Never say, “It’s Just Semantics.”August 22nd, 2009 — tonymayo Email This Article
Languages shape the way we think about space, time, colors, and objects. Other studies have found effects of language on how people construe events, reason about causality, keep track of number, understand material substance, perceive and experience emotion, reason about other people’s minds, choose to take risks, and even in the way they choose professions and spouses. Taken together, these results show that linguistic processes are pervasive in most fundamental domains of thought, unconsciously shaping us from the nuts and bolts of cognition and perception to our loftiest abstract notions and major life decisions.
Language is central to our experience of being human, and the languages we speak profoundly shape the way we think, the way we see the world, the way we live our lives.
– Lera Boroditsky, Ph.D.
HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE
SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK?
See also this Wall Street Journal article by Dr. Boroditsky.
…literate people said “dark blue” or “light yellow,” but illiterates used metaphorical names like “liver,” “peach,” “decayed teeth,” and “cotton in bloom.” Literates saw optical illusions; illiterates sometimes didn’t. Experimenters showed peasants drawings of a hammer, a saw, an axe, and a log and then asked them to choose the three items that were similar. Illiterates resisted, saying that all the items were useful. If pressed, they considered throwing out the hammer; the situation of chopping wood seemed more cogent to them than any conceptual category. One peasant, informed that someone had grouped the three tools together, discarding the log, replied, “Whoever told you that must have been crazy,” and another suggested, “Probably he’s got a lot of firewood.” [Work by Aleksandr R. Luria]
Illiterates also resisted giving definitions of words and refused to make logical inferences about hypothetical situations. … Whereas literates can rotate concepts in their minds abstractly, orals embed their thoughts in stories. [Work by Walter J. Ong]
– Caleb Crain
Twilight of the Books in
The New Yorker 2007 12 24