Sunday, December 7, 2014

Does language affect how we think?

Nice op-ed in today's New York Times that is on the larger issue of "why save a dying language" touches on the question of whether language affects how we think.

In Flirting with French I discuss this topic in much more depth, especially as it applies to gender. Gender is often said to be arbitrary, and with good reason, given that in French a beard is feminine a vagina is masculine. But in a research project, when subjects were told they were selecting a cartoon voice for a inanimate objects (the objects chosen had different genders in French and Spanish), the test subjects nearly always choose the voice the matched the gender of the object in their language. Thus French speakers wanted a woman to be the voice of a fork -- la forchette -- while Spanish speakers wanted a male to be un tenador.

The one exception was a peanut, which, despite being feminine in French, was assigned a masculine voice by the majority of subjects. I'm no scientist, but I think I detect some investigational interference -- in the guise of that international figure, Mr. Peanut.


  1. Language can definitely form a bias in terms of perception, something that translators need to consider when speaking in terms of objects, or a personification of an object to be exact. If such consideration is not applied, then the other person might get confused, or in a worse-case-scenario, insulted.

  2. I think yes Language definitely affects what we think. We know that learning a different language helps enhance our educational development, gives us an ability to unfold our restriction on communication and thinking capabilities. I am just learning Spanish.
    Spanish school Costa Rica


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