Scientists Probe an Enduring Question: Can Language Shape Perception?

WebInvestigator.KK.org - by F. Kaskais

The idea that language shapes our ability to think fell out of favor in the 1960s, but new tools have some researchers revisiting the concept.

PICTURE A SUNLIT Grecian sea or the deep hues of Santorini’s rooftops. They’re both called “blue” in English. But to Greek speakers, the lighter hue is “ghalazio” and the darker color “ble.” When researchers showed native speakers of both languages squares of light and dark blue, they found the Greek speakers viewed the two colors as more unlike each other. Did a different language influence how people viewed the two colors?

Many researchers now believe that language does play a role in some aspects of cognitive activity, but the evidence remains murky.

The idea that language can shape perception and thought — a hypothesis formally known as “linguistic relativity” — harkens back to the 1930s. This hypothesis asserts that…

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