Language Shapes How We Perceive Reality


The ancient book of Proverbs say death and life is in the power of the tongue. American linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf thinks so, too although he put his belief in another way. According to him the language we speak shape the thoughts we have.

Whorf came up with this conclusion after studying the language of the Hopi Indians in northeastern Arizona. He said that the Hopis and English speakers see the world differently because they speak different languages. He concluded that language is not merely a tool people used to communicate what their experience was but it is a defining framework for experience.

According to Alan Watts, British philosopher and an advocate of Eastern philosophy, said that even the most secret thoughts and emotions we have are not our own. He further explained that the language ans images we use are not our own personal invention but one which are given by the society we live in.

Whorf demonstrated this difference by citing how the Hopis and the English speakers perceive time differently. For example, the Hopis view time as a flowing and never-ending stream while speakers of English view it as units that are divided as seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years. Therefore, the idea of wasting time does not exist in the Hopi perception because you can never waste something that is eternal.

Professor Lera Boroditsky, an assistant professor of neuroscience and psychology at Stanford University, wondered how true Whorf's claims are; thus, she and her team traveled around the world to collect data and compare different languages. What they found out that multi-linguals have a different line of thinking than those who just speak one language.

She concluded that when a person learns a language, that person does not just learn a different way of communicating. Instead, the person is also adopting a whole new kind of thinking. She added that accepting and appreciating the role of language in our mental lives brings us closer to understanding the nature of humanity.

© 2024 University Herald, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Join the Discussion
Real Time Analytics