The Language that Shapes Us

It is so easy to let language shape you, much harder to shape language around yourself.

The great communicators never concede to the boundaries of language.  Yes, language can set you free but it can also hold you in because language has rules…a few of which I aim to break; for the human mind should wander and rules are meant to be broken.

Language can shape the way we think.  It can box us in or leave us wanting.  Giving stigmas to words that it shouldn’t or masking stigmas that are deserved.

The world is not made of words but of things.  Just as math is simply a description of nature, so are words simply a description of our reality but somehow they do cary a very real weight.

What happens when these words cause our minds to perceive reality differently?

For example, some languages assign genders to certain objects or ideas.  These classifications can make “music” (la musica) feel feminine while “business” (los negocios) incites masculinity.  Most people think nothing of these lingual nuances but they do seem to reinforce some stereotypes and their classifications clearly reinforce traditional gender roles.  Could it be a coincidence that these languages that assign gender to words (Spanish, Itialian, French, Hebrew, Aramaic, Hindi, Russian…ect) also have very traditional cultures?

This notion was further supported by a study  in the 1980’s which showed that children whose native languages had more intense gender classifications understood their own gender a full year ahead of those whose native tongues were without gender bias.  There have also been additional studies by Lera Boroditsky showing that gendered nouns can cause something called “Linguistic Relativity” that changes how people describe objects based on their assigned gender in their native language.

The rules of language even effect how our minds think.  

There are no thoughts without language.  How a language is structured can affect your thought pattern.  Does your language put emphasis on the action or the subject?  Is the voice passive or active?  These structural systems of languages do affect how our brains process situations and ideas, which is why politicians chose their words so very carefully.  Furthermore, multi-linguists often find that depending on what they think about, their internal dialogue changes language.

But even more troubling are the instances when language is lacking.  Eskimos famously have over 50 words for snow, and many other languages have multiple words for things that english has only one.  What insights or ideas are we lacking from not having words for these nuances?

What happens when words fail us?

Well if you were Shakespeare you would just make up some new words like swagger, obscene  and over 1,700 more that today we would think to be commonplace.  More modern writers did the same like Dr. Suess who coined “nerd” or Mark Twain who made popular words like “blip”, “slim jim” and “bug”.  Even modern musical artists do the same.  It seems that that rap music comes up with a catchy new word every couple months to describe some intricacy of our culture.  These are thinkers who live to use language but still found their most enlightened moments of creativity from breaking free from language entirely.


Let us remember that language is a tool, not a cage, and that as we evolve as should our language.



By | 2016-11-15T10:01:11-08:00 August 28th, 2015|Biology, Featured, Philosophy, Science|0 Comments

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