Olivia Judson has a theory that language may affect mood. She wrote about it on her blog at the NY Times. Many of us know that smiling can affect mood, so she wants to know if languages in which the mouth is positioned in a smile or frown more often would affect mood. The same way that saying "Cheese" makes you smile and the french "fleur" makes you pout. The theory has not been tested, but I would be interested to know.
When Ivo and I were first dating I was surprised to notice that when he spoke Swiss German, his voice was deeper than when speaking English. My first theory was that he'd been nervous when first speaking English as a student and had thus learned it in a nervous or higher register. My theory was disproved, however, when I discovered that I too spoke Swiss German with a bit of a deeper voice as well. So now I don't know what the cause is, unless it's the languages themselves.
Perhaps not even just the language but the social circle. At a book club last month we discussed the fact that there was a slur in our book that the Chinese characters used for white people. It referred to their noses. This got a started about the term "Honky" which is also used by the Palawa in Tasmania, to refer to white people, who stereotypically speak through their nose. I find this all fascinating as a woman who spends her time mumbling. I'd like to think that I speak like those people from whom I've learned my language, but I don't.
I race through sentences in all of the languages that I have learned and tend to mumble or speak softly at times. Speaking softly was born of an idea that "a mistake made quietly is not a mistake". Ivo once remarked that most people were unaware of how good my language was coming along, because they'd never heard me speak it at an audible level. Oh, if only it were in my languages learned in later life that I did this, but no! Even in my mother-tongue I tend to default to: a mistake made quietly is not a mistake.
I am now speaking in English to my niece A.J. as much as possible. This may not seem tricky and, truly, it is almost automatic for me to speak with a child or an animal in my mother-tongue. It only becomes difficult when I am switching back and forth and back and forth between saying silly things to A.J. and speaking to people around me in another language. She has, of course, been hearing Bern-Swiss-German for almost a year now and science may have you believe that she even cries at a certain pitch so as to parrot the rhythm of her mother's tongue. Nevertheless, I am convinced that she is coming along in her English amazingly well. I have no real evidence for this, but I've chosen to take a few of her cues as clues. For example, from the age of one week, whenever I speak to her in English, she always makes an "ooo" face. I'm not saying that mine is a language with an inordinate amount of "ooo" sounds, but the fact her face arranges itself in this way when I am speaking to her in English suggests a certain cause and effect. Also, she typically reacts to my English with one of those baby smiles with the squinty eyes and turns of the head.
Ivo can be our control group for my theory. When he speaks to A.J. she typically sticks out her tongue. It's not an insult or anything. It appears as though Uncle Ivo's speech seems to make A.J. want to explore that particular control of that particular body part.
Of course, A.J. is only 5 weeks old and it is entirely possible that whenever her eyes are open and she is interacting she is simply hungry and thus moving her mouths in nursing ways. The grin may also not be from my language but my mouth that can't help but smile stupidly at her while speaking to her in my language. I, however choose to believe that she will love English and will smile because of it.