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Issue 71. “Women, fire, and dangerous things.” June 22, 2009

Posted by Bettina Hansel in Culture and Communication, Language Learning.
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What is the relationship between language and culture? For me this is one of the more fascinating questions I know, especially since I have to use some language to think about it, and perhaps the language I chose leads me to different conclusions in the way that Eva Hoffmann describes in Lost In Translation when she asks herself, “Should I marry him?” in English and in Polish and finds that the answer is different.

In an earlier post, I noted some insights I gained into the Turkish language from the translator, Maureen Freely, and realized that I would need to adjust my thinking to speak Turkish. But the choices made by the groups of people who came together and began speaking what was to become the Turkish language also must reflect some particular perspective that they shared and codified into language. Or was it first the “word” as the Old Testament insists was in the beginning. I think my American (or English language) concern for cause and effect is leading me down this path.

Nevertheless, I was very grateful to Mary Ann Zehr whose blog led me to a fascinating essay by Lera Boroditsky, “How does language shape the way we think?”  Though some of the examples were familiar to me, it was interesting to find that some specific research had been done to try to deterime whether language affects how we think. Lera concludes a resounding “yes” but I am sure that a legion of critics is ready to propose alternatives or to label this linguistic determinism.

It may be so. But what is certain is the fact that there are many more ways to think about things than any of us might now, and that the human brain is capable of learning new ways to organize its thinking.

Oh, and the title for this issue? It’s taken from a quote by George Lakoff that is found in Lera Boroditsky’s essay. You’ll have to read it.