Friday, July 30, 2010

Left or Right, East or West?

Prof. Lera Boroditsky on how language shapes thinking (or is it the other way round?). Absolutely must read! Read the comments, they are as good as the article, if not better.

  • Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue.
  • Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east and west, rather than left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation.
  • The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities.
  • In one study, Spanish and Japanese speakers couldn't remember the agents of accidental events as adeptly as English speakers could. Why? In Spanish and Japanese, the agent of causality is dropped: "The vase broke itself," rather than "John broke the vase."

What happens in interpreting, then, when we need to bridge the east with left, or the few with five?

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