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  • Karina Fortier

Language Shapes the Way we Think

We already know that #languages vary greatly from one to another. They differ in their expressions, their structure, in the number of words used to describe an object or concept in all its variations, as well as in the absence of certain words that are considered essential in another language.

But did you know that language also shapes the way we think?

Hi there, I am headed North-North-West, how about yourself?

Lera Boroditski, an American neuroscientist, mentions the example of the Kuktayo tribe in Australia. Their language does not include the words 'left', 'right', 'front', or 'back'. Absolutely everything related to space, direction and positioning is expressed in cardinal directions. Hence, you would commonly hear: ‘’hey, you have a stain on your North-East shirt sleeve’’.

What’s more, every time you greet someone, you have to say where you’re headed. “Hi there! I’m headed North-North-West, how about you?’’. Kuktayo people never get lost, because orientation is always on their minds, and is an essential part of their #thought_processes. Even the children have an impeccable sense of direction, something that adults in Western societies have completely lost.

Miss Moon or Mr. Moon?

The beautiful thing about English is the absence of #grammatical_gender. The beautiful thing about other languages is the presence of grammatical gender.

Both sides have their ups and downs. On the one hand, the lack of gender makes #learning_grammar so much easier. On the other hand, gender adds many insightful nuances to a language.

Interestingly, different languages attribute different genders to the same objects. For example, in #German 'moon' is masculine, while 'sun' is feminine. But the reverse is true in #French and in #Spanish. So when you ask Germans to describe the moon, they are more likely to use adjectives such as ‘powerful’, ‘handsome’, ‘radiant’, while Spanish and French people will rather use adjectives such as ‘beautiful’, ‘tender’, ‘precious’, etc. This example illustrates how #language_influences the way people think about nouns…which is basically everything surrounding us.

Language influences memory

Let’s say someone accidentally broke a glass.. The #English_language requires you to say WHO broke it (i.e. HE broke the glass). On the other hand, other languages such as Spanish actually don’t give importance to the cause of the accident, rather insisting on the simple fact that it happened. Hence, ‘’the glass broke’’ (‘se rompió el vaso’).

Logically, these different #language_structures influence the way we remember past events. English speakers are likely to remember the “guilty” person who caused the accident, and are then more likely to punish this person for his/her actions. Contrary to this, Spanish speakers are more likely to remember that the accident happened, but not necessarily the person who caused it. #Language_influences_memory.

''To have another language is to possess a second soul''

The author of this famous quote is Charlemagne. And now that we’ve seen how language influences the way we think, we are better able to understand why #learning_a_foreign_language is almost like learning to become another person. Different structures, different thought processes, different memories, different souls.

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