Wednesday, January 25. 2017
Guest Speaker: Lera Boroditsky
➢ Which cognitive faculty would you most hate to lose?
○ we rarely think about losing language → it’s such an integral part of us
How Languages We Speak Shape The Way We Think
➢ There are about 7,000 languages in the world (losing one every one to two weeks)
➢ “Trump read Chomsky’s latest book.”
○ Did this happen in the past?
○ Was the reader male or female?
○ Was the action completed?
○ Did you witness this with your own eyes?
○ We all notice/pay attention/encode the same thing → we just choose to highlight certain
○ We talk differently → We think differently
How Do The Languages We Speak Shape The Ways We Think?
1. Do people who speak different languages think differently?
2. Does learning new languages shape the way you think?
3. Do polyglots think differently when speaking different languages?
4. Are some thoughts unthinkable without language?
5. What is basic and how do we get to be so smart?
“To have a second language is to have a second soul.” --Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor
“A man who knows four languages is worth four men” --Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
“I speak French to my ambassadors, English to my accountant, Italian to my mistress, latin to me God, and
German to my horse.”
--Frederick the Great
“I hate relativism more than I hate anything else.” --Jerry Fodor
How Do The Languages We Speak Shape The Way We Think?
1. Deep/early effects?
a. ie. COLOR → Russians differentiate between light and dark blue → are able to distinguish the
2. Broad/Pervasive Effects?
a. ie. grammatical gender → German vs. Spanish (Germans see the sun as a female and the moon
as a male, the opposite is of Spanish)
b. Gender is a largely arbitrary category c. The pervasiveness of gender
i. Different phonology
ii. Different number words
iii. Different adjective endings
iv. Different pronouns and possessives
v. Different verb endings
d. Do people really take these genders as meaningful?
i. Personify Days of the Week
1. Russian - Monday → Male, Tuesday → Woman
ii. Give voices to animated characters
1. Ask kids - shows that we start gendering things early on
iii. Describe Objects
1. ie. a bridge: strong, powerful vs. beautiful, elegant
iv. Personify abstract entities in art
1. ie. Gender of times of the day → depends on grammatical gender
e. “Me Talk Pretty” - David Sedaris
3. Big differences?
a. ie. TIME → the most common/popular word in the English Language
b. How do we think about time?
i. It depends on how we think about Space (N, S, E, W)
ii. Time forms the very fabric of our experience and yet we can’t see, smell, or touch time
c. Kuuk Thaayorre
i. Use N, S, E,