Does language shape the way we think?
Lera Broditsky, an associate professor of cognitive science at UCSD, and editor in chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology, recorded a TED Talk about language shaping the way we think.
Broditsky shares examples from an Aboriginal community in Australia that uses cardinal directions instead of left and right.
Unlike English, speakers of the language that use cardinal directions to describe position (North, South, East and West) must stay oriented at all times, simply because they won't be able to speak the language otherwise. It was, however, originally thought that humans were biologically incapable of being directionally oriented via cardinal directions and that only birds and animals were capable.
Another example includes constructs describing accidents such as this one:
A typical English speaker will say: "He broke the vase" whereas a Spanish speaker will more likely be saying: "The vase broke" or "The way broke itself".
If we show the same accident to English speakers and Spanish speakers, English speakers will more likely remember who did it, because English requires you to say, "He did it; he broke the vase." Whereas Spanish speakers might be less likely to remember who did it if it's an accident, but they're more likely to remember that it was an accident. When two people watch the same event, they end up remembering different things about that event.
This has an eyewitness testimony implication. It also has implications for blame and punishment. A typical English speaker will punish the person more, even if s/he watched exactly the same video that a Spanish speaker did simply because the language forces to attribute guilt. The language we speak guides our reasoning about events.
Lera Broditsky's papers and lectures have influenced the fields of psychology, philosophy, and linguistics in providing evidence and research against the notion that human cognition is largely universal and independent of language and culture.