Lera Boroditsky: How language shapes the way we think | TED Talk Subtitles and Transcript | TED
Lera Boroditsky is an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at. Stanford Shapes Thought. The languages we speak affect our perceptions of the world rience: space, time, causality and relationships to others. A study by Lera Boroditsky. () using speakers of Benjamin Whorf also considered the relationship between language, thought, and culture based on his . Lera Boroditsky (born ?) is a cognitive scientist and professor in the fields of language and As a teenager she began thinking about the degree to which language differences could shape an argument and exaggerate the differences Boroditsky has also done research on metaphors and their relation to crime.
Clearly, languages require different things of their speakers. Does this mean that the speakers think differently about the world? Do English, Indonesian, Russian, and Turkish speakers end up attending to, partitioning, and remembering their experiences differently just because they speak different languages? For some scholars, the answer to these questions has been an obvious yes. Just look at the way people talk, they might say.
Language Shaping Thought: An Interview with Cognitive Scientist Lera Boroditsky - Riding the Dragon
Certainly, speakers of different languages must attend to and encode strikingly different aspects of the world just so they can use their language properly. Scholars on the other side of the debate don't find the differences in how people talk convincing.
All our linguistic utterances are sparse, encoding only a small part of the information we have available. Just because English speakers don't include the same information in their verbs that Russian and Turkish speakers do doesn't mean that English speakers aren't paying attention to the same things; all it means is that they're not talking about them.
It's possible that everyone thinks the same way, notices the same things, but just talks differently. Believers in cross-linguistic differences counter that everyone does not pay attention to the same things: Unfortunately, learning a new language especially one not closely related to those you know is never easy; it seems to require paying attention to a new set of distinctions. Whether it's distinguishing modes of being in Spanish, evidentiality in Turkish, or aspect in Russian, learning to speak these languages requires something more than just learning vocabulary: Such a priori arguments about whether or not language shapes thought have gone in circles for centuries, with some arguing that it's impossible for language to shape thought and others arguing that it's impossible for language not to shape thought.
Recently my group and others have figured out ways to empirically test some of the key questions in this ancient debate, with fascinating results. So instead of arguing about what must be true or what can't be true, let's find out what is true. Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space.
Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going? What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language.
Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities. Because space is such a fundamental domain of thought, differences in how people think about space don't end there. People rely on their spatial knowledge to build other, more complex, more abstract representations. Representations of such things as time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality, and emotions have been shown to depend on how we think about space.
So if the Kuuk Thaayorre think differently about space, do they also think differently about other things, like time? This is what my collaborator Alice Gaby and I came to Pormpuraaw to find out.
To test this idea, we gave people sets of pictures that showed some kind of temporal progression e. Their job was to arrange the shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order.
We tested each person in two separate sittings, each time facing in a different cardinal direction. If you ask English speakers to do this, they'll arrange the cards so that time proceeds from left to right. Hebrew speakers will tend to lay out the cards from right to left, showing that writing direction in a language plays a role.
What will they do? The Kuuk Thaayorre did not arrange the cards more often from left to right than from right to left, nor more toward or away from the body. But their arrangements were not random: Instead of arranging time from left to right, they arranged it 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. This was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced. The Kuuk Thaayorre not only knew that already usually much better than I didbut they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time. People's ideas of time differ across languages in other ways.
Language Shaping Thought: An Interview with Cognitive Scientist Lera Boroditsky
For example, English speakers tend to talk about time using horizontal spatial metaphors e. Mandarin speakers talk about time vertically more often than English speakers do, so do Mandarin speakers think about time vertically more often than English speakers do? So much of our communication is of that type. As George Bernard Shaw said: The biggest problem of communication is the illusion that it has occurred.
Is there any indication that some languages are more efficient or effective than others? However, in certain domains, you can certainly say that one language packs in more information or makes finer distinctions within a particular domain, and there are also cases where languages simply lack a whole system of knowledge. And if you grew up without a number system in your language, the chances of you being able to keep track of exact quantities, or to be able to reliably distinguish between 7 and 8 things goes down tremendously.
Therefore, different languages have evolved over time to suit the needs of the people speaking them.
Lera Boroditsky - Wikipedia
And, of course, languages are living things, so if something becomes necessary for you to talk about, or a distinction becomes necessary for you to make, we can always add it to a language. What about languages that have defined gender distinctions, sometimes to misogynistic ends, like making disasters feminine? Are those speakers going to be hard-wired for patriarchal society or is there any way to change them? Does one or the other have to happen first — a shift in language or a shift in thinking?
Language and thinking go hand in hand and mutually influence each other and reinforce each other. We have new nouns coming in all the time. If I add this word, what other things do i have to change about the way i talk? There are other words that are closed-class words, and pronouns are an excellent example of that.
Or, if you take spatial prepositions like: If I want to add another preposition, some other preposition is going to have to move.
And pronouns are the same. Languages have different pronouns, and languages can lose pronouns. All of a sudden, every interaction you have with every person, you would have to think: She argues that English speakers conceive time in a way that is analogous to their conception of spatial horizontal movement, whereas native Mandarin speakers associate it with vertical movement. She has also stated that these differences do not totally determine conceptualization, since it is possible for the speakers of a language to be taught to think like the speakers of other languages do, without needing to learn any such language.
Therefore, and according to Boroditsky, mother tongues may have an effect on cognition, but it is not determining. Her work has suggested that some conventional and systematic metaphors influence the way people reason about the issues they describe.
Advances in the study of language and thought, Cambridge, MA: MIT Presspp. The roles of body and mind in abstract thought. Psychological Science, 13 2— Does language shape thought? English and Mandarin speakers' conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology, 43 11—