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How a Language Natures Thoughts

Autor:   •  December 19, 2016  •  Term Paper  •  1,833 Words (8 Pages)  •  233 Views

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Tsang Ming Fung (152049)

Dr. Sherman Lee
ENG 260
11 December 2016

How a language natures thoughts


       What makes human beings different from other animals is about a unique ability: language since the cognitive revolution. Of course, other animals are able to communicate through their systematic and sophisticated language. For instance, bee makes a buzzing sound with its wings to inform those worker bees where the food exactly is. However, people do not have wings but their vocal cords. Human’s language is so unique that it can describe anything in the world in a concrete way following by what have seen and thoughts in mind which is one of the reasons making human beings have been dominating the world over the centuries. However, it is often argued whether thought does shape language or language does shape thougt. In order to illustrate the relation between thought and language, let’s consider the difference between problem and question. Must a question represent a problem? No, a child can sing a song in a question form without a correspondent problem in his mind. It indicates that they are inextricably affiliated to each other. Folks who speak different languages do certainly think differently and that even chances of grammar can intensely affect how we see the world. So as Boroditsky said that “appreciating its function in building our mental lives brings us one step closer to knowing the very nature of humanity”

       According to history, it has been done so little empirical work or experiment to test whether or not language does shape thought which is perceived as the best untestable and even simply wrong. Such a controversial subject actually involved quite a number of aspects in terms of anthropology, philosophy, linguistics and psychology. It has never done any observation of how language shapes thought until a couple years ago. Lera Boroditsky, an assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University, who looks how the languages people speak shape the way people think. She did a research in her labs at Stanford University and at MIT in which she has collected data around the globe such as Greece, Indonesia, China, and Russia. She has been done very hypothetical observation when people say “ Bush read Chomsky’s latest book”. In English, it’s universally known that the verb for tense should be marked. In this sentence, the verb “read” should pronounce like “red” instead of “reed”. However, there is no such a case that alters the verb to mark tense in Russian but it would have to change the verb to reveal tense and gender. Also, the verb mostly includes how people obtain the information and there are two verb forms depending on whether you saw it or you had simply heard or read about it. This observation indicates the fact that every language has their own characteristic like English pays more attention to its tense but it doesn’t mean those people who speak differently think differently about the world. It seemingly is not enough evidence to proof the relation between language and thought since both of them are basically the most sophisticated system in the world. Consequently, space, time are the concrete evidence of how language affects thought.


       When it comes to talking about space, “right” “left” “forward” “back” are commonly used in English describe which way it is. However, there is an aboriginal group in northern Australia called Kuuk Thaayorre who uses cardinal-direction terms like “north”, “south”, “east” and “ west” to talk about space like “ there is a snake on your northwest leg” ,which means “there is a snake on your left leg” or “move the pen to southeast a little bit” which is equal to “move the pen to right-hand side a little bit”. That is to say, if people are unable to recognize which way they are facing, they probably even can’t answer the direction when others make greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre like “ where are you going”. As a result, people in Kuuk Thaayorre have to stay oriented all the time, or they cannot speak appropriately.  More importantly, the result is not only about navigational ability and spatial knowledge, but also about how two different languages influence on speakers’ thought like the speakers of Kuuk Thaayorre are more outstanding at staying oriented and keep up with where they are that the language enables or forces them to know their orientation even in unfamiliar places. This leads to a better spatial capability in which space is such an essential domain of thought. In long terms, people make good use of their spatial knowledge to build something more complex and more sophisticated representations such as time, number, morality, and emotions.

       In order to test whether or not Kuuk Thaayorre think differently about time as they think differently about space at the very beginning so there is experiment about to “arrange the shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order”(Boroditsky) The result is tremendously different when asking English speakers, Hebrew speakers and the Kuuk Thaayorre. The English speakers will arrange the cards so that time continues from left to right while Hebrew speakers place the cards with the opposite direction( from right to left), revealing that writing direction in a language plays a vital role. However, the Kuuk Thaayorre don't arrange it as the English speakers or the Hebrew speakers do, they arrange it from east to west. For instance, when they are facing north, the cards go from right to left. On the other hand, when they are facing east, the cards will go from right to left automatically. And if they are looking toward the east, the cards come toward the body. As Boroditsky said “this was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced. The Kuuk Thaayorre not only knew that already but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time.”


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