How Language Speaks You

Recently, researchers have been looking again into the ways different languages affect how we think. Benjamin Lee Whorf proposed the idea 1956 in M.I.T.’s Technology Review and the theory became quite trendy, until closer examination revealed that he had little research to back up his claims and some of his generalizations were just too broad to accept. For example, he said that if we were missing a word in our language, then we couldn’t grasp the concept. Although we don’t have the word Schadenfreude in English, we can easily understand the idea: delighting in others’ misfortunes. We get it, but perhaps we think less of this perverse delight, than Germans.

In “Does Language Shape How You Think?” an article in the New York Times Magazine, Guy Deutscher argues, “When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world” (Deutscher 45).

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