Language Change Essay | 1149 Words

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Language Change Essay

Imagine you speak a language that nobody else in the world speaks. Not a single person knows your language or any translations. How would you communicate with them? Sure, you could use hand motions, but how would they know if you mean the same thing as they are thinking? For example, let’s say you knew how to make the “ok” hand motion, which means in your language food.

They know it as ok in the United States, but in Brazil, it is considered very offensive. Another example is if you knew how to make the peace sign with your hand’s palm facing you, which means drinks in your language. In the United States, this means peace, but in other countries, this is offensive. If you did these signs not knowing what they meant in their language, there would be no way to tell you what they meant, and you could never communicate with them.

This example shows how language is crucial to being able to communicate and how language changes the way we think. Language can shape the way we think in many ways. Boroditsky’s cultural examples show how language shapes our time, knowledge, and perception of something. Language can change the way we think about time.

In an experiment Boroditsky ran, she put pictures of temporal progression like managing a crocodile aging and asked the person to put it in chronological order. The results she got from people who speak different languages were interesting. For English speakers, they lined the pictures from left to right as that is how they read a timeline.

This differs from someone who speaks Hebrew as they lined their cards from right to left and read from right to left. She then experimented on the native people from Queensland, Australia, who speak Kuuk Thayorre, and found something very interesting. Depending on their face, they always lined it up east to west.

For example, if the person was sitting facing south, he or she would like the cards from left to right, but if he or she was facing north, they would line the cards from right to left. This is due to their language not having a translation for the word “left” or “right,” which means they replace it by having to know the cardinal directions.

Another example is how English speakers always talk about time using horizontal metaphors like “The best is ahead of us.” In contrast, in Mandarin, they use vertical metaphors like “the next month is a down month” Everywhere, time is going at the same rate. Still, how we describe it using language changes our perspective of it.

Language can also change the perception of something or how we see things. In English, we do not apply gender to our nouns, while in languages such as Spanish and German, all nouns have a gender assigned to them. This not only changes the way you use it in a sentence, but it also changes how they may describe something.

For example, Germans will most likely describe a bridge as beautiful and peaceful. In contrast, the Spanish speaker will describe it as stung and sturdy. The last example of this is with the word “key.” In German, the key is masculine and described as metal and jagged, but in Spanish, it is feminine and little and fragile. This is all due to the way they learned their language.

How an object will appear to a Spanish speaker can be different from a German speaker or any language that applies gender to the nouns in their language. Another example of how language changes perception is explained in Boroditsky’s Ted Talk. She tells of an experiment where an English speaker and a Spanish speaker both saw a person bump into a vase and break it.

When the person at the mouse asked what happened, the English speaker instantly said who did it. This differs from the Spanish speaker, who said it was just an accident and didn’t blame anybody. This is an example of perception as two people saw the same thing. Still, they said two different responses due to the language they learned.

The English speaker is more likely to say, “He broke the vase,” than the Spanish speaker, who is more likely to say, “The vase broke.” Language can also change your perception of color. When a Russian and an English speaker were tested to see different shades of blue, the Russian speaker outperformed the English speaker. Why is that? The language you learned changed how you saw color.

In Russian, no single word is defined as “blue,” but in English, there is. Russian has translations for light blue and dark blue, making it easier for them to see the difference as they are used to doing that. Language can affect the way someone sees something and depending on what language you learn and think in. It can lead to different views on something.

Language can also change your knowledge of something. In the Ted Talk Boroditsky did, she gave a number test to the audience in which they had to count the number of penguins. All the audience counted by counting in their head “one, two…Eight.” It was a very simple Linguistic trick you are taught as a child.

Now imagine that you did not have direct translations to numbers. How would you count the number of penguins in the picture? You couldn’t, and that is what happens in some of the native languages. There aren’t any translations to numbers. This is very important as if you can count with numbers, it unlocks a whole subject of math, leading to knowing more.

This means that in some languages, they cannot do the math as they never had a translation for numbers which limits their knowledge. Language can unlock a whole bunch of things. Knowing more can help you in many ways, such as understanding root words in the English language or even just getting around the world. Knowing is one thing but communicating it with others and understanding it in your language is essential.

From shaping the way we perceive time to how we learn basic knowledge while being a kid, language has always been a part of our life. Language has shaped our history and will shape the future ahead of us. It will also continue changing how we see the world and connect with others. To even be better connected, learning another language will make you more knowledgeable and better connected with others.

Boroditsky shows how language does shape the way we think, saying, “… the language we speak profoundly shapes the way we think, the way we see the world, the way we live our lives” (Boroditsky pg.10). Proving how language will be a major part of our lives and will continue to shape who we are.


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