Yummy articles chosen for their dense flavors, potency, and/or relevancy.

One of the intriguing questions I like to think about is how language may or does affect your thinking. Now below are various websites and a pdf that I thought were the more interesting or helping regarding this, but first to clarify. As the very well done “Thinking through Language” pdf points out, there needs to be a distinction made between the effects of knowing one language verses another and what your thinking would be like if you didn’t know a language at all! I’m mostly concerned with any possible differences  between knowing one language versus another and how your thinking is formed. I always thought that at the very least you have words for a concept in one language that you don’t in another but I want to make a different post for that. Each site adds a piece to the overall picture and I’ll just give the jist of each or a summary if one isn’t provided. Even having taken linguistics I can still forget word definitions and meanings relevant to this so there are definitions for some of the words in gray from dictionary.com and if you already know what the word means as well as extra unnecessary info added you can skip and just read the black. So dive in to this fascinating and juicy topic!

Thinking through Language by Paul Bloom and Frank C. Keil

This is a pdf and I’m not exactly sure how to link to it but by searching the Scientific Literature Digital Library and Search Engine that can be found here  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/ and looking for “Thinking through language”

In a sense this pdf is a rebuttal to the idea that different languages really can affect your thinking as much as people might think though admits with more studies and more access to more kinds of languages something different might be found which is kind of what Lera Boroditsky does in her “How Does Language Shape the Way We Think?” article below.The “Language and Thought” paper by Stacy Phipps touches upon this as well. In any case, it can be a bit of a challenge to get through at 17 pages of dense material especially when you don’t read research articles like this regularly and have a short attention span but is well worth it in how organizes and pinpoints HOW to think about it and clarifys what kind of differences we’re looking at here and functions as a good framework.The following gives summaries of the introduction.

The first distinction it makes in theories about language affecting thinking are about the different versions of the claim. It talks about language-general effects (Vygotsky) and then language-specific effects(Sapir-Whorf). It says there are three basic positions where you can believe in language-general effects, language-general effects and language-specific effects, and believing neither has an effect at all. I tried to abstract and summarize while also quoting from the article below of the more salient points or at least give you

So what is it specifically about the language that would affect your thinking? According to Thinking through Language the second distinction in theories about how languages affect thinking is how the aspect or aspects of language affect thinking. the most obvious cut is between words and syntax (syntax def. The study of the rules whereby words or other elements of sentence structure are combined to form grammatical sentences.2. The pattern of formation of sentences or phrases in a language). Words are how we break reality into chunks and “our thoughts coalesce (coalesce def. with object: to grow together or into one body: The two lakes coalesced into one. 2.to unite so as to form one mass, community, etc.: The various groups coalesced into a crowd.3.to blend or come together: Their ideas coalesced into one theory. coalesce def. without object: to cause to unite in one body or mass.)into larger complexes through the vehicle of syntax.  The article says however that this view is oversimplified and morphology (morphology def. the patterns of word formation in a particular language, including inflection, derivation, and composition.//inflection  from the encyclopedia at dictionary.com in linguistics, the change in the form of a word (in English, usually the addition of endings) to mark such distinctions as tense, person, number, gender, mood, voice, and case. English inflection indicates noun plural (cat, cats), third person singular present tense (I, you, we, they buy; he buys), past tense (we walk, we walked), verbals (called, calling), and comparatives (big, bigger, biggest). Changes within the stem, or main word part, are another type of inflection, as in sing, sang, sung and goose, geese. The paradigm of the Old Icelandic u-stem noun skjoldr (“shield”), for example, includes forms with both internal change and suffixation; the nominative singular form is skjoldr, the genitive singular is skjaldar, and the nominative plural is skildir. Many languages, such as Latin, Spanish, French, and German, have a much more extensive system of inflection. For example, Spanish shows verb distinction for person and number, “I, you, he, they live,” vivo, vives, vive, viven (“I live,” “you live,” “he lives,” “they live”). A number of languages, especially non-Indo-European ones, inflect with prefixes and infixes, word parts added before a main part or within the main part. Inflection differs from derivation in that it does not change the part of speech.//derivation from the encyclopedia. Derivation uses prefixes and suffixes (e.g., in-, -tion) to form new words (e.g., inform, deletion), which can then take inflections.//composition def. Grammar . the formation of compounds or derivatives: the composition of “aircraft” from “air” and “craft.”) lies at the interface between words and syntax and can move from the word level to the sentence level and words themselves are heterogeneous in how they affect thought with open class words such as nouns and verbs (they can be altered through morphology remember?) and closed class words such as conjunctions and prepositions…(just because as related knowledge…Traditional grammar classifies words based on eight parts of speech: the verb, the noun, the pronoun, the adjective, the adverb, the preposition, the conjunction, and the interjection.) In the Newsweek article “What’s in a Word? Language may shape our thoughts” it goes into how the the gender of a word like exist in German and French affects how speakers view that object. Anyway back to the “Thinking Through Language” article.

