Does your language shape how you think?

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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:52
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Does your language shape how you think? Yes, I remind of .... Aug 28, 2010

In short, languages indicate features. I remember I speak Japanese very quickly and Thai very slowly. Those are the life styles and cultural background. I write Sanskrit (a dead language in India) very carefully about verb forms like Latin, but not in Thai and Chinese.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:52
French to English
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Expression and interpretation are different things Aug 28, 2010

For those who want to read a bit more about the subject, the idea that our conceptualisation of the universe is determined by our language is sometimes referred to as the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis". (As an aside -- as far as I'm aware, the idea really predates both Sapir and Whorf. I'd be interested to know why specifically Whorf is the person who is singled out to be berated-- maybe he "popularised" the idea.)

An additional thing to think about is that just because a language makes it more convenient to habitually *express* particular notions doesn't necessarily mean that speakers habitually *interpret* those notions as being "relevant". When a French speaker hears you say, "J'en ai parlé hier avec le voisin/la voisine", they may be tuned to "filter out" the gender information if it's not central to the speaker's point. (Consider in English if instead of "neighbour" you say "I was chatting about that yesterday with the guy/lass next door"-- I wonder to what extent does the listener focus on or filter out the gender information if it is not actually relevant to the point being made?)


Veronica Lupascu  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:52
Dutch to Romanian
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Gender Aug 28, 2010

Well, the gender was analysed several times from this perspective.

There is a nice article about it "Sex, Syntax and Semantics" by L. Boroditsky, L.A. Schmidt, and W. Phillips in a collection of Articles on Psycholinguistics - Language in mind. The idea of the whole research was to determine if people speaking different languages have different representations about objects, just because they are speaking different languages.

The part I liked the most is related to the results of a study made on 1. Native speakers of German; 2. Native speakers of Spanish (all the subjects were fluent in English (a gender-less language) and the study was made 100% in English).

The subjects were requested to give English adjectives for selected English nouns (determining objects, with no biological gender), so that the German and Spanish nouns were having different genders (i.e. if the noun is feminine in German, the noun meaning the same in Spanish is masculine). I will quote:

There were also observable qualitative differences between the kinds
of adjectives Spanish and German speakers produced. For example,
the word for ‘‘key’’ is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish.
German speakers described keys as hard, heavy, jagged, metal, serrated,
and useful, while Spanish speakers said they were golden, intricate,
little, lovely, shiny, and tiny. The word for ‘‘bridge,’’ on the other hand,
is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish. German speakers
described bridges as beautiful, elegant, fragile, peaceful, pretty, and slender,
while Spanish speakers said they were big, dangerous, long, strong,
sturdy, and towering.

It seems that languages do shape the way we think. In Romanian mythology the sun (masculine in Romanian) marries the moon (feminine in Romanian), which is totally not possible in Russian culture, where the sun has neuter gender. It is clear that the basic concept about sun and moon in two different cultures is determined by the language.

I find the subject very interesting.



Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:52
Member (2008)
English to French
Like in the Novel "An Imaginary Life" Aug 29, 2010

It's all about seeing reality through the lens of language (in this case Ovid in Latin). And how does a person who never learnt/heard a language think (a wild boy he adopts)?


Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:52
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Complicated logics Aug 29, 2010

I wrote some theses for my Ph.D. program in Japan. I found I had to use my native language to write very complicated logics of the thesis assertations. That is, native languages only links our brain cells rationally and effectively: second, third language etc. cannot replace roles of mother tongue easily.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


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