but I do.
And what I like to explain is that, I would like to know whether I am the only one - during my daily work I often have to talk or write in different languages, and when I switch to the other language it takes only a few moments and my 'thinking-mode' switchs too and when I am in the US for longer than a few days my 'behavior-mode' change slightly too.
Languages are a reflection of the culture - and I often have the feeling that works vice versa.


The English language is straight to the point and has an emphasis on organization and conciseness. The English communication is direct and doesn’t straggle or run off the track.

Germanic languages have a penchant to make things more complex as it need to be. On the one hand these languages are very modifiable on the other very rigid. The Germanic communication is also direct but is inclined to wander off the subject by taking other aspects, like history etc.; into account.
( btw. Oscar Wilde said once: “Life is too short to learn German” )

In Romance languages ( e.g. Spanish, French, and Portuguese ) detours aren't odd and are deliberate. These detours are evidence of class, not of poor language faculty. Romance communication often digresses. It is fine to introduce extraneous material, which adds to the richness of the communication.

If we think about Asian languages, there is often a great deal of circumlocutions and indirect expression, because of various reasons e.g. 'loss of face', politeness and other reasons.

The Jewish communication tend to excursive explanations and substantiations and then they get lost in details and end up with '...but that's another story!'.

And finally a few words about Russian communication, it is often circuitous and discursive. These excursions may include a series of parallel ideas, and it's often not easy to connect these ideas. But as I learned Russian just for two years at school when I was a young boy and I forgot more or less every thing - I am not any expert for the Russian language.

I am looking forward to hearing what you think. Is your behavior changing when you think and talk in another language for a certain time?


  1. I totally concur. In my opinion, there seems to be two factors involved here.

    The language culture, as you described in your article has every thing to do with the culture and involves ways to express ideas, etc.
    The other part is language structure, which is about the grammar, the word order and word structures.
    Both influence the way people think, construct their thought processes and express themselves. Where the first one is more about the 'front end' of the processes and activity structure, the second is more about the kernel, the innate logic, the action level, so it seems (pardon my analogies).

    The process and patterns of expression, being direct or circumlocutory or 'parallel' will have an impact on the users trained ability to follow different thought patterns and think lateral (dare I say creative). I would expect this also to influence how such users will engage in an interaction, where they will look, how they will structure their activities (higher order than actions).

    The grammar part goes more into the action level. In my experience I have seen that the way French (Romanic language) places verbs, proverbs, nouns and pronouns is perceived as 'reverse' to the more Germanic and Anglo-saxon languages. Simple example; the French talk about the moulin rouge (mill red) whereas the English say the red mill.
    Now the same difference I observed in the ordering of action logic. Where one would first initiate an action and then decide on which items to apply it. Whereas the other would select a (number of) item(s) and then apply an action to it. Both are equal by the effect, e.g. items are deleted. But in terms of what is perceived natural there will be differences between the cultures.

    If you take the grammar logic and add the process of expression with or without its detours and circumlocution it is to be expected that this impacts what users will expect in an interaction with your product and service interface.
    The language even influences how they perceive the interface (there is a relation between writing style and the eye-scanning patterns).
    Thus language is creating a variety of interaction logic with a unique combination for each culture.

    (Un) fortunately the English language is the prevalent language for UI development hence we see more Anglo-saxon logic in the UI's than Romanic logic. So we are now all tainted. It seems to me that in an unguided situation, users will approach a problem solving in an application, influencing their opinion on what is intuitive to them or not.

    1. Thank you so much on contributing with your valuable comment, Paul.

      Have a great day and a successful new year 2013!

      be sure to come back soon,
      br, Holger


Post a Comment