Lost in Traslation - Language and Culture

Jan 27, 2011 6:56:34 AM / by Rachel Reardon

Hello Everyone!

I came across a really interesting article, Lost in Traslation in the Wall Street Journal, about the influence that foreign languages have on how people see the world . The author uses a few languages as examples to show that people express themselves differently when talking about the same thing because of the structure of the language. This brings up questions about the definition of "meaning." Does the meaning change due to the language you use?

In the article the author, Lera Boroditsky, quotes Emperor of the Romans, Charlemagne, saying that "to have a second language is to have a second soul." This is a very deep and intricate thought. While reading this article, as a person who speaks more than one language, I realized that even though speaking different languages comes naturally to me, the make up of each language has its own structure, which in turn creates a unique approach to the way a person will use it to express their thoughts.

In any language that you are fluent in you can easily put together greetings, complete sentences, questions, etc. But when comparing these in different languages you see that the structure is not the same. For example, in the article it mentions that in Pormpuraaw, a remote Aboriginal community in Australia, to say hello, one actually say, "Where are you going?" If you don't know that they don't even use terms like "left" or "right" you would have a very hard time responding to the greeting. This particular community uses a different approach for greetings than English speakers do.

The article continues, with a focus on space, time, and gender when comparing different languages. The author goes to say, "the structures that exist in our language profundity shape how we construct reality, and helps make us as smart and sophisticated as we are." I couldn't help and connect this to our understanding of culture. The world we live in is so diverse with so much to offer in cultural learning, what makes them all so different? To me, it's languages, the way we express ourselves. In some languages gender is a major part of being able to communicate in other it is the idea of space and time, this all plays a major role in how people think in those languages, which in turn establishes that unique culture.

"Do English, Indonesian, Russian and Turkish speakers end up attending to, understanding, and remembering their experiences differently simply because they speak different languages?"

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the author?

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Rachel Reardon

Written by Rachel Reardon

Rachel works with some of the coolest marketers, designers, and writers around to help Mango look and sound its best. She loves bold colors, old books, the Montréal metro, and Star Trek. She has conflicting feelings about the Oxford comma.

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