On the classic TV show “I Love Lucy,” Ricky Ricardo was known for switching into rapid-fire Spanish whenever he was upset, despite the fact Lucy had no idea what her Cuban husband was saying. These scenes were comedy gold, but they also provided a relatable portrayal of the linguistic phenomenon of code-switching.
This kind of code-switching, or switching back and forth between different languages, happens all the time in multilingual environments, and often in emotional situations. In a new article in the July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientists Stephen Chen and Qing Zhou of the University of California, Berkeley and Morgan Kennedy of Bard College delve deeper into this linguistic phenomenon.
Drawing on research from psychology and linguistics, the researchers seek to better understand how using different languages to discuss and express emotions in a multilingual family might play an important role in children’s emotional development. They propose that the particular language parents choose to use when discussing and expressing emotion can have significant impacts on children’s emotional understanding, experience, and regulation.
“Over the past few years, there’s been a steadily growing interest in the languages multilingual individuals use to express emotions,” says Chen. “We were interested in the potential clinical and developmental implications of emotion-related language shifts, particularly within the context of the family.”
Existing research from psychological science underscores the fact that language plays a key role in emotion because it allows the speakers to articulate, conceal, or discuss feelings. When parents verbally express their emotions, they contribute to their children’s emotional development by providing them a model of how emotions can be articulated and regulated.