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Home » How Language Shapes the Way We Think: Lera Boroditsky (Transcript)

How Language Shapes the Way We Think: Lera Boroditsky (Transcript)

Lera Boroditsky

Here is the full text and summary of Lera Boroditsky’s talk titled “How Language Shapes the Way We Think”.


Lera Boroditsky – Cognitive scientist 

So, I’ll be speaking to you using language because I can. This is one of these magical abilities that we humans have. We can transmit really complicated thoughts to one another.

So what I’m doing right now is, I’m making sounds with my mouth as I’m exhaling. I’m making tones and hisses and puffs, and those are creating air vibrations in the air. Those air vibrations are traveling to you, they’re hitting your eardrums, and then your brain takes those vibrations from your eardrums and transforms them into thoughts. I hope… I hope that’s happening. So because of this ability, we humans are able to transmit our ideas across vast reaches of space and time.

We’re able to transmit knowledge across minds. I can put a bizarre new idea in your mind right now. I could say, “Imagine a jellyfish waltzing in a library while thinking about quantum mechanics.” Now, if everything has gone relatively well in your life so far, you probably haven’t had that thought before. But now I’ve just made you think it, through language.

Now of course, there isn’t just one language in the world, there are about 7,000 languages spoken around the world. And all the languages differ from one another in all kinds of ways. Some languages have different sounds, they have different vocabularies, and they also have different structures — very importantly, different structures. That begs the question: Does the language we speak shape the way we think? Now, this is an ancient question.

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