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    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Default Language and the mind.

    What do you believe is the impact of speaking a particular language on the way that you think and process reality?

    Can learning a new language affect the way a person thinks in a similar fashion, possibly allowing them to process things in a way that their native language wouldn't have encouraged?

    Finally, if indeed languages tend to influence people to think in a particular way, in what ways do you see various languages influencing people?

    Could some languages create a more pragmatic or fractured view of reality, for instance, while others instill a more interconnected view, or perhaps a more personalized, individualistic view?

    I've heard stories of people feeling as though new ways of thinking were opened up to them upon learning new languages, although it's never been made clear as to what ways of thinking would be associated with each language.

    There could be a need for a new classification system here... a way of classifying languages based on how their grammar, construction, sounds, and such influence the psyche. Like MBTI, but designed for languages rather than people.

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    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    I can't imagine how language would not have an impact on thought. Words all have relationshps, cognitive ones that are based in culture and that relate to each other in sound. The words themselves suggests links to other words in this way, coralling your thoughts in certain directions. The same for grammar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Athenian200 View Post
    What do you believe is the impact of speaking a particular language on the way that you think and process reality?

    Can learning a new language affect the way a person thinks in a similar fashion, possibly allowing them to process things in a way that their native language wouldn't have encouraged?
    I have thought about this topic quite a bit, since I speak 3 languages with very different cultural contexts. The effect that language has on my cognition and ability to see nuances in reality/feelings is quite dramatic. There are some concepts and thoughts that can't be conveyed as accurately in one language as with another, probably because there is no real equivalent.

    Quote Originally Posted by Athenian200 View Post
    Finally, if indeed languages tend to influence people to think in a particular way, in what ways do you see various languages influencing people?

    Could some languages create a more pragmatic or fractured view of reality, for instance, while others instill a more interconnected view, or perhaps a more personalized, individualistic view?

    I've heard stories of people feeling as though new ways of thinking were opened up to them upon learning new languages, although it's never been made clear as to what ways of thinking would be associated with each language.

    There could be a need for a new classification system here... a way of classifying languages based on how their grammar, construction, sounds, and such influence the psyche. Like MBTI, but designed for languages rather than people.
    I don't think that it's that clear-cut. i.e. that a language would influence you COMPLETELY in a certain way. Definitely, there are certain aspects that can be emphasised, but whether you choose to take it on board with you or not is a completely separate matter. Similarly, whether a particular culture chooses to emphasise that particular aspect is a quality of the culture itself, and is not intrinsic to the language.

    Nebbykoo, all modern languages are tied to modern concepts. But similarly, all languages are also tied to their past and historical contexts. It would be ridiculous to assert that "modern" language has no relevance to thought, or cognition. For example, while ancient Chinese (wen yan wen) may portray a "different" type of thought, if we look deeply enough into the modern Chinese language, we see that there are similar metaphorical representations - it's just evolved in a way that makes it a "short-cut" of a representation. I've had such conversations before with other people who are bilingual in Chinese/English, and who had a similar background to me (we studied in Chinese schools). That most modern Chinese don't take a literary approach to learning Chinese doesn't mean that the cognitive basis of the language isn't there. It simply means that most people don't vocalise it.

    For e.g., in Chinese, the concept of "happiness" has many different representations:
    “幸福”
    “快乐”
    "欢喜”
    “开心”
    just to name a few. All of their connotations are slightly different, and if we were to look at the literal meanings behind the words, it would explain each connotation. However, modern Chinese use most of these terms inter-changeably, simply because it's convenient. No doubt someone who's learning the language from scratch and cares to ask about the different connotations would gain some emotional insight.

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    Starcrossed Seafarer Aquarelle's Avatar
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    I posted this in the Bernier thread, but it bears repeating in this one.

    Several specific examples of how language influences thought:
    1. (This is paraphrased from Ben Goertzel)
    The Hopi language, [claims Benjamin Lee Whorf], groups future and imaginary into one category, and past and present into another category. Consequently, we [English speakers] perceive a rift between the present and the past, they feel none. And whereas we tend to see the future something definite, largely pre-determined, they tend to perceive it as nebulous and conjectural.
    2. (This is from Alfred Bloom) A survey Bloom conducted in Hong Kong to native Chinese speakers, asked about a hypothetical situation wherein the government of Hong Kong passed a law saying that all foreign-born citizens must make weekly reports of their activities to the police. Bloom relates that:
    Rather unexpectedly and consistently, subjects reacted, “But the government hasn’t,” “It can’t,” or “It won’t.” “I know the government hasn’t and won’t, but let us imagine that it does or did….” Yet such attempts to lead the subjects to reason about things that they knew could not be the case only served to frustrate them and lead to such exclamations as “We don’t speak/think that way!,” “It’s unnatural,” “It’s unChinese!”…By contrast, American and French subjects, responding to similar questions in their native languages, never seemed to find anything unnatural about them….
    The source of these cognitive differences seems to be a result of the differences between Chinese and Indo-European languages. While English and French include structures for accommodating counterfactual statements, Chinese does not.

