Why Whitey Can't Integrate
November 22, 2005 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Does a person's native language affect their cognitive skills and thinking patterns?

I've been wondering about how any given language may affect a person's ways of thinking and cognitive patterns, for lack of a better way of thinking about it. For example, if a child learns Mandarin/Chinese speaking and writing, how might this affect how they form ideas and thoughts as opposed to a Spanish speaker/writer? The differences in the languages seem to indicate that there might be a vast difference, to me.

I'm having a hard time conceptualizing what I'm wondering, and this is one of the problems with searching the web for it. I'm hoping someone has experience with cognitive development relating to native/first languages. I suppose it really boils down to how a given person forms thoughts, in the end, and so it might entail quite a bit of reading, and I would love that. :)
posted by kcm to Writing & Language (48 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
my experience of similar questions and discussions is that someone cites the (sapir-)whorf hypothesis, a bunch of people agree with them, and then someone who know what they are talking about points out how rubbish it all is.

not much help, but if you've not heard of (sapir-)whorf, it's the place to start.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:28 PM on November 22, 2005


Anecdotally, I have known several multilingual students who swear that a given class subject is easier to "frame" in a given language; i.e., apparently chemistry is much easier to conceptualize while thinking in German, while astronomy seems easier in Chinese. In each of these examples, neither was the student's first language. So yes, I can see there being something to your inquiry, although I am afraid that I have no hard evidence to back it up, just personal (okay, second-degree) experiences.
posted by jenovus at 1:28 PM on November 22, 2005


I ended up looking up Sapir-Whorf, based on andrew cooke's answer. Here is a link.
posted by jenovus at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2005


There really isn't a definitive answer about this, just a spectrum of positions. People being people, various positions are all defended passionately by equally bright folks.

The keystone bit to research on the idea that language informs and/or constrains thought is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Personally, I tend to believe that it's not language per se that shapes and constrains thought, but narratives. Pseudocode instead of any specific programming language, for a hilariously stretched and not-even-quite-right analogy. I don't think there's a hypothesis for that, and I suspect in humbler moments that there's a good reason for that. :)
posted by Drastic at 1:31 PM on November 22, 2005


very cool. I needed a starting point, and Sapir-Whorf looks like a great one.. although I thought andrew cooke's answer was metajibberish having to do with ST-TNG at first. :)

this helps both frame the idea and do some further reading. thanks. more discussion welcome, of course.
posted by kcm at 1:34 PM on November 22, 2005


this crops up in programming language circles, incidentally (since, as you might expect, they're interested in how langauge affects what can be expressed). if you search around here you should find some interesting viewpoints.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:34 PM on November 22, 2005


This is also dealt with by Wittgenstein (I believe in his Tractus Logicus, but I only ever had to read exceprts of him in coursepacks, so can't give you an exact cite).
posted by klangklangston at 1:39 PM on November 22, 2005


Here's a kind of similar, old AskMe thread that I ran across a few weeks ago (while looking for something else that I can't recall now). I found it really interesting and learned a lot, and even though it doesn't directly answer your question, it touches on some of the same ideas and maybe some possible other searches you could do.

PS--Sapir-Whorf makes its first appearance in post 3 of the thread. The andrew cooke Hypothesis holds true.
posted by SuperNova at 1:42 PM on November 22, 2005


Also, newspeak in 1984 is based on this idea.
posted by matthewr at 1:42 PM on November 22, 2005


I'm pretty sure the answer is that SOME thought is affected by language and some isn't. You can figure this out if you think of very simple examples:

1) You can about your hand in any language or even if you don't have language skills at all. You can see your hand and point to it, even if you don't have a word for it. Presumably, infants understand that they have a hand before they have a word for it.

2) Can non-organic objects have gender? When I only knew English, I never would have even considered the idea of a table being male or female. Then, when I learned Spanish, I discovered LA mesa (female table). I realize that feminine articles are not really the same thing as male/female animals, but that doesn't matter -- the point is that my idea of gender was broadened when I learned a second language. How would I have felt about gender if I'd been born in Spain?
posted by grumblebee at 1:44 PM on November 22, 2005


This reminds of something I read somewhere about suicide rates in Finland and Hungary. Supposedly, they are among the highest in the world - twice the rate of other European countries. The only link between the two countries is linguistic (the Finno-Ugric family of languages). Anthropologists and scientists aren't even sure there's a genetic link between the groups. So some have speculated that there is something about the language itself that is depressive in nature.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:45 PM on November 22, 2005


I think a good visual example is Asian culture and how substantially different their writing style and page layouts are from the West. This translates heavily into their popular artforms (comics, film) and many of the more intricate details of these productions are completely lost on those who may not have the same amount of cultural saturation. If you're talking simply of the spoken word, I'm not so sure it relates as much to this specific example.
posted by prostyle at 1:54 PM on November 22, 2005


I remember reading recently about some research involving South American indigenous languages. Said languages did not have numbers other than none, one, and two, if I remember right. The researchers purported to show that these people were measurably worse at math.

It was still debated. Not able to find it with Google, as I don't remember enough to narrow the search.
posted by teece at 2:01 PM on November 22, 2005


here you go
posted by andrew cooke at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2005


Regarding the South American tribes:

I found these two studies and an article comparing them.

Probably andrew cooke did too, but his linkage looks broken.
posted by jedicus at 2:06 PM on November 22, 2005


oh, you're right. sorry, and it was different link. thanks! here.

hmmm. i think it was yahoo's links that aren't really links thing.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:09 PM on November 22, 2005


someone said there's no definitive answer to it, and that's what i believe/studied as well.
an example of this would be colors - certain languages have variety of words to describe colors while others have reference to only basic colors. that would place certain limitation on how one describes color components though there is no doubt one can differentiate different shades of colors.
the important thing to point however is that when a language does not have variety to describe certain things, this is usually due to their culture/society. in terms of colors, the speaker probably belongs to a society in which there isn't much need in describing colors in detail (but the society may require speaker to describe more in detail of object shape rather than its color component).

similar goes with emotions - there are certain societies/cultures in which one is not really allowed to express feelings in public, and languages belonging to such society/culture tend to have less words to describe emotions. this does not mean people in such societies lack certain emotions: they probably have just as wide varieties of feelings as those who live in more expressive society, but they just lack words, but will make up for the limitation in some other way.

the psychological collision occurs, however, when one from such non-expressive society enters a society in which people are encouraged to express more. one may take longer period of time truly understanding the meaning of words describing emotions but also feel hesitant to use such words for an extended period of time.
posted by grafholic at 3:55 PM on November 22, 2005


There was some study done (and I really should know more specifics, because I'm taking a course on this, but my notes are not in front of me) that showed that speakers of a language like English, with relative spatial terms, arranged objects with respect to themselves even if they were put on a different side of the table. Speakers of another language, with more absolute spatial terms (north, west, east, south, etc.) arranged the objects with respect to the room, and not with respect to themselves.
posted by oaf at 3:56 PM on November 22, 2005


[fixed andrew cooke's link]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:01 PM on November 22, 2005


There is no consensus on this, but Wittgenstein has nothing useful to contribute, since he knew nothing about how language works. (Not knocking his philosophy, but he wasn't qualified to talk about this stuff.)
posted by languagehat at 4:08 PM on November 22, 2005


But what about specifics, such as the Chinese lack of copula?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:34 PM on November 22, 2005


I am not a linguist so don't interpret anything I say as if I were. Rather, I've read about and discussed this matter, with linguists, many times. But I'm just trying to describe these ideas in casual conversation. Do not trust any nomenclature you see.

I don't think anyone doubts that different languages perceive the world in subtly different ways and thus you might say the same about its native speakers—but the Official Linguist Position (I'm kidding, of course) on the matter is that this is not true and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is wrong.

In all my days of discussing this very matter, I've come across more than a few linguists who are very hostile and scornful of Sapir-Whorf—however note that our very own mefi resident linguist, languagehat, takes a (somewhat) contrary position.

A reason why linguists are hostile to Sapir-Whorf has to do with how modern linguistics thinks of language with regard to human development and evolution of our species. The simplest way to say what their position is, is that the brain (with regard to language) is not a blank slate. There is a kind of ur-language latent in our brain structure. They also believe that all human languages are all part of a tree descended from a single root—so then how much could languages differ?

Put Sapir-Whorf aside and just think about it as a general concept. Your question is a reasonable question to ask; but in order to answer it, we'd have to agree on how much difference is a difference, if you get my drift. If you take an extreme position on this—that a language is arbitrary and completely shapes the worldview of its native speakers in an unlimited sense—then the scientific answer, according to Linguistics is "no". If, however, you are looking for differences that are subtle and meaningful but not radical, I think many linguists would agree with that.

