Tag Archives: lera-boroditsky

Language’s Influence on Culture

I’ve written before about Lera Boroditsky’s fascinating research into how language affects thinking, and a recent article by Boroditsky in The Wall Street Journal covers similar ground, asking Does language influence culture?

The answer, it seems, is yes:

  • Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue.
  • Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east and west, rather than left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation.
  • The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities.
  • In one study, Spanish and Japanese speakers couldn’t remember the agents of accidental events as adeptly as English speakers could. Why? In Spanish and Japanese, the agent of causality is dropped: [“The vase broke” or “The vase was broken”], rather than “John broke the vase.”

For some amazing examples of these traits in practice, the article describes many studies Boroditsky and her colleagues conducted that will make you rethink how much of our cultural differences may be down to our different languages.

How Language Affects Thinking

Linguistic relativity is the idea that language differences alone can affect how we perceive world experiences and thus can cause us to behave differently.

In an Edge essay, Lera Boroditsky discusses some of her research into linguistic relativity and how language use (grammar, word choice and language itself) vastly alters our perceptions and thought processes, offering some interesting examples.

Even basic aspects of time perception can be affected by language. For example, English speakers prefer to talk about duration in terms of length (e.g., “That was a short talk,” “The meeting didn’t take long”), while Spanish and Greek speakers prefer to talk about time in terms of amount, relying more on words like “much” “big”, and “little” rather than “short” and “long” Our research into such basic cognitive abilities as estimating duration shows that speakers of different languages differ in ways predicted by the patterns of metaphors in their language. (For example, when asked to estimate duration, English speakers are more likely to be confused by distance information, estimating that a line of greater length remains on the test screen for a longer period of time, whereas Greek speakers are more likely to be confused by amount, estimating that a container that is fuller remains longer on the screen.)

via Mind Hacks