Note: Its been brought to my attention (Hi Laura) that not everybody enjoys reading about Harry Potter. all. the. time. So here’s something else that’s been on my mind recently.
I stumbled on this fascinating analysis of the way language affects perception in the New York Times this weekend. I find the study of languages fascinating and have often wished to be ploylingual. In fact, I’ve never become completely fluent in another language but, through many years of education, I have studied Spanish, Latin, Italian and Dutch. I’ve often thought that languages are affected by culture (for example the punctuality oriented Dutch ask about temporality not by asking “What time is it?” but by asking how late it is: “Hoe laat is het?”) but this article suggests that perhaps the reverse is also true. Our perceptions, both personal and cultural, are affected by our language.
Although the author, Guy Deutscher, discounts Benjamin Lee Whorf’s theory (first published in 1940) that mother tongue languages can restrict the way people think, he does point out many ways in which our perceptions are shaped by our native languages. For example:
German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; [...] When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. Read the rest of this entry »