Does Language Shape What We Think?

By Joshua Hartshorne | Scientific American

"My seventh-grade English teacher exhorted us to study vocabulary with the following: "We think in words. The more words you know, the more thoughts you can have." This compound notion that language allows you to have ideas otherwise un-haveable, and that by extension people who own different words live in different conceptual worlds -- called "Whorfianism" after its academic evangelist, Benjamin Lee Whorf -- is so pervasive in modern thought as to be unremarkable.

Eskimos, as is commonly reported, have myriads of words for snow, affecting how they perceive frozen percipitation. A popular book on English notes that, unlike English, "French and German can distinguish between knowledge that results from recognition ... and knowledge that results from understanding." Politicians try to win the rhetorical battle ("pro-life" vs. "anti-abortion"; "estate tax" vs. "death tax") in order to gain the political advantage."

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