An Inquiry on Linguistics in Economics

A few weeks ago, I was faced with the daunting task of writing about communication forms in my introduction to academic writing. As someone who is equally comfortable in communicating in symbols and words, but someone who is uncomfortable in both, this sounded like a terrible task and the end of my happy mark in one of my requisite courses. In the process of trying to merge economics and theories from the study of communications in class, I happened to stumble upon a paper detailing the effects of using certain vocabulary in the success of papers detailing primarily with mathematical concepts, like imaginary numbers or chaos theory. [1]

From further personal reading now irrelevant to my paper, I discovered the small field had interesting finds to offer, with quantitative data to support the largely qualitative theories. For the most part, most of the papers revolved around the concept that language plays an active role in governing how we interpret concepts, how we understand ourselves in relations to other people and inanimate object, and of course, how we go about interpreting what logic means to us. [2]

One example of this was an interesting find made by Keith Chen at the Yale School of Management, who found speakers of languages that had “weak” or less distinguished future tenses tended to save more, because, he proposes, the lack division of a “future” self reduces the concept of bounded rationality. Unfortunately for Chen, while his work has been considered to be at least plausible from the economics department, many linguistics academics have been a little more than offended that he tried to comment on a field that was not “his”, and comment that his paper doesn’t take other factors like the cultures that are tied to the various cultures that are tied to the various languages. [3]

Realistically, the concept of language influencing the study of economics isn’t dead- and moreover, the means of communication of any study will always be subjected to the constraints of whatever language its papers are being written in, be it English, French, German, or even mathematics. [4] It certainly has some scary ramifications (yet another layer of humanity for Thaler to peel through), and could undermine many explicit assumptions in the field, but it’s worth investigating, I think.

I certainly think it’s yet another amazing field of academics that offers more insight into how we construct models, and how to further tweak models to better reflect reality. The increasing complexity of models is evitable, but drawing from other fields of knowledge may make them more applicable to the complicated and changing world today.


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