Does Language Influence Culture?

Aug 10, 2010

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a fascinating article by Lera Boroditsky about new cognitive research that suggests that language influences the way that people perceive the world around them.  When compared against each other, the differences in how speakers of certain languages formulate their words can dramatically influence how those people interpret space, time, and memory. From the article:
One of the key advances in recent years has been the demonstration of precisely this causal link. It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently, too. And if you take away people's ability to use language in what should be a simple nonlinguistic task, their performance can change dramatically, sometimes making them look no smarter than rats or infants. (For example, in recent studies, MIT students were shown dots on a screen and asked to say how many there were. If they were allowed to count normally, they did great. If they simultaneously did a nonlinguistic task—like banging out rhythms—they still did great. But if they did a verbal task when shown the dots—like repeating the words spoken in a news report—their counting fell apart. In other words, they needed their language skills to count.)
Read the full article at the Wall Street Journal.

Have other tips about the science of culture that we should know about? Send them to us at

Image from the Wall Street Journal article

Tags: languages, linguistics, words

Sub Categories

ARTISTS: Issues & Ideas