Does Our Language Shape How We Think?

Hey folks! How’s everyone doing? Senior spring hasn’t hit me yet…. I have more work than ever ;(

Anyway, I have a loooong packet to read, but I thought I’d write a post or two before I forget. Yesterday’s homework for one of my English classes was to read this paper/article on how language shapes the way we think. It’s really interesting. It talks about how new research as revealed that “when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.” That’s pretty true when you think about it.

The most interesting thing that I read and have NEVER in my entire life heard of was about a remote Australian “aboriginal” tongue called Guugu Yimithirr from north Queensland. They don’t use words like left, right, front or behind. They use cardinal directions, i.e. north, east, south, west. There was an example done where a speaker of Tzeltal from southern Mexico was blindfolded and then spun around more than 20 times in a darkened house. Once done, and still blindfolded and dizzy, he pointed without any hesitation where north, east, south or west was.

That was amazing to read. I’ve never heard anything like that before. I wondered how that is even possible. But then when I thought about it, it’s probably like how we know where left, right, behind and front are. We grew up learning them so it’s a no brainer for us. People who use cardinal directions probably grew up using them since they were babies so they know their directions by the back of their hands. So cool, man.

Well, I’m off to read the next part of our language reading packet thingy.

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4 thoughts on “Does Our Language Shape How We Think?

  1. This is a really interesting area of linguistics, but a kind of controversial one as well – it’s essentially impossible (at the moment) to prove that language shapes the way people think. It does have an impact on certain areas though, that much is clear. However, I do have to point out that french people don’t actually see bushes, shrubs and trees as “one thing” – but because the language doesn’t have different categories, then the differentiation between the three may be less important in day-to-day speech. Language categories aren’t so powerful to obscure physical differences – if red and blue were both part of a colour called uh..”girple” we would still recognize that there were two different things called “girple”. Does that make sense?

    Sorry, this was long. I study linguistics, so I have FEELINGS on the topic :)

    • Oh, I’m sorry! I guess I heard wrong/my teacher explained it a bit oddly haha. I’ll delete that small portion. And yes, that totally makes sense. Thanks for letting me know and sharing!

  2. Also, in languages that distinguish between masculine and feminine words are more likely to characterize certain things as either masculine or feminine that tend to line up with the language. Interesting stuff.

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