All that said, the canard associated with these ideas is the "Eskimos have many words for 'snow'" thing. That statement is more wrong than right because it's not hard to think of at least six or seven English words referring to different kinds of snow. The popular imagination almost certainly overestimates this cognitive linguistic relativity, but it's not absolutely untrue, either.

"an example of this would be colors - certain languages have variety of words to describe colors while others have reference to only basic colors. that would place certain limitation on how one describes color components though there is no doubt one can differentiate different shades of colors."

For that to be a good example, you'd needed to have written "limitation on how one perceives color components". And anyway, it's a bad example because there's a suprising regularity with regard to human languages and color words.

On Preview: I think LH is overstating the lack of consensus. We've disagreed on this matter in the past, but I have to stand my ground because, not being a linguist, I have to go by authority and in my experience, you're far, far more likely to find a linguist who will ridicule and hate Sapir-Whorf than you'll find who will defend it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:40 PM on November 22, 2005


Regarding oaf's reference to language affecting spatial reasoning:

This is a fairly recent paper comparing pre-verbal infants and Korean and English-fluent adults who performed a spatial reasoning task. Seems to support the 'weak' version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I should note that it doesn't seem to be -quite- the study oaf was thinking of, though.
posted by jedicus at 5:42 PM on November 22, 2005


I think LH is overstating the lack of consensus. We've disagreed on this matter in the past, but I have to stand my ground because, not being a linguist, I have to go by authority and in my experience, you're far, far more likely to find a linguist who will ridicule and hate Sapir-Whorf than you'll find who will defend it.

Fair enough. But from my perspective, it's a fake consensus, because they're all Chomskybots who have drunk the kool-aid and parrot the talking points. I remember when there used to be real diversity in the field, much as in Congress. Now it's lockstep in both places. Except for kooks like me in linguistics and [name your favorite kook] in Congress.

Joseph Gurl: Lots of languages don't have a copula, but Chinese isn't one of them; the verb shi (shih) is used the same way English "is" is, in sentences like "That is a dog" (Zhe shi gou). Russian, on the other hand, just says Eto - sobaka (That - dog). I doubt the presence or absence of a verb there has much to do with cognition.
posted by languagehat at 6:03 PM on November 22, 2005


This reminds of something I read somewhere about suicide rates in Finland and Hungary. Supposedly, they are among the highest in the world - twice the rate of other European countries. The only link between the two countries is linguistic (the Finno-Ugric family of languages). Anthropologists and scientists aren't even sure there's a genetic link between the groups. So some have speculated that there is something about the language itself that is depressive in nature.

Right, that must be why suicide rates are so high in Alaska. *rolls eyes*.

Seriously, the Sapir-Worf hypothesis is a joke, people.
posted by Paris Hilton at 6:10 PM on November 22, 2005


i often wonder this too. i think it must have some effect, since different languages will have specific words for concepts which would take other languages a sentence to explain. i can't be bothered to check exact spelling right now, but witness the german "schadenfreude" - taking delight in others' misery, i believe - or the french "esprit d'escalier" (ok, that's two words, but i still think it's relevant) - literally "spirit of the staircase," but it refers to those things you think of to say when it's too late to say them.

obviously i can still explain these concepts in english, but i think this kind of thing effects the thought patterns of people in some way. can't really say how... but i've often found that by increasing my vocabulary, i increase the number and complexity of things i think about, kind of as a function of having compact versions of complex concepts. it gives you something to build on. because if you can use a word that describes a concept, than in some cases that would mean you have a relatively firm grasp on that concept.
posted by poweredbybeard at 6:18 PM on November 22, 2005


Another way of looking at this question might be to consider discourse analysis and Foucault's idea of discourses, as "institutionalized ways of thinking, social boundaries defining what can be said about a specific topic" (wikipedia:discourse). Our culture seeps into our language and our language reasserts our cultural assumptions, so these will blend and the assumptions inherent in the discourses available to us will affect the way we think.

There is a discourse about freedom fighters and another about terrorists. This shapes the way we talk about it, and the way we think about it. The discourses surrounding the word "queer" have changed a lot in the last 100 years. If someone comes from a culture that doesn't have that discourse, maybe they won't think that way.

Or, to take an example from the shitstorm of a thread I started yesterday, you can see two discourses about headscarves:
1. Fear of sexuality, religious control, oppression.
2. Modesty, devotion to God, independence.

The way we think about it affects the way we talk about it, and perhaps the way we talk about it (and hear it talked about) affects the way we think about it. Language isn't separate from culture. I'm not sure we could ever conclusively blame certain patterns in cognitive development on the linguistic system and not the culture in which it is performed.
posted by heatherann at 6:21 PM on November 22, 2005


For that to be a good example, you'd needed to have written "limitation on how one perceives color components". And anyway, it's a bad example because there's a surprising regularity with regard to human languages and color words.

Right, and actually one of the first tests of Sapir-Whorf involved color. Subjects who natively spoke various languages were given hundreds of different paint chips and told to pick out the basic colors (this was done in groups). (i.e. colors that you think everyone who spoke your language would know, and weren't based on a food, like Peach)

All subjects in all tests picked out the same eight chips. White, Black, Red, Green, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Purple and Pink. (At least, those are the color names I remember).

Anyway, some languages picked out just two, while others picked out all eight, and others some other number. But out of the hundreds of chips, each group picked 'ideal' colors from the same seven or eight chips.

And not only that, but the ideal colors turned out to be a lot easier to teach to people who didn't have words for them. So in that sense, it was shown that color, at least, is not based on culture or language at all.

But that's pretty basic. Language hat can claim everyone drunk the kool-aid if he wants to, I guess. Maybe he can point us to some research and testing that illustrates this point beyond anecdotal meta-cognition.
posted by Paris Hilton at 6:24 PM on November 22, 2005


zhe shi hen hao LH he nimen, xieixie. I can't mark the thoughts as Best Answer, of course, but I really do appreciate the discourse. perfect for diving in to the area, thanks.
posted by kcm at 6:27 PM on November 22, 2005


i often wonder this too. i think it must have some effect, since different languages will have specific words for concepts which would take other languages a sentence to explain. i can't be bothered to check exact spelling right now, but witness the german "schadenfreude"

Except schadenfreude is as much an english word now as Blitz, Kindergarten, Hamburger, Kaput, Rucksack, Angst, Hamster, Diesel, Hertz, Zinc, Dollar, Glitz and so on.
posted by Paris Hilton at 6:31 PM on November 22, 2005


Another way of looking at this question might be to consider discourse analysis and Foucault's idea of discourses, as "institutionalized ways of thinking, social boundaries defining what can be said about a specific topic" (wikipedia:discourse). Our culture seeps into our language and our language reasserts our cultural assumptions

Obviously, something that comes up a lot in a culture, such as Korean/Japanese Wa is going to get its own word in the local language, but that doesn't mean knowing the language means you know the concept, being in the culture means you know the concept because you see it in practice every day. A westerner could Grok wa by being perceptive, and apply it without ever knowing the precise term. Being harder to say in a language isn't the same thing as being unexpressable in that language.

(and on the flip side, imagine a Korean family growing up in the US with westernized parents. The children might speak the language, but have no more idea what Wa actually entails then you or I)
posted by Paris Hilton at 6:37 PM on November 22, 2005


But what about specifics, such as the Chinese lack of copula?

Woah, why would anyone ever say Chinese didn't have a copula? What a bizzare thing to say.
posted by Paris Hilton at 8:29 PM on November 22, 2005


What I would say is that culture affects perception, and culture also affects language. The difference between two people who speak two different languages has nothing to do with the language itself, but the cultures that they come from.
posted by Paris Hilton at 8:32 PM on November 22, 2005


What about what I used to hear about the sound of some languages? Aesthetic/emotional qualities independent of meaning or concepts? Like, would "Davy, I wish you'd quit posting inane comments to AskMe" really sound threatening in German, sexy in French or poetic in Italian? (When I was a teenager I heard "You can recite a shopping list in French and it'll sound sexy.")
posted by davy at 9:13 PM on November 22, 2005


Seriously, the Sapir-Worf hypothesis is a joke, people.

Strong yes, weak, I remain unconvinced. There has been much discussion of it at Metafilter over the years, though, and a search of the site might find you some very interesting stuff.

I wrote about it on my site back in the day, tangentially, while talking about Korea. No time at the moment to reread the piece and see if it holds up well, though, so I'll not bother linking. Interested parties, if any, can google it, I guess.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:32 PM on November 22, 2005


The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is studied in most major schools of communication. It's not clear to me why some would suggest it's a joke. It fell out of favour in the 80s, but there's been a resurgence since then. Granted, only my undergrad is in communication, but I took several courses that involved semiotics and linguistic determinism -- and Sapir-Whorf was not considered a joke. What gives?
posted by acoutu at 11:09 PM on November 22, 2005


