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.: September 2010 --> The surprising ways that language controls perception

The surprising ways that language controls perception

» I've always felt that language shapes our very perception of the world. In any language, what is named or not named, how things are framed, or what information is embedded (gender or tense - or, in Turkish, whether you witnessed an event yourself) - these things do more than color a narrative. They are the means by which humans construct reality. Language forms understanding. It dictates how we perceive the world, and how we convey our experience to others. One of the advantages of learning a new language is that it gives you a set of new eyes. A new language creates new brain spaces and connections, literally forcing you to step to the side and consider experience from a new perspective.

Or so it always seemed to me. Now psychologists are proving my thesis - and the effect language has on perception, memory, and cognition is startling even to these experts.

Update: This weekend the New York Times Magazine has a long article on the same subject.

Some 50 years ago, the renowned linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out a crucial fact about differences between languages in a pithy maxim: "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey." This maxim offers us the key to unlocking the real force of the mother tongue: if different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.

 [ 09.03.10 ]



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