XVI April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development
7 – 10 April 2015, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
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Cultural Capital in the Creation of Social Capital: Is Civicness Inherited with Language Structures?


This paper explores the hypothesis that the grammatical structure of certain languages, in particular the presence of redundant subject pronouns in the modern languages of Western Europe, favours the accumulation of trust and pro-social behaviour. Three psycholinguistic mechanisms are considered. Firstly, subject pronouns have been shown to induce an actor-centred awareness of the social environment via a psychological effect of linguistic priming. In Western languages, this effect is seconded by a whole battery of grammar features accentuating human agency, hence facilitating a cultural inclination towards individualism which is conducive, in turn, to tolerant attitudes and social efficiency. Arguably, this mechanism is particularly influential during the process of language acquisition, thus causing an additional lasting impact on the infant’s development. A third effect builds on the arbitrary nature of grammar rules which have no interpretable meaning. By their compulsory character, grammar features such as, e.g., the redundant obligatory subject can provide an authoritative cognitive anchor for the social norms acquired together with them in the context of educational language games. In light of these three effects, it is plausible to assume that the double-edged iconic and arbitrary nature of the modern European subject pronoun has been a crucial resource in the socio-economic development of Western societies since the Middle Ages.

Full text forthcoming with the proceedings of this conference.