Paris Hilton, I defended you when everyone wanted you tarred and feathered, but 1) you're being over-the-top confrontational and dogmatic here, and 2) you're in danger of monopolizing the thread. Chill out and remember that other people's opinions are also valid. You can't prove there's no influence of language on cognition, and I can't prove there is. I do know damn well that when I speak different languages I react differently and converse differently, I have a strong sense that my personality changes, but that's just anecdotal evidence. The question isn't settled and probably never will be. But anyone who makes definitive statements about the human mind at this point in history, when we're just beginning to get a glimpse of the directions it might be useful to explore in order to start understanding it, is going to look as silly as those late-19th-century physicists who proclaimed all the important discoveries had been made.
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on November 23, 2005


acoutu: Fashions change. Some people fall hard for the latest fashion.
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on November 23, 2005


"Does a person's native language affect their cognitive skills and thinking patterns?"

Back on track here -- rather than trying to answer the question, let's gin up some useful and approachable readings from competing perspectives. I know this doesn't remotely answer your question, but the fun isn't in the answer, but reading yourself senseless.

In one corner, cognitive/corpus linguists:

Wallace Chafe -- Discourse, Consciousness, and Time
George Lakoff & Mark Johnson - Metaphors We Live By


*Very roughly* Arguing for an understanding of
consciousness that is based on the constructs of
language and how we perceive it.


In another corner, evolutionary biologists:

Steven Pinker -- The Blank Slate, The Language Instinct

*Even more roughly* We are nothing more than our
genes, including our language and cognitive abilities.

In yet another corner, less accessible post-structural language/cultural theorists of various stripes:

Michel Foucault -- Archaeology of Knowledge


What you know doesn't matter except as it relates to
the system of knowledge created by the authorities
around you.

Mikhail Bakhtin - The Dialogic Imagination

What you know, and your very own language is an
admixture of all the individual languages of everyone
else you come in contact with.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:17 AM on November 23, 2005


'paris' - what do you mean by 'wa' in Korean? Unless you mean the term 'and', I'm not sure if what you're talking about exists in Korean at all.

As someone who grew up being completely bilingual (and to a large extent, bi-cultural and bi-continental), I can say that there's a clear difference in thought method that I associate with the two languages. I know that not a lot of people are big fans of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis -- and my personal take is that the common example of 'eskimos and their vocabulary for snow' is too narrow of an example to thoroughly exemplify the subtle differences in thought process that accompany the mindest of a language.

For example, personally, the grammar structure of language often not only limits the structure of what I can say something but what I want to say -- if I've been speaking and thinking in Korean mode and switch to English, there will be certain concepts and ideas that just don't come naturally to Korean but would to English -- does this make sense at all? For example, instead of asking "How old is your brother" (형/누나/언니/오빠의 형/누나/언니/오빠의 연세/나이가 어떻게 되세요?) in Korean, I would typically ask "What is the age difference between you and your brother?" (형/누나/언니/오빠와 나이차가 어떻게 되요?) The sentence and the phrasing is less awkward in Korean, it feels more natural, and in some ways is a more polite way to ask the question. Whether that's a cultural thing or a linguistic thing I have no idea -- but as long as we're talking about native languages (which I assume are learned with the native culture, in some sense), I don't think the two really need to be separated..

It's not that certain phrase doesn't necessarily exist in Korean -- it's the equivalent of the difference between "How old are you?", "What is your age?", "What year were you born?" All three have their respective equivalents in Korean, and all three are used in different situations -- the first, perhaps, with younger kids (너 몇살이야?), the second with elders or in more polite situations (연세가 어떻게 되세요?), and the third between similar-aged groups (몇년생이에요?).

(Apologies to those without unicode)

There's also a slight personality difference when I speak in Korean and English -- I'm talking slight, not schizophrenic. It's almost as if the two languages are geographies in of themselves and harbor a different atmosphere to the person they're in -- anyone who has traveled alone, I think, will understand how it feels to be someone else simply by being in a different place..

In general, I think that the differences in thought process and psyche brought about by thinking in different languages is generally too subtle or too pervasive to clearly identify with it. (And, like paris says, I think that the relationships between thought process and culture, culture and language are too amorphous to make a clear distinction between the effects of the two.. but IANAlinguist. Far from it.) In that sense, I disagree with the Sapir-Whorf thingy -- saying that a certain African tribe has more words for 'brown' -- and therefore has a better ability to distinguish between subtle hues of brownness is, IMO, too simplistic and easy to be true.
posted by provolot at 7:18 AM on November 23, 2005


Whoops. Should be 'certain phrases don't', above...
posted by provolot at 7:19 AM on November 23, 2005


The only link between the two countries is linguistic (the Finno-Ugric family of languages).

