17 October 2016

How does language shape our worldview?

Dinosaur Comics (Ryan North, 2005)
At least since the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, anthropologists and linguists have considered how language shapes how we understand and experience the people, places, things, events, etc. that we encounter in our daily lives. How the language you speak changes your view of the world (The Conversation, 2016) draws on a psychological research study to explain how German, English, and bilingual German & English speakers describe the same actions differently. When presented with images of people walking, speakers responded differently according to the language of their reply. Significantly, the differences in responses were not due to a simple issue of translation, but due to differences in how the languages shaped experiences:
The worldview assumed by German speakers is a holistic one – they tend to look at the event as a whole – whereas English speakers tend to zoom in on the event and focus only on the action.
Fernweh (German): feeling homesick
for a place you have never been to
Untranslatable words illustrated by Anjana Iyer
This article might be a useful starting point for thinking about the power of language. Instructors might also be interested in leading students in a discussion about how our worldviews might change if we had new or more words in our vocabulary or if we were missing key words to describe certain things, ideas, or emotions.

Quick links and further reading: