Lera Boroditsky: Language Teacher

Utne Reader visionary
by Staff, Utne Reader
November-December 2011
Add to My MSN


Content Tools

Related Content

Scientists as Diplomats? Be Careful.

The Obama administration had better watch out if they want to use scientists as diplomats....

Your Mental Peak May Still Be Ahead of You

With tests demonstrating that cognitive skills don’t dwindle with age, whether or not we can measure...

What Does a Scientist Look Like?

Quick, draw a picture of a scientist. What does the person look like—and what does this image say ab...

Dr. Coffee's Rx

The blog Developing Intelligence recently sifted through a slew of studies to confirm that coffee is...

Lera Boroditsky was chosen as an Utne Reader visionary in 2011. Each year Utne Reader puts forward its selection of world visionaries—people who don’t just concoct great ideas but also act on them.

Lera Boroditsky Online Extras | 2011 Visionaries Home Page 

Humans have invented 7,000 languages around the globe. “Each one is its own universe,” says Stanford University cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky, who conducts groundbreaking research on how language shapes thought. Her theories make her a figure of controversy among linguists like Noam Chomsky, who has long contended that thought and perception are universal entities expressed—but not shaped—through language.

Boroditsky makes the bold claim that “different languages invite speakers to develop different cognitive skills.” For example, some cultures have words for left and right; others don’t recognize these egocentric concepts, instead relying solely on cardinal directions (north, south, east, west). You might think indigenous Australians growing up without a way to say “turn left” would have a tough time communicating directions, but as Boroditsky learned through research and firsthand observation, “It turns out the kids have incredible spatial knowledge.” Children as young as 5 are able to stay constantly oriented. Their language has shaped their minds.

Boroditsky’s current fascination is “how we represent causality—to blame, to be responsible, to praise.” Her recent study looked at how two groups of people perceived a rash of city crime described alternately as “a beast” and “a virus.” The different metaphors in an otherwise identical narrative formed fundamentally different understandings of what happened and how to intervene. The beast group focused on police presence and locking away criminals, whereas the virus group sought social reform to stop the spread of crime.

Differences between languages are often framed as a nuisance, a barrier. Boroditsky sees them as a gift that allows us to see cultures in new ways: “That’s the magical part of looking at language.”

Lera Boroditsky Online Extras | 2011 Visionaries Home Page 

168-cover-thumb.jpgHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Utne Reader.








Post a comment below.

 

Jerry
4/4/2014 10:13:09 AM
I have been teaching http://www.thelanguagemachine.co.uk/language-areas/ through private lessons for a few years now. I think having the ability through multiple tongues to communicate with a wider and more unique range of people is fantastic.








Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!