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How language affects thought & behavior

This is one of the most profound, exciting articles I have read in a while. It’s from the 30 July 2010 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Turns out that my lifelong suspicion that native language affects thought and behavior at a deep level (see the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis) is far truer than I ever imagined.  Here’s the beginning of the article: by Lera Boroditsky, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University:

Lost in Translation

New cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences the way people see the world; a different sense of blame in Japanese and Spanish

By Lera Boroditsky

Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?

Take “Humpty Dumpty sat on a…” Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say “sat” rather than “sit.” In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can’t) change the verb to mark tense.

In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.

In Turkish, you would have to include in the verb how you acquired this information. For example, if you saw the chubby fellow on the wall with your own eyes, you’d use one form of the verb, but if you had simply read or heard about it, you’d use a different form.

Do English, Indonesian, Russian and Turkish speakers end up attending to, understanding, and remembering their experiences differently simply because they speak different languages?  Continue reading article here

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