It’s easy for us to think that our brains control (or at least manage) how we use language. But, what if language has an impact on how our brains think, or even what they are able to think about?
On a recent episode of the podcast Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam spoke with cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky about language. Boroditsky starts by discussing the language of the Kuuk Thaayorre, an Australian Aboriginal community. The Kuuk Thaayorre people do not use directional markers such as left and right, but only cardinal directions North, South, East and West. Where an American may greet a friend by saying, “Hi, how are you?” the Kuuk Thaayorre would more likely say, “Hi, which way are you headed?” and you would reply with an actual direction, like North-Northeast. Boroditsky says that “in order to get past hello, you have to know which way you are headed.” Which is to say, you must be oriented in space all the time. Scientists have studied the effects of this phenomena and concluded that humans can stay oriented better than had been previously thought—if language and culture require it.
The podcast episode explores other features of language such as how precise a language is, what direction one reads on the page, and gendered language, and how these features shape the way we think and see the world. We invite you to join us for a series here at Tweetspeak where we’ll listen to a podcast and discuss together in community.
Over the next week, take a listen to Hidden Brain’s Watch Your Mouth, and come back here next Wednesday. We’ll share our thoughts together.
If you find these ideas interesting and want to learn more before our pod club discussion, check out this TED Talk with Lera Boroditsky on the same topic.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish