Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Does the language we speak influence how we think?

Americans returning from the Winter Olympics in Sochi last month may have enjoyed fewer shades of the frequent (and snow-melting) blue skies than their hosts. According to scientists, because the Russian language has multiple words for nuances of what in English is simply the color “blue,” Russians are in fact more adept at distinguishing shades of blue than are Americans, leading to the highly controversial hypothesis that the language you speak affects how you perceive the world. My own, unpublished research has found multiple examples of this phenomenon closer to home.
  • Because natives of northeastern New Jersey have fourteen expressions, not known in any other American dialect, for traffic, they are able to detect more gradations of traffic congestion. Indigenous terms include “bridge traffic study” (aka “a Christie”), “Giants game,” “cheap gas on Route 4,” “some moron with Michigan plates asking the toll talker for directions to Massachusetts,” and “Holland Tunnel hookers.”
  • After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the core reason that traffic was snarled for 24 hours in Atlanta following a light snowfall was not, as previously believed, the city’s unpreparedness, but the fact that Georgians have no word for “snow plow.”
  • Germans, who have a word, Schadenfreude, for “taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune,” have been found to more frequently take pleasure in the misfortune of other people (and nations) than pretentious Americans, who must explain the term every time they use it.
  • Frenchmen, who have more words for “love” than for “work,” take 4.5 times as many mistresses as do American men.
  • And 0.6 the number of jobs.
  • Researchers have found that native New Yorkers, who are fluent in at least nine variations of “f*** off,” are more likely to live alone than the residents of Moose Jaw, Canada, who mistakenly believe that a “f***-off” is similar to a hockey “face-off.”
  • Bushmen of the Kalahari do not have a word for the hair color of the grandmother in 4B.
  • Some knowledge of British English is essential to avoiding a grievous misinterpretation of the statement, “I was pissed in the lift to my flat.”
  • Eskimos, who have 50 words for snow, have no word for "Cancun."
  • The Japanese have a word, tsundoku, which means “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, piling it up together with other such unread books.” An increasingly popular English term for an impulse buy of a book that will remain unread is a Rushdie-to-judgment. Readers in any language are particularly likely to tsundoku (or Rushdie) Stephen Hawking, Thomas Pynchon, the latest 700-page novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and Infinite Jest.
  • The Russian word for light blue, goluboy, is also a derogatory term for a homosexual.

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