The third distinction it says is the magnitude of the effect of language from being the “mere icing on the mental cake” to being so massive that it has a profound of “crippling effect” to those without it. It quotes Daniel Dennett, a “University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University” and whose bio can be found here http://www.secular.org/bios/Daniel_Dennett.html said “Perhaps the kind of language you get when you add language to it is so different from the kind of mind that you can have without language that calling them both minds is a mistake.”

The fourth distinction it makes is on the types of effects language is said to have. Here it is varied from The effects being” to affect our on-line perception of the world,to shape the categories we form, to enable us perform logical inference and causal reasoning; to underlie social reasoning, to structure our basic ontological(def. ontology, just do some inflection to make it ontological =D, the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such)commitments (about time, space, matter).” p.2 It says will discuss many of these specific points in the paper.

Their aim they claim is to provide a “systematic geography of the different claims,” though not all of them because of the large scope including fascinating claims concerning cognitive development. They will instead focus on “more general methodological and theoretical questions: How can we make real progress over the debates over what, if anything, language does to thought? What evidence is most relevant? Which versions of the language-affects-thought claims are coherent, and likely to be true?” p. 3

It goes on to say this isn’t saying whether language has an effect on thought because you’re reading the article right? Nobody doubts language can inform, sooth, or persuade etc. ; we get a lot of our information through language.

The debate, as we see it, is not whether language shapes thought-it is whether language shapes thought in some way other than through the semantic (semantics. n. def. Linguistics -1.a. the study of meaning. 1.b.the study of linguistic development by classifying and examining changes in meaning and form.2.the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.: Let’s not argue about semantics.) information it conveys. That is the interesting debate is whether the structure of language-syntactic, morphological, lexical, phonological, etc. has an effect on thought.p.3

It’s well done and goes and the headings are 2. The effects and non-effects of Cross-linguistic Differences (including the infamous example about having hundreds of words for snow) 3. Universal Effects of Language on Thought, 4. Words and Concepts, and 5. Conclusion. You’ll just have to read it and find out! muahahah!

How Does Our Language Shape the Way We think?
By Lera Boroditsky


The below summary is taken from the site. This is an intriguing article and well worth a read as well as one of my favorites! If you only feel like reading one article, read this one!

For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.

LERA BORODITSKY is an assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University, who looks at how the languages we speak shape the way we think.

What’s in a Word? Language may shape our thoughts Newsweek article


“Excerpt from article”

That’s where Boroditsky comes in. In a series of clever experiments guided by pointed questions, she is amassing evidence that, yes, language shapes thought. The effect is powerful enough, she says, that “the private mental lives of speakers of different languages may differ dramatically,” not only when they are thinking in order to speak, “but in all manner of cognitive tasks,” including basic sensory perception. “Even a small fluke of grammar”—the gender of nouns—”can have an effect on how people think about things in the world,” she says.”

