LANGUAGE AND ITS INFLUENCE OVER HOW WE THINK.

“To have a second language is to have a second soul.”-Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman empire.

Language is understood as a vehicle for communication. It is a combination of words, particular to each community, structured conventionally and conveyed through speech, writing or gesture. Interestingly, recent research has developed that language does far much more than express our thoughts. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the language we speak has a bearing on how we think. This theory has posed a plethora of questions to our general understanding of language.

The hypothesis of linguistic relativity, commonly known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, is a principle suggesting that the languages people speak not only relay information but also affect the cognition of the speakers. Thus, the perception people have of the world is relative to their spoken language(s). This begs the question, do people who speak different languages think differently simply because they speak different languages? In addition to this, does learning new languages change the way you think?

Research conducted and evidence collected leads us to believe so. In some instances, linguistic practices are associated with our cultural values and social institution. Take the concept of pronoun dropping for example. The English language would have it that pronouns are used while referring to the subject of a statement. “She went for a walk” is considered correct, but the statement “ Went for a walk” is not standard. In other languages, such as Japanese, pronouns are unnecessary while constructing a statement and are more often than not dropped. As it turns out, people who are part of cultures that speak pronoun dropping languages tend to embrace collectivism more than English speaking cultures. The constant use of pronouns is a subconscious reminder of individualism. It speaks to the differentiation between the self and others and the distinction between individuals.

Similarly, grammatical gender is an intriguing case in point. According to a test conducted on German and French-speaking individuals, words are perceived according to their gender. When asked to describe a key, a word that is regarded as masculine in German and feminine in French, the German-speaking individuals incorporated words such as “metal”, “hard”, and “serrated” in their descriptions. The French-speaking individuals, on the other hand, used “shiny”, “golden”, “intricate”, and “lovely” to describe the key. It is worth noting that the test was conducted in English, a language without grammatical gender. To further prove the influence of language on our perceptions, a test done on Greman and Russian-speaking painters has shown that 85% of personifications in art are determined by the grammatical gender of a word in the native language of the artist. Seeing that abstract entities are ascribed to genders in both languages, the painters were asked to paint death in human form. Most of the Greman speakers painted death as a man, whereas the Russian speakers painted death as a woman as per the grammatical gender of death in the two languages.

Finally, the concept applies to geographic orientation as well. Cultures speaking Australian languages, such as the Kuuk Thaayore, are better at orienting themselves in space than English speaking cultures. The Kuuk Thaayore can easily tell North from South-West, even in unfamiliar places, because their language employs absolute spatial dialectics. When referring to an object, members of this culture would not say “ The plate next to me” as English speakers would. Instead, the statement would be phrased as “The plate to my North-West”. The nature of their language requires a great mastery of direction for them to assemble correct utterances. This concept of their culture accustoms them to be well-versed about cardinal points.

In conclusion, the languages we speak do influence the way we think. To know a second language is to have access to different concepts. Knowing different languages gives insight into different cultures and different ways of life. We interpret information, perceive reality, and live our experiences based on our linguistic and cultural practices.

References.

Birner, B. (2012). Does the language I speak influence the way I think? | Linguistic Society of America. Linguisticsociety.org. https://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/does-language-i-speak-influence-way-i-think

Boroditsky, L. (2018, May 2). How language shapes the way we think | Lera Boroditsky. YouTube. https://youtu.be/RKK7wGAYP6k

Boroditsky, L. (2019). HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? | Edge.org. Edge.org. https://www.edge.org/conversation/lera_boroditsky-how-does-our-language-shape-the-way-we-think

Burraco, A. B. (2017). How the Language We Speak Affects the Way We Think. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-biolinguistic-turn/201702/how-the-language-we-speak-affects-the-way-we-think

Guillaume Thierry. (2019, February 26). The power of language: we translate our thoughts into words, but words also affect the way we think. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-power-of-language-we-translate-our-thoughts-into-words-but-words-also-affect-the-way-we-think-111801

McCullen, A. (2018, May 24). How Language Influences Our Thinking and Encourages Change. Medium. https://medium.com/thethursdaythought/how-language-influences-our-thinking-and-encourages-change

Nicola, L. (2020, July 22). Does the language we speak influence our way of thinking? IBSA Foundation. https://www.ibsafoundation.org/does-the-language-we-speak-influence-our-way-of-thinking

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