Are there any known psychological effects that have been observed on people who speak one language as opposed to another. For example, in Latin languages there are genders, in English there are none; does this effect how we view objects?

How about VSO vs SOV word order? Has it been observed that there is an effect on the speaker?

  • 2
    No. There are effects of VSO vs SOV word order, but they're effects on other things in the language, not on the minds of its speakers. Language is just a a set of habits, and like all habits, different people have different responses to them. Nothing about any particular language has been shown to have any psychological effects on its speakers in contrast to any other language. Nice idea, but no evidence.
    – jlawler
    Jan 24, 2022 at 1:52
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    @jlawler I wouldn't say it so absolutely. There's no Sapir-Whorf "if you have no word for love you can't experience love" effect, which is probably what the asker is wondering about, but e.g. the Kay and Berlin color studies show that it can impact how we categorize certain things.
    – Draconis
    Jan 24, 2022 at 3:04
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    This is a perannial question. Search "Sapir Whorf" for multiple questions, that should be closed as duplicates. Hence, I don't which one to choose as reason for a close vote
    – vectory
    Jan 24, 2022 at 11:45
  • As I understand it, Sapir Whorf effects are obvious at a small level, but completely unproven at a general level. An example of the effect of gender on cognition is discussed here: psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culture-conscious/201209/… Jan 26, 2022 at 1:10

2 Answers 2


There is one popular paper, but I forgot the name, which tested Spanish speakers' judgement about subjective qualities of objects depending on the words used to name them. They observed a possitive effect. It was also criticized and in effect inconclusive. Spanish does have gender.

The Bouba/Kiki effect is similar, except that it seems to work across languages: Kiki is a random word understood to describe pointy shapes, Bouba the opposite.

The sentence level is more problematic. Argument structure, topic and focus, whatever, do influence how we understand a statement, and intent may drive how we say things. Strong determinism (Sapir-Whorf-Hypothesis) is conerned with this issue and has been largley rejected. A reformulation of the hypothesis could lead to different results. Arguably, if you are constrained to SVO, three words per sentence, you'd be highly constrained and need to off-load information structure onto a highly structured lexicon. Languages are neither s simple nor so complex. The problem has to lie whereverelse.


As speaker of gendered, predominantly-SVO language, sometimes it is uncomfortable to me not to know at the very now who is the agent - he or she - in the genderless languages. But sometimes it is very useful. And sometimes I feel a restlessness, I'm very impatient when I'm reading a long sentences in the SOV-languages.

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