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