    3. This is from a recent article in Scientific American, by Lera Boroditsky:
    I am standing next to a five-year old girl in pormpuraaw, a small
    Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York in northern Australia. When I ask her to point north, she points precisely and without hesitation. My compass says she is right. Later, back in a lecture hall at Stanford University, I make the same request of an audience of distinguished scholars—winners of science medals and genius prizes. Some of them have come to this very room to hear lectures for more than 40 years. I ask them to close their eyes (so they don’t cheat) and point north. Many refuse; they do not know the answer. Those who do point take a while to think about it and then aim in all possible directions. I have repeated this exercise at Harvard and Princeton and in Moscow, London and Beijing, always with the same results.

    A five-year-old in one culture can do something with ease that eminent scientists in other cultures struggle with. This is a big difference in cognitive ability. What could explain it? The surprising answer, it turns out, may be language.
    They also repeated this experiment where they brought people to places they'd never been before (not the child, but others from her culture, who speak a language called Kuuk Thaayorre) and asked them to point out North, or whatever. Same results. Even in a completely strange place, the Kuuk Thaayorre speakers could point it out, correctly, in no time; English speakers couldn't.

    4. From the same SA article:
    For example, my colleague Alice Gaby of the University of California, Berkeley, and I gave Kuuk Thaayorre speakers sets of pictures that showed temporal progressions— a man aging, a crocodile growing, a banana being eaten. We then asked them to arrange the shuffled photographs on the ground to indicate the correct temporal order..... English speakers given this task will arrange the cards so that time proceeds from left to right. Hebrew speakers will tend to lay out the cards from right to left. This shows that writing direction in a language influences how we organize time. The Kuuk Thaayorre, however, did not routinely arrange the cards from left to right or right to left. They arranged them from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body, and so on.
    5. Again, from the same article:
    In 1983 Alexander Guiora of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor compared three groups of kids growing up with Hebrew,
    English or Finnish as their native language. Hebrew marks gender prolifically (even the word “you” is different depending on gender), Finnish has no gender marking and English is somewhere in between. Accordingly, children growing up in a Hebrew-speaking environment figure out their own gender about a year earlier than Finnish-speaking children; English- speaking kids fall in the middle.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member IndyGhost's Avatar
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    In my linguistics anthropology courses, we actually covered this topic. Language very much influences how we think. I can't recall what language this is, but there's a language or culture that groups colors as only black, red and blue, I believe. (Or something to that nature.) Because they've only defined these three different colors, they don't see a difference between green, purple and blue. They're all one and the same. Same goes for reds, oranges, pinks and yellows. They see them all as a similar color.

    It's interesting to think that our thought process is limited by our language.
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    I only know flawed people who are still worth loving."
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  6. #6
    Protocol Droid Athenian200's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nonsequitur View Post
    I have thought about this topic quite a bit, since I speak 3 languages with very different cultural contexts. The effect that language has on my cognition and ability to see nuances in reality/feelings is quite dramatic. There are some concepts and thoughts that can't be conveyed as accurately in one language as with another, probably because there is no real equivalent.
    It certainly seems like you would have had some experience with this. Interesting. Would you say that there are categories of things that can be expressed more effectively in one language, or usually just a few specific concepts that a word doesn't exist for?

    I don't think that it's that clear-cut. i.e. that a language would influence you COMPLETELY in a certain way. Definitely, there are certain aspects that can be emphasised, but whether you choose to take it on board with you or not is a completely separate matter. Similarly, whether a particular culture chooses to emphasise that particular aspect is a quality of the culture itself, and is not intrinsic to the language.
    Well, of course not completely. Individuals still have their own thought processes, but there might be influences in what thoughts a person is able to express easily, and thus what they say or don't say. And I would consider cultural influence, at least in some cases, to be separate from the influence of a language.

    For e.g., in Chinese, the concept of "happiness" has many different representations:
    “幸福”
    “快乐”
    "欢喜”
    “开心”
    just to name a few. All of their connotations are slightly different, and if we were to look at the literal meanings behind the words, it would explain each connotation. However, modern Chinese use most of these terms inter-changeably, simply because it's convenient. No doubt someone who's learning the language from scratch and cares to ask about the different connotations would gain some emotional insight.
    Interesting, once again. One thing that I learned about Chinese when I was analyzing it, was that often larger concepts are built up from smaller concepts. For instance "man" is derived from "person" and "male," and "boy" is derived from "child" and "male." I'm not sure if there are a lot of instances of that in Chinese, but if there are... I can already tell you that that would be my favorite aspect of the language.

