Professor Mackenzie Crouse
May 2, 2018
Language is an important aspect in people's cultures and societies. There are over 6,000 different languages in the world today. Language is the key to understanding others. Without languages we would not have an efficient way of communicating with others. Lera Boroditsky discusses the problem of how language changes the way we see the world and the way we think.
There are many languages that can be discussed, although Boroditsky talks about the American, Kuuk Thaayorre, Spanish, and Japanese languages. The native language of the America is English. Although, in certain areas of the country there are other languages used due to the population living there. The United States is slowly becoming a bilingual country. An American Community survey found that in 2007 about 18 percent of the population spoke a language other than English at home (Hyon and Kominski, 2010). Languages that are mostly used other than English include Native American languages, American Sign Language, Spanish etc. Although some others that are used at a lesser extent include French, Chinese, German etc.
Spanish is spoken in many countries, some countries include Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Columbia etc. A lot of these countries are bilingual as well. Spanish is a widely spoken language all around the world. Although, there is a difference between Latin American Spanish and Spanish in Spain. Alex Hammond talks about the differences in the Spanish that is spoken. He compares it to English by saying, “It’s like an American speaking English with a Brit and an Australian… normally no problem at all” (Hammond A. 2012). He is basically saying how even though we are in different countries and talk slightly different, we still understand what others are saying.
Japanese is not as widespread as other languages. Japanese tends to by exclusively spoken in only Japan. Although, Japanese is spoken as a second language by a small population of people in countries such as American Samoa, America, Singapore etc. Just like English and Spanish, Japanese is spoken in different ways. Irene Thompson explained, “Although Japan is a relatively small county, it has a surprisingly large number of dialects differing from each other in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary” (Thompson I. 2014). The two forms of language spoken are called Hyojungo (standard Japanese) and Kyotsugo (common language). Thompson explains how Hyojungo is taught to people in schools and is the language that is used in official communications.
The last language talked about by Lera Boroditsky is Kuuk Thaayorre. This is a language that is spoken by a small population and is not worldwide. The people that speak this language are in the community of Pormpuraaw. It is in an area in Australia on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula. Alice Gaby talks about how, “Kuuk Thaayorre is a Paman language spoken by more than 200 people” (Gaby A. 2012). Pormpuraawans talk in the sense of time and space. They used direction to describe things when they speak.
Lera Boroditsky explains what we see, how we understand and what we remember may be the result of the language we speak. She expands on the idea of how language is changed through diverse cultures. For example, in America, Americans would say “John broke the vase” even if it was an accidents. Although, in Spanish and Japanese people would say “the vase was broken” or “the vase broke.” This shows us the understanding of causality. In countries like America we show blame and other countries show what happened with no blame.
Although, language is not only about causality, but also talked through time and space. When it comes to time Boroditsky explains how, “English speakers arrange time from left to right,” however, “Hebrew speakers do it from right to left” (Boroditsky L. 2010). Although, there are cultures where they do not use just time but rather time and space. Pormpuraawans, were found to not use right and left, but instead use east to west. Languages such as Kuuk Thaayorre rely on absolute direction of space. Pormpuraawans describe things with north, south, east and west. For example, Americans would say left leg, while Pormpuraawans would say the southwest leg. Languages such as these are known to have remarkable sense of direction and tend to be good at staying oriented. Boroditsky expands on how, “people rely on their spatial knowledge to build many other complex or abstract representations including time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality and emotions” (Boroditsky L. 2010). She is saying how people rely on more than just causality. People use time and space to communicate in other ways with their surroundings and so much more.
When it comes to foreign languages, people do not think of all of what is put into learning them. People in society feel that if they learn just the words and combine them with other words, then they know how to speak the language. They do not take learning grammar into consideration. People see it as if they think of a certain sentence that the words would go in the exact order and way in another language. Which this is shown to be wrong. Some languages do not have words for certain words in another language.
When one learns another language they also learn a new way of looking at the world. By knowing another language, you must learn to think in that other language as well. Being able to think in another language changes the way we see things in the world. You can understand concepts that others cannot.
When it comes to speaking, we as people talk to certain audiences differently. If we go into the life of an American, we would notice things that other cultures would and wouldn’t do. People are taught to talk to children in a more relatable and understandable way. If you talked to a child with certain words, they may not understand due to the limited knowledge they have. Although, when it comes to members of your community, authority, or strangers you are taught to speak to them in a more respectable manner. Although, when it comes to talking to friends and the admitted family you talk differently. You tend to use more slang in the sense of not using the right words or grammar to talk. When it comes to speaking and learning other languages, America is not one of the top countries to force it on people. In America we tend to not expose are children to other languages other than English until middle school and sometimes even high school. In school’s they do not always have it mandatory to take a foreign language. This affects us as a country to where we don’t fully understand others that speak foreign languages and concepts in other countries do to not being able to think in that way.
Discussing the problem of how language changes the way we see the world and the way we think brings upon ways we could change that. There are many ways we could go about solving this. A way that could be a solution but is was over the top would to have the entire world speak one language. With having so many languages in the world that would be next to nearly impossible. Although, solving the problem by making schools make it mandatory to learn a foreign language can lead to not fully solving the issue. If this were to be the solution, it does not solve the language barrier for people who are no longer in school. This would only affect the newer generations and leave the problem standing in the older generation. The overall solve for this problem is to have people in other cultures be aware of their own bias when talking to others that speak a foreign language. We need to understand motivation behind foreign languages. Having awareness of a person's bias helps cultures from clashing. When being aware gives us a chance to see the world differently and to think of things differently. It can help you to be open minded and more understanding of others in the end.
· Lera Boroditsky. Lost in Translation. Wall Street Journal. July 24,2010.
· Shin, Hyon B. and Robert A. Kominski. 2010. Language Use in the United States: 2007. American Community Survey Reports, ACS-12. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
· Alex Hammond. February 2012. ESL.cited 2018 April 22. Available from https://blog.esl-languages.com/blog/learn-languages/differences-latin-american-spanish-spanish-spain/
· Irene Thompson.July 2014.About World Languages.Cited 2018 April 22. Available from http://aboutworldlanguages.com/japanese
· Alice Gaby. 2012. The Thaayorre think of Time Like They Talk of Space.Front Psychol. 3:300.