Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Language Changes How We Think: Article from "givemesomethingtoread.com"


All this new research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart and sophisticated as we are.
Language is a uniquely human gift. When we study language, we are uncovering in part what makes us human, getting a peek at the very nature of human nature. As we uncover how languages and their speakers differ from one another, we discover that human natures too can differ dramatically, depending on the languages we speak. The next steps are to understand the mechanisms through which languages help us construct the incredibly complex knowledge systems we have.

What does that mean for what you know of the Korean language?  Dump your theories here.


조안나 said...

I think the ideas of respect in the Korean culture are directly linked with the forms of respect in the Korean language. There are many many examples, but just look at the word 친구 (friend). Only someone of the same age as you (born in the same year) can be called a friend. Even someone one year older must be referred to as "older brother" or "older sister" and all the associated respect that follows. The way you talk to your elder is quite different than how you speak to your "friend", even if by a western definition you would still be friends.

I could go on and on about this in other aspects too, like the work place and when meeting strangers but it could take all day.

Eat Your Kimchi said...

Wasn't it Wittgenstein who suggested that the limits of my language are the limits of my world? I like that quote.

Anyhow, I always wonder about this whenever I hear that it's cold in Korean. "Choopta! Ahhhh! Chuwoh!" I can think of lots of ways to describe the cold outside: "scrotum-tightening" is perhaps my favorite. Does this mean that I experience the cold any different, because I express my feeling of cold in many different ways? Or maybe my Korean just sucks too much to know that there are hundreds of ways that Korean people describe cold as well?

Tiffani said...

One of the favorite theories I've read is that Korean's SOV word order allows for more sensitivity regarding what you want to say and how the listener is responding. For example, say in English I'm talking to my friend and I say:

"I like apples!"

But then he makes this horribly contorted face, and I find out, oops he's an orange grower!! Well, too late.

But in Korean, I can change mid-sentence:

"나는 사과를..."
and here you notice his pained expression!
"...안 좋아요! 사과를 안 좋아요!"

Of course this example is hopelessly unhelpful due to my limited fluency in Korean, but I'm sure you can think of a lot more relevant examples in sticky situations ^^

samedi said...

Wait ... this is news? Looks like cognitive psychologists would do well to read some anthropological texts. In particular, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis from the 1930s. ㅋㅋ

Mockingbird said...

I agree with samedi that there is less here than meets the eye. The author seems to want us to conclude that decades of results have been overthrown and the Whorf hypothesis in its strongest form was true all along--though the author has provided for plausible deniability by not mentioning Whorf by name. But I will not jump to such a conclusion based on a single sketchy, tendentious article.

For example, in the paragraph on Caitlin Fausey's research we are told nothing about sample size, distributions, or controls. We are also told that "For accidental events...one wouldn't normally mention the agent in Spanish." If this is true, it is purely a matter of idiom. There is nothing inherent in the structure of the Spanish language that makes it harder to state the agent of an accidental act than not to. (A one- or two-syllable difference in length of utterance doesn't count as "harder" in my book.) Furthermore, Spanish is a widely spoken language, with many regional variants, and even within regions different speakers will have different stylistic preferences. We are told nothing of how the study takes this into account, if at all.