Lera Boroditsky

Aboriginal people in Australia are better at finding their way around because they use compass directions instead of simply describing things as to the left or right. That’s just one of several findings from Stanford psychologist Lera Boroditsky, who claims language greatly influences our thoughts and perceptions. It’s a radical departure from modern linguistic theory.

We listen back to a conversation with Boroditsky, who joined us as part of our First Person series featuring the leaders, innovators and other compelling characters that make the Bay Area unique.

Lera Boroditsky, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University

  • michelle

    I completely agree this is a fantastic discussion.  I lived for a little over a year in japan where by necessity I learned japanese and I was struck by the direct relationship of their language and the differences in our cultures.  The lack of the word NO in japanese versus how frequently it is used in english has such strong parallels to the group versus individual make up of our respective countries and desire to confront and fight versus work things out.  thank you for these amazing observations.

  • Hbromma

    Growing up multilingual in Europe, the discussion seemed like a tautology.  No ever having experienced a single language (only), many of us who are multilingual also are culturally diverse because we had to be:  Growing up in the French zone of Austria, with Germany and Italy 30 minutes away, and the Swiss a couple of hours (if you drive fast) we experienced three languages (not including English)  and believe me many cultures.  You see we also have dialects…  Thank you for a very interesting and compelling program.  I don’t think that Noam would be offended, or I would not expect that from him, and hope not.

  • N3il Murphy

    The culture(s) Lera referenced that reverse our future-forward, past-backward language structure only makes sense to me if they live their lives walking backwards. Maybe our idea that it’s easy to ‘see things more clearly’ in the rear view mirror  means they can see the future with equal ease. I’m going to spend the 4th of July walking backward. I’ll let you know.

  • I agree that this is a fascinating discussion. I studied German for 8 years between high school and college but I increased my language skills drastically after working in Germany for a summer as a waiter for a large hotel chain. Still to this day I can keep a basic conversation going without studdering or hesitating. I believe that once you begin to dream in another language (it takes about a month or two before it happens during full immersion) and that you no longer translate between them that you begin to build this difference in your brain that also allows you to have a slight foreign accent. This is also why most Germans speak English with a slight British accent given their English teachers are British. In German there are many more idiomatic expressions based on their agricultural background that have been lost or were never there in American English. What people find funny and culturally acceptable to laugh at is also very different across cultures. What Germans consider to be open and honest feedback can be viewed as a bit harsh and offensive to some Americans, however Germans will point out that Americans are hard to read sometimes because they aren’t so open and honest about their opinions. While Americans might be thinking they are being polite by not sharing such opinions so openly. It’s really two sides of the same coin. Understanding another culture has quite a bit to do with their language and how they communicate. Does the language drive the culture or does the culture drive the language…or is it both? To a foreign speaker German might appear to be a very complex language, but actually it is an easier language to learn because it is very strict in its grammar….and those long German words are actually a bunch of small descriptors tied together in a sort of classification format.

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