Previously published in Examiner
Part 6 of the language and culture series
Dr. Borditsky’s work on language continued
Dr. Boroditsky explains how certain words do not even appear in certain cultures, for example left, right, forward, and backward which are words used to define direction in English are not used in some Australian aboriginal tribes. The Kuuk Thaayorre will use the directions, north, south, east, and west in their language but not left, right, forward, backwards. Therefore, a sentence may translate in English “There’s an ant on your southeast leg.”
Although this seems easy enough to learn and exchange the words it is not, the speaker must be very conscious of directions. Every part of speech will involve a direction in those languages. If you do not know the direction you are in, you cannot say anything past the initial hello.
This research provides a very big example of how language shapes thinking and thinking shapes language. Having this higher awareness of spatial orientation means that these people will be much more capable of navigating through unknown territories then would your average English speaker. Just apply this information to how we use words to describe women and the inference is clear.
What about situations that appear to have not much bearing on direction? Did the Kuuk Thaayorre of Australia think differently that English people?
Dr. Boroditsky and her team gave a bunch of picture cards to test this theory and asked her subjects to tell a story with the pictures. What she found was that if English people are asked to tell a story they always start from left right. It appeared that the Kuuk Thaayorre did not have a pattern of left to right, but they did have a pattern of east to west depending on which way they were facing. For English thinkers where you are facing has no bearing on your left right storytelling. On the other hand, the direction of where you are facing, e.g. facing, south or facing north, for the Kuuk Thaayorre will determine how they place the cards to start their story.
To be continued
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