    If that is a characteristic of Chinese, I'm sure that the ability to look at the components of a word often helps in identifying the nature and meaning of a word, though not always.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aquarelle99 View Post
    2. (This is from Alfred Bloom) A survey Bloom conducted in Hong Kong to native Chinese speakers, asked about a hypothetical situation wherein the government of Hong Kong passed a law saying that all foreign-born citizens must make weekly reports of their activities to the police. Bloom relates that:
    The source of these cognitive differences seems to be a result of the differences between Chinese and Indo-European languages. While English and French include structures for accommodating counterfactual statements, Chinese does not.
    Couldn't that also be a cultural difference in regard to their comfort in questioning the government? I find it hard to believe that Chinese people can't express the concept of "what if," or prepare contingency plans in the event of an emergency that may be unlikely. I think that was a poorly chosen question, and their response may have been out of discomfort with the idea and denial/rejection of the possibility, rather than an inability to understand it. I can imagine a certain group of people with authoritarian values even here responding in a similar fashion, calling the idea that the government would do something repressive "unpatriotic" or "absurd," calling people who think that way "conspiracy theorists." They should have chosen something less controversial than the idea of the government oppressing citizens in order to test that theory. As it stands, it may only reflect the fact that Chinese people are uncomfortable thinking of their government in a critical light.

    3. This is from a recent article in Scientific American, by Lera Boroditsky:
    They also repeated this experiment where they brought people to places they'd never been before (not the child, but others from her culture, who speak a language called Kuuk Thaayorre) and asked them to point out North, or whatever. Same results. Even in a completely strange place, the Kuuk Thaayorre speakers could point it out, correctly, in no time; English speakers couldn't.
    This one I've heard of... also the one about the card arrangements. That's pretty fascinating, how a sense of direction can be so important in other languages. I have NO sense of direction.


    Quote Originally Posted by IndyAnnaJoan View Post
    In my linguistics anthropology courses, we actually covered this topic. Language very much influences how we think. I can't recall what language this is, but there's a language or culture that groups colors as only black, red and blue, I believe. (Or something to that nature.) Because they've only defined these three different colors, they don't see a difference between green, purple and blue. They're all one and the same. Same goes for reds, oranges, pinks and yellows. They see them all as a similar color.

    It's interesting to think that our thought process is limited by our language.
    I wonder if they can be taught the difference between those colors later on? Are they stuck perceiving them as the same color, or can they be taught new words to describe color? Would their artists be less able to choose a realistic palette for painting a picture, or are they just less able to describe colors?

  7. #7
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    I wonder if the direction-finding difference comes from the fact that, in one culture, people spend much more time outside interacting with the natural world, while in the other, they do not. I can tell the directions pretty reliably, but only if I have spent some time outside in the location. Indoors, it is much more difficult.

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    Starcrossed Seafarer Aquarelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coriolis View Post
    I wonder if the direction-finding difference comes from the fact that, in one culture, people spend much more time outside interacting with the natural world, while in the other, they do not. I can tell the directions pretty reliably, but only if I have spent some time outside in the location. Indoors, it is much more difficult.
    Oh, I guess I didn't post the specific feature of language that they think results in this. It's the fact that instead of "right" and "left," this language always uses the cardinal directions. Whereas in English the cardinal directions are only for long distances ("Canada is north of the US"), this language uses them for ALL distances. So like instead of saying "Sam is to the left of Mary," they might say "Sam is north of Mary" or whatever. Or instead of "the fork is right of the spoon," they would say, "the fork is southeast of the spoon" (or whatever direction it actually is). So they always have to be aware of which way is north, etc because their language requires it.
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    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aquarelle99 View Post
    Oh, I guess I didn't post the specific feature of language that they think results in this. It's the fact that instead of "right" and "left," this language always uses the cardinal directions. Whereas in English the cardinal directions are only for long distances ("Canada is north of the US"), this language uses them for ALL distances. So like instead of saying "Sam is to the left of Mary," they might say "Sam is north of Mary" or whatever. Or instead of "the fork is right of the spoon," they would say, "the fork is southeast of the spoon" (or whatever direction it actually is). So they always have to be aware of which way is north, etc because their language requires it.
    Interesting, and thanks for the clarification. I tend to give driving/walking directions using the cardinal directions, e.g. "go north on Elm street for 1 mile, then turn west onto Carroll St.", and am always surprised when people seem confused by this. Have you any idea how this culture without words for left and right would distinguish one hand, foot, ear, etc. from another?

    I have always enjoyed language and find this topic fascinating. One area I have wondered about in particular is the effect of language on religious/spiritual traditions, but I have not had time to do any meaningful research on this.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by IndyAnnaJoan View Post
    It's interesting to think that our thought process is limited by our language.
    Reminds me of how in 1984, the evil guys tried to reduce language to a few words to have a better control on humans.

    When I think in French, I am more rational and mathematical (not the correct word) than when I think in English.

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