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How Does Language Affect the Way We Think

By nadoodah Mar 31, 2010 924 Words
How does language affect the way we think?

There have been many studies done on how language shapes the way people think. I must agree with this, because based on past experiences, language has affected the way I thought. Language and culture together, have changed the way humans think, just like it has for me.

Language is an amazing gift that we as humans were given. We never really sat and thought of how life would be if there was no language? How would we communicate with each other? Life would be pretty difficult without language. It’s interesting how Dr. Boroditsky asks if we would be able to have friends, get an education, hold a job, or even start a family if we were never taught language. As I think of it, I don’t believe we would be able to hold a job or get an education without language. How would we go about talking to someone when there is no language that’s being used. If there’s no verbal communication it makes it hard for a human to interact with others.

Language does impact our thoughts because in each language there’s a difference in the words used by the society. Like for example, I speak English and Arabic and find it quite difficult to go back and forth with the languages. Sometimes I will translate words from English to Arabic, but once I say them they come out wrong. Patterns in a language can play a major role in how we think. We have to use our thoughts of switching from one language to the other. Sometimes I find it hard to put my thoughts from English to Arabic. I have to sit and think about what words would fit to sound similar to the word I used in English. It’s not easy. Like for example, if I try to translate “you have to let the cake sit for a little to cool” to Arabic, everyone would start laughing because it would sound funny. Instead, I would have to find different words to substitute in that would make is sound similar to the what I have to say.

Clearly, languages differ from one person to the other. Just by looking at how a person from the South would speak or a person from Boston. They both do speak English, but in a different way which is very different from how we speak here in New Jersey. For example people in Boston drop the “r” when they talk. In other areas of the world there are all types of languages spoken. Do these languages affect how people think? Well, yes they do. Language mixes with culture depending on which part of the world you reside in. My grandmother for example, was born and raised in Jordan. She speaks the Arabic language fluently and believes in the customs that go along with the language. Culture can only happen with the use of language. She was brought up to believe that a girl should not yell or use foul language. Now, when she came here and saw how people spoke, which is a completely different language, she was very surprised. Did it affect the way she thought? At first she felt very insulted by the attitude of the people in the state. She felt as if she was in a different world and had to learn this very strange language. Today, she speaks English with a heavy accent, but her thinking has also changed. She has gotten used to how there are some woman that speak very loud and some that find it okay to curse. She has blended into both worlds. Living here for a while has changed her thinking. What I do notice though, is that she has difficulties putting sentences together in English. Anyone that speaks two languages would agree that some ideas are easier said in one language over the other. Many times in language there are words that explain a thought or saying that in other languages could take up to a paragraph long to describe. Like my Grandma, she finds it hard to translate something she said in English. It does not sound right when she does translate it. She isn’t able to find a word in English that would fit the Arabic word. It’s normal for someone to be unable to translate one language into another because sometimes there is no exact word that fits in.

Language and society are so intertwined that it is impossible to understand one without the other. There is no human society that doesn‘t depend on language and without it, we would be lost. Language not only shapes the way reality is perceived, but reality can also shape language. As Dr. Boroditsky states “Language is central to our experience of being human, and the languages we speak profoundly shape the way we think, the way we see the world, and the way we live our lives.” Without language, we aren’t able to think the thoughts we do think of in our minds. We really don’t realize how powerful and broad language is until we sit and think about it. Surprisingly, it hits us that everything we do in our life, deals with language; if it’s religion, politics, talking on the phone, reading a newspaper, listening to music, or writing, it’s all language. We can only write our thoughts down through knowing some sort of language. I happen to find language amazing!

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