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Travelling abroad? Mind your language as it changes perception

London, PTI | Updated : 25 March 2015, 11:55 AM

Different languages may cause their speakers to view an event differently, scientists say.

Researchers from Lancaster University and other institutions are studying how the language that a person is using may change the way that person sees what’s around - thought processes included.

“We make sense of objects and events around us by classifying them into identifiable categories. The extent to which language affects this process has been the focus of a long-standing debate: Do different languages cause their speakers to behave differently?” researchers wrote in the journal Psychological Science.

“Here, we show that fluent German-English bilinguals categorise motion events according to the grammatical constraints of the language in which they operate,” researchers wrote.

As predicted from cross-linguistic differences in motion encoding, participants functioning in a German testing context prefer to match events on the basis of motion completion to a greater extent than participants in an English context, the study found.

“These findings show that language effects on cognition are context-bound and transient, revealing unprecedented levels of malleability in human cognition,” researchers wrote.

The researchers also asked German-English bilinguals to provide similarity judgments on video-clip triads depicting goal-oriented motion events (eg, a woman walking towards a car), ‘Medical Xpress’ reported.

Speakers of German, Afrikaans, and Swedish, tend to mention endpoints, look at endpoints, and favour endpoints in similarity judgments, whereas speakers of English, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian, do so to a lesser extent, the study found.

Endpoints mean that German speakers tend to specify the beginnings, middles, and ends of events, but English speakers often leave out the endpoints and focus in on the action, according to ‘news.sciencemag’.

Looking at the same scene, for example, German speakers might say, ‘A man leaves the house and walks to the store,’ whereas an English speaker would say, ‘A man is walking.’

Bilingual speakers, meanwhile, seemed to switch between these perspectives based on the language most active in their minds.

First Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 11:53 AM
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