The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (I’ve also seen this called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)

(Or the more specific/technical name for the hypothesis I wonder about as far as language and thought)


Now my first “official” introduction to something about language affecting thinking was the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in a sociology class .  The whole Inuit and many words for snow and how it affects thinking would fall into this. They are famous for what they did with the Hopi and mentioning if we say one word for water but the Hopi have more but this stanford states Linguistic Relativism to separate the theory from Whorf-specific views. Sapir and Whorf however are the ones who made the theory famous. In any case, excerpts (italics and parenthesis added)…

Linguistic Diversity: Languages, especially members of quite different language families, differ in important ways from one another.

The suggestion that different languages carve the world up in different ways, and that as a result their speakers think about it differently has a certain appeal. But questions about the extent and kind of impact that language has on thought are empirical questions that can only be settled by empirical investigation.


A Preliminary Statement of the Hypothesis

Interesting versions of the linguistic relativity hypothesis embody two claims:

Linguistic Influence on Thought: (what I’m most curious about, and is also more controversial)
The structure and lexicon of one’s language influences how one perceives and conceptualizes the world, and they do so in a systematic way.

Together these two claims suggest that speakers of quite different languages think about the world in quite different ways. There is a clear sense in which the thesis of linguistic diversity is uncontroversial. Even if all human languages share many underlying, abstract linguistic universals, there are often large differences in their syntactic structures and in their lexicons. The second claim is more controversial, but since linguistic forces could shape thought in varying degrees, it comes in more and less plausible forms.

Language and Thought Process


The following is an excerpt of this short and sweet article that concerns “linguistic relativity.”

Language is more than just a means of communication.   It influences our culture and even our thought processes.   During the first four decades of the 20th century, language was viewed by American linguists and anthropologists as being more important than it actually is in shaping our perception of reality.  This was mostly due to Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf who said that language predetermines what we see in the world around us.  In other words, language acts like a polarizing lens on a camera in filtering reality–we see the real world only in the categories of our language.

The Effect of Language Upon Thinking


This is an ineresting little bit about language and thought as far as the translation process goes and looks at how this thinking has been historically.

Excerpt: (italics added)

The idea that languages affect the way we think has been called a “fallacy” by Carson and by others who advocate paraphrastic translations, and one gets the impression from them that this idea has no standing at all among the “linguistically informed,” as Carson puts it. (2) The idea is portrayed as being an eccentric minority opinion which hardly deserves serious consideration. In this essay I will try to show that the case is otherwise. I will argue that most “liguistically informed” people are, and always have been, of the opinion that language influences thought, and that the contrary opinion has only recently gained the upper hand among professional linguists.

How Language Affects Thinking


Now this is a post that talks about the second article by Lera Boroditsky and makes some good concrete points about it especially in the comments by someone called Devan about there being no real opposite to dense. This excerpt has his comment and also a link where he mentions more about it.


I posted a piece recently noting that there’s currently no word in English that means the opposite of “dense” (as in lead). I wonder how the spectrum of density not having a word for its low end affects our understanding of the physical world.

Anecdotally, I can say that most people I asked about the opposite of “dense” said that “light” was the word. But of course, something can be both light and dense, if it’s very small, or both heavy and not-dense (i.e, both heavy and “light,” on this strange usage), if it’s very large.

Does this mean that people somehow intuit that not-dense objects are automatically also not-heavy? Or that we don’t deeply understand why that section of lead pipe feels so heavy? I think it might, unfortunately.

(See http://www.devangoldstein.com/219/opposite-of-dense/ for the post I mentioned, which also looks into the history of English to find a better word to use that “light” or “not-dense.”)

Language and Thought by Stacy Phipps


She provides a fresh way to look at from more of a research standpoint.


The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis has changed the way many people look at the relationship between language, thought and cultural perception of reality.  It has influenced many scholars and opened up large areas of study.  While many like Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf support the notion that language strongly influences thought and others argue that language does not influence thought, the evidence from research indicates that language does influence thought and perception of reality to a degree but language does not govern thought or reality.