How Language Shapes the Way We Think


Lera Boroditsky explains how languages can shape our thinking in many ways - from how we conceive of space, time and colors, to how we assign blame or remember events. Speakers of different languages think differently in fundamental ways, revealing the flexibility of the human mind. However, we are losing much linguistic diversity. Understanding how language influences thought can make us reflect on our own patterns of thinking.

Timestamped Highlights

💬 Language allows us to transmit complex thoughts to one another through sound. Different languages have different vocabularies and structures.
💡 The question of whether language shapes thought is an ancient debate. New scientific data can now provide insight.
📅 Speakers of Kuuk Thaayorre orient themselves by cardinal directions, not left/right. Their conception of time is landscape-based too.
🐧 Some languages don't have number words. Speakers of such languages struggle with exact quantities.
🎨 Languages divide up the color spectrum differently, and this affects how speakers perceive colors.
💥 Different languages describe events differently, shaping what aspects people attend to and remember.
🧠 From space-time to numbers, language can have profound cognitive effects. But we are losing much linguistic diversity.

Key Insights

Languages can shape very basic perceptual processes - Russian speakers are faster at distinguishing light and dark blues.
The language we speak affects whether we orient by north/south/east/west or by left/right - and consequently how we conceive of time.
Not having number words limits mathematical ability. Languages reveal the building blocks of cognition.
Our memory and attention are guided by how our language describes events - whether it focuses more on the action, intention or accident.
The human mind has produced 7,000 fundamentally different cognitive universes in language - what an ingenious, flexible mental faculty we have!
Losing linguistic diversity robs us of understanding different modes of thought. Yet half the world's languages may vanish in 100 years.
The language you speak subtly shapes your reasoning, perceptions, orientation and habits of thought - opening up the question of what alternate thoughts you might think or create.
This blog is a summary of a YouTube video "How language shapes the way we think | Lera Boroditsky | TED - YouTube" by TED