"The Good Place," NBC
"The Good Place," NBC

Speaking in a Foreign Language Can Impact Your Moral Judgment

"The Good Place," NBC
"The Good Place," NBC

Ethical integrity means practicing consistent values from one situation to the next—at least, that's what you might strive for if you're someone who prides yourself on having a strong moral compass. But a new study suggests that being consistent with our morals is even more complicated than you may think it is. As Quartz reports, personal morality can be influenced by something as seemingly arbitrary as the language you're using.

Researchers from the University of Chicago published their findings in the journal Cognition. They set out to see if the imagery our brains produce changes depending on whether we're communicating in our native language or a foreign one, and whether or not these changes influence the moral decisions we make. They began by discussing sensory experiences with 350 native English speakers. They found that the pictures in the subjects' heads weren't as vivid when hearing scenes described in Spanish as they were when conversing in English.

Next, researchers met with 300 native Mandarin speakers to see how accurate their mental imagery was when speaking in a foreign language, in this case English. Volunteers were given a series of words (“pen,” “carrot,” and “mushroom,” for example) and asked which one didn't belong based on categories like shape or substance. To ace the test, subjects needed to pull up accurate pictures of the items in their minds. They were more likely to do so when speaking in Mandarin and more likely to make a mistake when using a secondary tongue.

So how does morality fit into this? Previous studies have shown that we're less likely to make utilitarian decisions (decisions that maximize life and happiness, even if others must die or suffer first) when speaking in our first language. The researchers thought this might be related to how language affects mental imagery.

For their final test, they asked 700 native German speakers who also spoke English to work out the moral problem of killing one person to save five lives. Subjects who visualized the sacrifice most vividly, mostly those speaking in German, were less likely to say they would kill someone to save five others. But when they spoke in English, and therefore couldn't see the scene as clearly, they were more likely to go the utilitarian route.

Morality is already a notoriously sticky subject, and these new findings don't make things any clearer. Just remember if you ever come across the trolley problem in real life, the language you're using could mean life or death.

[h/t Quartz]

15 Antiquated Words for 'Happy' We Should Bring Back

Happiness is such a wonderful feeling, why should we only use one word to describe it? In honor of today's International Day of Happiness, why not open up that vocabulary and let the good times roll.


From the late 19th century, meaning “cheerful.”


An expression for “good mood,” used from the late 17th century until the 1930s.


Before humans literally went beyond the moon, this popular phrase from the 1930s means “overjoyed.”


Started out meaning “intoxicated,” but by the 1950s it just meant happy.


As in “tickled pink.”


Also started as a reference to tipsiness, this referred to a general good ol’ time in the 19th century.


In the 19th century, this bouncy term also meant “splendid.”


This 19th century sailor’s slang either referred to the Peruvian port of Callo or acted as a play on the word alcohol. Or both.


From the Latin for “let us rejoice,” this oldie refers to a merry jamboree.


From the Yiddish for “so happy and proud my heart is overflowing.”


This current slang in the UK certainly needs to make a trip across the pond.


A term the Irish use to mean “delirious and excited.” We need to borrow this one, too.


This classic from the 14th century doesn’t get used enough anymore.


This confusing 19th century gem was used to describe someone who was extremely pleased.


From the phrase “to set the cock on the hoop,” meaning open the tap and let the good times flow.

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Pop Culture
Duolingo Is Offering a Free Course in Klingon
Stephen Morton/Getty News Images
Stephen Morton/Getty News Images

For Star Trek fans, the final frontier doesn’t end once the credits roll on a new TV show or movie. The franchise extends way beyond that to include countless conventions, board games, video games, mountains of merchandise, and even a dating website specifically for Trekkies. And if you’re a real die-hard for Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, you can even learn Klingon—one of many fictional languages from the franchise, and by far its most fully-realized.

Now, the popular language-learning website Duolingo is helping people master the guttural beauty of Klingon with a free online course that is currently in a public beta. To start, you can choose to either learn some useful phrases or take an online placement test—though that’s recommended for people who already have some experience in Klingon. The course was crafted with the help of CBS—both Trek and the network are owned by Viacom—as well as “some of the world’s leading Klingon experts,” according to a quote from VentureBeat.

If you’re a novice, Duolingo will start you off with some tips on how the Klingon language works, including its alphabet, capitalization rules, and the fact that there’s really no word for “hello” (apparently, a Klingon won’t waste your time with silly trivialities like greetings).

In an interview with VentureBeat, course creator Felix Malmenbeck said there are only about 30 to 50 people who can actually converse in Klingon, though there are more who can communicate through text. But there’s a chance that number can shoot up with this new course, as Malmenbeck revealed that the site has gotten around 170,000 pre-registrations. This might seem like a lot for a fictional language, but just remember that the site’s course for High Valyrian, a fictional language from Game of Thrones, was viewed by 240,000 eager learners.

Klingon made its debut as a very basic language in 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture and was partly devised by actor James Doohan, who played Scotty. It was further fleshed out in 1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and it has since gotten its own dictionary by the linguist Marc Okrand, the man responsible for working on the official language for the movie.

Duolingo’s Klingon course is available now for free, and if you have a Duolingo Plus subscription, you can experience the whole thing without ads and use it while offline. Just remember, be careful who you say hab sosli' Quch* to. It may not end well. 

*It means “Your mother has a smooth forehead.” Trust us, that’s as insulting as it gets.

[h/t VentureBeat]


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