The Way You Think (language)

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Fri Sep 12 20:09:06 UTC 2003

Language influences the way you think

Speakers of different languages not only describe the world differently
but think about it differently too, according to a new study.

Researchers used a cartoon featuring black and white cat Sylvester to
study how language was reflected in the gestures people made.

Dr Sotaro Kita of the University of Bristol's Department of Experimental
Psychology, showed the cartoon to a group of native English, Japanese
and Turkish speakers and then watched their gestures as they described
the action they had seen.

He found speakers of the three different languages used different
gestures to depict the same event, which appeared to reflect the way
the structure of their languages expressed that event.

For example, when describing a scene where Sylvester swings on a rope,
the English speakers used gestures showing an arc trajectory and the
Japanese and Turkish speakers tended to use straight gestures showing
the motion but not the arc.

Dr Kita suggests this is because Japanese and Turkish have no verb that
corresponds to the English intransitive verb 'to swing'.

While English speakers use the arc gesture as their language can readily
express the change of location and the arc-shaped trajectory, Japanese
and Turkish speakers cannot as easily express the concept of movement
with an arc trajectory so they use the straight gesture.

Dr Kita said: "My research suggests that speakers of different languages
generate different spatial images of the same event in a way that
matches the expressive possibilities of their particular language.

"In other words, language influences spatial thinking at the moment of

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