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.

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