IANAL and think I'm about to add absolutely nothing to this general discussion, but this comment interested me because the other main Finno Ugric language, Estonian, has no future tense. When I lived there people used to go on about how this was symptomatic of a people who had always been oppressed and occupied and felt they had no future.

Always seemed too neat an explanation to me, but it just leapt to my mind again when I read ereshkigal45's comment.
posted by penguin pie at 9:29 AM on November 23, 2005


There's also a slight personality difference when I speak in Korean and English -- I'm talking slight, not schizophrenic

I have had the same experience, although it's hard to say how much of this is about intrinsic qualities of the language and how much is about the difference between speaking in your first and second languages.

I recently found it an absolute doddle to turn down an amorous approach in Spanish - phrases like "I don't feel the same way as you" and "I don't like you that much," which I would find almost impossible to say outright face to face in English, just tripped off my tongue with the same ease as "Could I have a cheese sandwich?". They were just words.

A good friend of mine had a similar experience, finding himself behaving like the biggest Cassanova in the world with his Chilean lover, and just saying things because he could string the words together, but feeling less personally tied to the meaning.
posted by penguin pie at 9:57 AM on November 23, 2005


Neurologists wonder about this. We also wonder about where (and how) knowledge of different languages can be stored in the language areas of the brain.

A long-standing debate is whether the first learned language is the "last to go" in the event of language area injury, or whether the most used (or most recently used) language is the most persistent. The former hypothesis is called the "rule of Ribot" and the latter "Pitres' rule" after those neurologists who first proposed them; here's a rather technical article that discusses some issues.

Language mapping of polyglots is something that folks like me (who are involved in brain operations for epilepsy) are very interested in. We can search the literature and understand that folks who know ideographic languages like Chinese, or Japanese kanji, have linguistic representation that maps in a way that is different from the way that Indo-European languages map.

Some of us involved in language mapping of polyglots can report confusing findings: some folks appear to have speech arrest from inactivation of the same brain places in either language; in other cases, it is clear that inactivation of certain brain places arrests one language but not the other. This baffles me and I do not know how to interpret it. So far, I have yet to participate in the operation of someone who is of normal intelligence and highly fluent in both, say, English and Chinese from an early age; you can be certain that if such a person should come to my operating room, a great deal of attention will be paid to her language mapping.

Language mapping on people with epilepsy cannot answer these questions definitively, both because gross brain morphology tells us little about the deep questions you're asking about representation, and because folks with epilepsy a priori don't have normal brains. We need better ways to investigate these questions (TMS?).
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:54 PM on November 23, 2005


In my own limited experience, I've found that people who incompletely learn a foreign language and then try to operate in that language for long periods of time seem to experience a sort of cognitive blunting.

I learned Italian well enough that I could get by, the summer I spent there; I started to think and dream in Italian. But it seems to me that my thoughts were simpler and that my concerns became simpler too. I had a similar experience dating a Slovakian woman; she was clearly highly intelligent and competent (founder of a multi-million-dollar clothing empire), but in English she came across as a bit slow.

It's also occasionally seemed to me that deaf people I've known, who write sensitively and brilliantly and beautifully, are not able to communicate with me in person in a way that demonstrates the same sensitivity and nuance that I know they are quite capable of feeling and expressing. I am not sure, though; if this is the same phenomenon or even a real phenomenon, rather than an artifact of my own bias. I am certainly aware that in matters like this anecdotal evidence reveals much - about the fallibility of the observer. :)
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:01 PM on November 23, 2005


(Thanks for the further insights into Korean and English and the, uhhh... cognitive orthogonalities... that hopping between those two very different languages and cultures can create, provolot. And welcome to Metafilter.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:45 PM on November 23, 2005


Sorry about the Chinese lack of copula faux pas - I recently started a project with the name copula, and the web searches I used to find out if my name was original in its field continued to bring up messages like the following:

"Note the construction of this sentence: verb + noun [is] noun, with the absence of any copula ("is" etc) showing that 色 shi and 無常 wuchang are to be equated. This is quite usual as Chinese originally did not have a copula verb as such. However, a specialized use of the pronoun 是 shi evolved, in the sense of "is" and this is encountered as such with increasing frequency through the era of textual translation in China."

So I guess classical Chinese had no copula ( http://pratyeka.org/btc/ )
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:16 AM on November 24, 2005


Exactly.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on November 25, 2005


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