Language And Perception

By May 29, 2008 No Comments

Interesting updates from the scientific community on the perennial debate around the influence of language on perception and thought.

When Language Can Hold the Answer

“Naming, Dr. Lupyan concluded, helps to create mental categories.

The finding may not seem surprising, but it is fodder for one side in a traditional debate about language and perception, including the thinking that creates and names groups.

In stark form, the debate was: Does language shape what we perceive, a position associated with the late Benjamin Lee Whorf, or are our perceptions pure sensory impressions, immune to the arbitrary ways that language carves up the world? The latest research changes the framework, perhaps the language of the debate, suggesting that language clearly affects some thinking as a special device added to an ancient mental skill set.

(BUT) Just as adding features to a cellphone or camera can backfire, language is not always helpful. For the most part, it enhances thinking. But it can trip us up, too…

  • The extent to which language affected color perception depended on the side of the brain being used…
  • Language also has a significant role in seeing and remembering where objects are in space…
  • With numbers, the importance of language evidence is much clearer. It appears that the ability to count is necessary to deal with large, specific numbers. And the only way to count past a certain point is with language…
  • Language helps us learn novel categories, and it licenses our unusual ability to operate on an abstract plane..(but)The problem is that after a category has been learned, it can distort the memory of specific objects, getting between us and the rest of the nonabstract world.” Click for entire article at NYT
Tom Dotz

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