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LANGUAGE AND COGNITION

BY ALEX TOLAND

There are many questions surrounding language and cognition. Do languages really shape the way we think? How? How does thought change in people who are multilingual? Different languages do require different thought processes, this much is certain. One example given by Lera Boroditzky, a psychology professor at Stanford University, was the sentence "Schmidt read the book". To think or say this, English speakers must simply identify the verb tense as being in the past. Indonesian speakers cannot identify verb tense, and Russian speakers must both identify verb tense and gender. This means that to think about this in Russian, one must know if it was Mark Schmidt or Lady Schmidt who read the book. Furthermore, a Turkish speaker must identify gender, tense, and how this information was gathered. That means that a speaker of Turkish must also be aware of whether they witnessed this event or heard about it from another source (such as a rumor, news report, or something said by Schmidt). Considering that one must alter the information of the thought depending on the language, shows the high probability that the language a person speaks effects the way that same person thinks.

This leads to further questions as to whether speakers of different languages think differently about the world, or if speakers of different languages remember different events or remember events differently based on the language they were experienced and processed in. However, scholars could easily argue that just because thoughts are in different languages doesn't mean that English speakers don't acknowledge the same information as Turkish speakers do. For example, an English speaker is most likely aware of whether or not it was Mark Schmidt or Lady Schmidt that read the book, and whether or not they witnessed this Schmidt reading the book themselves or if they heard it through word of mouth. The counter argument of this however is posed by foreign language learners. If we all think the same way, then it would in theory be easy to learn new languages. This is obviously not the case, so the argument that language effects cognition still stands.

The following video delves deeper into the debate by supporting the side which claims that language does in fact affect the way we see the world.



Work Cited:

Boroditzky, Lera. "How Does Our Language Effect the Way We Think?." Edge Foundation. John Brockman Publishing, 11 Jun 2009. Web. 12 Jan 2011. <http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/boroditsky09/boroditsky09_index.html>.

Boroditzky, Lera, Dir. Lera Boroditsky: How Language Shapes Thought . Long Now Foundation: 2009, Film. <http://fora.tv/2010/10/26/Lera_Boroditsky_How_Language_Shapes_Thought>.