Cted in the way their speakers think about time.
In one study, Mandarin speakers tended to think about time vertically even when they were thinking for English (Mandarin speakers were faster to con? rm that March comes earlier than April if they had just seen a vertical array of objects than if they had just seen a horizontal array, and the reverse was true for English speakers). Another study showed that the extent to which Mandarin–English bilinguals think about time vertically is related to how old they were when they ? rst began to learn English.In another experiment native English speakers were taught to talk about time using vertical spatial terms in a way similar to Mandarin. On a subsequent test, this group of English speakers showed the same bias to think about time vertically as was observed with Mandarin speakers. It is concluded that (1) language is a powerful tool in shaping thought about abstract domains and (2) one’s native language plays an important role in shaping habitual thought (e.
g. , how one tends to think about time) but does not entirely determine one’s thinking in the strong Whor? n sense. © 2001 Academic Press Key Words: Whorf; time; language; metaphor; Mandarin. Does the language you speak shape the way you understand the world? Linguists, philosophers, anthropologists, and psychologists have long been interested in this question. This interest has been fueled in large part by the observation that different languages talk about the world differently.
Does the fact that languages differ mean that people who speak different languages This research was funded by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to the author.Foremost, I thank Jennifer Y. Lee, who has made countless contributions to this research and has been an invaluable source of information about the Mandarin language. I thank Barbara Tversky, Gordon Bower, and Herbert Clark for many insightful discussions of this research and Michael Ramscar for comments on an earlier draft of this article. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Lera Boroditsky, Department of Psychology, Bldg.
420, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2130. E-mail to [email protected] stanford. edu. 1 0010-0285/01 $35.
0 Copyright © 2001 by Academic Press All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. 2 LERA BORODITSKY think about the world differently? Does learning new languages change the way one thinks? Do polyglots think differently when speaking different languages? Although such questions have long been issues of interest and controversy, de? nitive answers are scarce. This article brie? y reviews the empirical history of these questions and describes three new experiments that demonstrate the role of language in shaping habitual thought.The doctrine of Linguistic Determinism—the idea that thought is determined by language—is most commonly associated with the writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf, impressed by linguistic diversity, proposed that the categories and distinctions of each language enshrine a way of perceiving, analyzing, and acting in the world. Insofar as languages differ, their speakers too should differ in how they perceive and act in objectively similar situations (Whorf, 1956).
This strong Whor? an view—that thought and action are entirely determined by language—has long been abandoned in the ? eld.Particularly effective in undermining the strong view was work on color perception demonstrating that the Dani (a tribe in New Guinea) had little trouble learning the English set of color categories, despite having only two words for colors in their language (Heider, 1972; Rosch, 1975, 1978; but see Lucy & Shweder, 1979; Kay & Kempton, 1984). Although the strong linguistic determinism view seems untenable, many weaker but still interesting formulations can be entertained. For example, Slobin (1987, 1996) has suggested that language may in? uence thought during ‘‘thinking for speaking. ’ Languages force us to attend to certain aspects of our experience by making them grammatically obligatory. Therefore, speakers of different languages may be biased to attend to and encode different aspects of their experience while speaking.
In a similar vein, Hunt and Agnoli (1991) reviewed evidence that language may in? uence thought by making habitual distinctions more ? uent. Since Rosch’s work on color, several lines of research have explored domains that appear more likely to reveal linguistic in? uences than such lowlevel domains as color perception.Among the evidence are cross-linguistic differences in the object-substance distinction in Yucatec Mayan and Japanese (e. g. , Gentner & Imai, 1997; Lucy, 1992), effects of grammatical gender distinctions in Spanish (Sera, Berge, & del Castillo, 1994), cross-linguistic differences in spatial thinking (e.
g. , Bowerman, 1996; Levinson, 1996), and evidence suggesting that language in? uences conceptual development (e. g. , Markman & Hutchinson, 1984; Waxman & Kosowski, 1990)