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The Effects of Language on the Brain

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Introduction

The human brain is the center of the human nervous system. Through it, humans can rapidly regulate the body's actions and reactions to elements. The human brain is divided into two parts: one for logic and reasoning (the left-side of the brain), and the second for creativity (the right-side of the brain). Two areas in the human mind (the Broca's and Wernicke's area, both found on the left hemisphere of the brain) contain specialized locations for language. These two destinations deal with the processing and understanding of language, as well the processing of grammar and other rational thinking. However, a question that perplexes many philosophers, psychologists, and linguists (such as the Stanford University assistant professor in psychology, Lera Boroditsky) is whether language has any affect on the human mind. Does the way that humans hear and interpret language within a society determine the way the think about certain aspects of society, such as words used to describe color perception or whether a value is right or wrong? Do different types of language and different approaches to language affect humans' cognitive responses are toward those differences? As Stanford researcher Lera Boroditsky asks, "How does language shape the way that entities think?" (Boroditsky, page one, 2009)

Language is a key component in the cognitive responses of humans. Decisions and the manner in which a human will interpret different aspects as well as how they will both learn and process information logically or creatively is determined by the way that the human interacts through language.

Research

A Little History:

The idea of linguistic relativity (the idea that varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think [Wikipedia.org, Linguistic Relativity]) was clearly expressed by 19th century thinkers. People such as Wilhelm von Humboldt views language as the expression of the spirit of a nation. In the early 20th century an anthropologist, Edward Sapir also took this idea and he and his student, Benjamin Lee Wholf, took observations (that he later published) of how they perceived linguistic differences to have consequences in human cognition and behavior. This hypothesis was later called the "Sapir-Wholf hypothesis".

In the 1980s, linguistic scholars examined the effects of differences in linguistic categorization on cognition. They tested this by the field of color perception. "Recent studies show that color perception is particularly prone to linguistic relativity effects when processed in the left brain hemisphere" (showing that this part of the brain relies more language then the right). But how does this simple color test show that language effectively contributes to the way humans think?

Boroditsky:

In Lera Boroditsky's research, she found a similar resolution to the effect that language has on the mind with color perception. She formed a test where she had both Russian and English speakers determine different shades of blue (light blue and dark blue). "Russian makes an obligatory discrimination between the two shades of blue. For light blue, they called it 'goluboy', and for dark blue they called it 'siniy'. The English speaker only characterized the color as blue." The Russian speakers were quicker to determine two separate shades of color before that of English speakers. But, the Russian's advantage would disappear once Boroditsky when they were asked to perform a verbal interference task while making color judgments. This event happened because language is associated basic perceptual judgment. The way that a human perceives something, in the case of this example, color, is strongly based on the language in which they have learned that color. The brain's interpretation of this color derives from what language has taught the cognitive process.

Boroditsky also expands on the use of grammar in languages and how that effects how the human mind perceives different subjects. For example, English relies heavily on sentence structure and its grammar format. In order to find a certain tense in English, a person would have to alter a verb to make it fit within the context. Also, if there is no subject-verb agreement in English, it effects how the brain interprets the words said, and shown in research from MIT, when a human hears something that is not grammatically correct, the part of their brain that inflicts negative attitudes and emotion is agitated, thus showing that the thought process of something that is grammatically wrong is taken negatively. Boroditsky also explores Romance languages (for example Spanish) and how they affect the mind. In Spanish nouns are either masculine or feminine. This affects the mind because it gives a Spanish thinker a way to categorize a certain object with either masculinity or feminism. For example, if one is addressing their friend and the friend is a male, they would be addressed like, "Hola amigo", unlike

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