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5 Languages That Could Change the Way You See the World

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I went to my neighbor’s house for something to eat yesterday.

Think about this sentence. It’s pretty simple—English speakers would know precisely what it means. But what does it actually tell you—or, more to the point, what does it not tell you? It doesn’t specify facts like the subject’s gender or the neighbor’s, or what direction the speaker traveled, or the nature of the neighbors’ relationship, or whether the food was just a cookie or a complex curry. English doesn’t require speakers to give any of that information, but if the sentence were in French, say, the gender of every person involved would be specified.

The way that different languages convey information has fascinated linguists, anthropologists, and psychologists for decades. In the 1940s, a chemical engineer called Benjamin Lee Whorf published a wildly popular paper in the MIT Technology Review that claimed the way languages express different concepts—like gender, time, and space—influenced the way its speakers thought about the world. For example, if a language didn’t have terms to denote specific times, speakers wouldn’t understand the concept of time flowing.

The Matses people speak with what seems to be great care.

This argument was later discredited, as researchers concluded that it overstated language’s constraints on our minds. But researchers later found more nuanced ways that these habits of speech can affect our thinking. Linguist Roman Jakobson described this line of investigation thus: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” In other words, the primary way language influences our minds is through what it forces us to think about—not what it prevents us from thinking about. 

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“The Discussion,” by Harry Wilson Watrous.

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Click the link below for the article:

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/5-languages-that-could-change-the-way-you-see-the-world?utm_source=pocket_discover

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