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Thursday, March 5, 2009

how language impacts thought

This article (pdf) is a discussion of the research of cognitive scientists on how our languages impact our thought. I'm especially fascinated by how languages with words that have gender place such seemingly arbitrary preconceptions on all sorts of things.
To test how this affects the way people think, she presented Spanish and German-speaking volunteers with nouns that happened to have opposite genders in their native tongues. "Key", for instance, is feminine in Spanish and masculine in German, and "bridge" is masculine in Spanish and feminine in German. Boroditsky asked the volunteers to come up with adjectives -in English- to describe these items. German speakers described keys as "awkward", "worn", "jagged", and "serrated", while Spanish speakers saw them as "little", "lovely", "magic", and "intricate". To Germans, bridges were "awesome", "beautiful", "fragile" and "elegant", whereas Spanish speakers considered them "big", "dangerous", "solid", "strong", and "sturdy".

1 comment:

Michael Drake said...

That's mostly because German bridges are awesome, whereas Spanish bridges are big.