Language – does it describe or create reality? Part 2

In the first part of this article, we wrote about what linguistic relativity is and what it means. We tried to convince you that the language we use affects our consciousness and perception of the world and, to some extent, determines our actions. We would like to present to you further examples to support that hypothesis and discuss how bilingualism may affect our consciousness.

CAUSE, ACTION, RESULT

It turns out that language affects not only the way we experience the passage of time or the degree of the development of our spatial intelligence, but also the determination of causality and purposefulness of events.

Another experiment conducted by Lara Boroditksy, mentioned in the previous article, involved speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese. The lexical and grammatical systems they used determined the way they memorized given events and how they evaluated them. English speakers tend to indicate people that perform a given task. Someone talking about “a vase which has been broken” is automatically considered as a person who wants to conceal something – for English speakers it is more natural to specify the person who has broken the vase. In contrast, Spanish or Japanese speakers often omit the subject in the sentence and say that “something has been done”.

This also affects the ability to memorize the details of the event – people who speak different languages pay attention to its different elements. In another experiment, English-speaking people and those speaking German were presented with a video recording showing a woman going towards a car. Those who were describing the situation in German paid attention not only to the activity being performed, but also to its purpose: “the woman is going towards the car”, while in the answers given in English the focus was rather on the activity itself – “the woman is going”.

DWU LANGUAGES, TWO MINDS?

The ability to speak foreign languages can help you find a job or communicate with foreigners when on holidays. But being able to speak two (or more) languages has also another advantage – it is good for… health, as learning foreign languages is a workout for the brain. For this reason, bilingual (or multilingual) people are less likely to suffer from e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, and their minds age later. Research has also shown that people who speak several languages are more open to new experiences and are more tolerant.

These facts confirm the theory that language affects the way we think and perceive the world. Let’s go back to the experiment referred to above, in which German- and English-speaking people were describing the video recording with a woman going towards her car – the very same experiment was performed among people speaking both languages concerned. The perspective through which those people were describing the situation in the recording varied depending on the language in which they were describing it. Already centuries ago, Charlemagne said that “to have a second language is to possess a second soul”. Apparently, this theory has finally been confirmed.

Does the language we speak affect the way we think or the reality that surrounds us affect the language we speak? We have presented you with evidence of how language creates our consciousness, but these two elements do overlap with each other. Learning a new language, we adopt some new customs and express our thoughts and perceive the world in a different way. Thus, language gives meaning to various phenomena, and the conditions in which it is used have a great impact on the way we use it.

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