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Posts Tagged ‘Language and Cognition’

Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language

March 19th, 2012 No comments
By PERRI KLASS, M.D.
Published in NYTimes: October 10, 2011

Researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.

This represents a process of “neural commitment,” in which the infant brain wires itself to understand one language and its sounds.

In contrast, the bilingual infants followed a different developmental trajectory. At 6 to 9 months, they did not detect differences in phonetic sounds in either language, but when they were older — 10 to 12 months — they were able to discriminate sounds in both.

Bilingual children also develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.

Read more…

Stanford Magazine: You Say Up, I Say Yesterday

October 4th, 2010 No comments

English speakers tend to see time on a horizontal plane: The best years are ahead; he puts his past behind him. Speakers of Mandarin tend to see new events emerging like a spring of water, with the past above and the future below.

Can language shape how we think? A Stanford researcher says yes, and her work speaks volumes about what makes people tick.

By Joan O’C. Hamilton

Lera Boroditsky’s journey to answer one of psychology’s most intriguing and fractious questions has been a curious one. She’s spent hours showing Spanish-speakers videos of balloons popping, eggs cracking and paper ripping. She’s scoured Stanford and MIT’s math and computer science departments for Russian speakers willing to spend an hour sorting shades of blue. She’s even traipsed to a remote aboriginal village in Australia where small children shook their heads at what they considered her pitiable sense of direction and took her hand to show her how to avoid being gobbled by a crocodile. Yet she needs little more than a teacup on her office coffee table to explain the essence of her research.

“In English,” she says, moving her hand toward the cup, “if I knock this cup off the table, even accidentally, you would likely say, ‘She broke the cup.'” However, in Japanese or Spanish, she explains, intent matters.

http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2010/mayjun/features/boroditsky.html

NYT: Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

October 4th, 2010 No comments
By GUY DEUTSCHER  Published: August 26, 2010

Guy Deutscher is an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester. His new book, from which this article is adapted, is “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” to be published this month by Metropolitan Books.

Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the 20th century. At first glance, there seemed little about the article to augur its subsequent celebrity. Neither the title, “Science and Linguistics,” nor the magazine, M.I.T.’s Technology Review, was most people’s idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical engineer who worked for an insurance company and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for international superstardom. And yet Benjamin Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Newsweek: Language may shape our thoughts

October 4th, 2010 No comments

When the Viaduct de Millau opened in the south of France in 2004, this tallest bridge in the world won worldwide accolades. German newspapers described how it “floated above the clouds” with “elegance and lightness” and “breathtaking” beauty. In France, papers praised the “immense” “concrete giant.” Was it mere coincidence that the Germans saw beauty where the French saw heft and power? Lera Boroditsky thinks not.

A psychologist at Stanford University, she has long been intrigued by an age-old question whose modern form dates to 1956, when linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf asked whether the language we speak shapes the way we think and see the world. If so, then language is not merely a means of expressing thought, but a constraint on it, too. Although philosophers, anthropologists, and others have weighed in, with most concluding that language does not shape thought in any significant way, the field has been notable for a distressing lack of empiricism—as in testable hypotheses and actual data.

http://www.newsweek.com/2009/07/08/what-s-in-a-word.html

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