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Walking the Talk 

Wednesday, Oct 13 2010
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Remember when you first considered yourself fluent in Spanish? (Just kidding. Let’s try that again.) Remember your friend who learned Spanish, and what she told you was key to becoming fluent? “You have to reach the point where you think in Spanish.” Makes sense. Languages don’t just “have a different word for everything” (thanks, Steve Martin), they’re constructed differently, too. The order of verbs, nouns, and adjectives is just the beginning. Spanish, for example, assigns a gender for each noun. (El gato. La luna.) English assigns blame for certain acts ― He broke the mug. She crashed her bicycle. ― regardless of who was at fault. Could the language we speak –― or the different ways we speak our own language ― make a difference in how we perceive things? Could language shape different populations’ sense of space, time, and even justice? Lera Boroditsky believes so. As an example, the Stanford University researcher cites an aboriginal culture called Kuuk Thaayorre, whose language has no words for “left” and “right,” but only for the directions of the compass. As a result, she says, a 5-year-old in this culture has better navigational ability than a college professor in ours. In the Long Now Foundation lecture, “How Language Shapes Thought,” Boroditsky presents numerous examples of how linguistic differences affect thinking and behavior, and answers your questions on the subject.
Tue., Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Keith Bowers

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