Language Affects Perception

Posted on January 29, 2008 by Peter Turney

Here’s an update to my post on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Lera Boroditsky answered the question, “What have you changed your mind about?as follows:

I used to think that languages and cultures shape the ways we think. I suspected they shaped the ways we reason and interpret information. But I didn’t think languages could shape the nuts and bolts of perception, the way we actually see the world. That part of cognition seemed too low-level, too hard-wired, too constrained by the constants of physics and physiology to be affected by language.

And here is why she changed her mind:

I set out to show that language didn’t affect perception, but I found exactly the opposite. It turns out that languages meddle in very low-level aspects of perception, and without our knowledge or consent shape the very nuts and bolts of how we see the world.

The details are in the paper Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination. More information can be found on her home page.