Language may shape human thought

New Scientist reporting a curious study:

Hunter-gatherers from the Pirahã tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration, revealed the study.

Experts agree that the startling result provides the strongest support yet for the controversial hypothesis that the language available to humans defines our thoughts. So-called “linguistic determinism” was first proposed in 1950 but has been hotly debated ever since.

“It is a very surprising and very important result,” says Lisa Feigenson, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, US, who has tested babies’ abilities to distinguish between different numerical quantities. “Whether language actually allows you to have new thoughts is a very controversial issue.”

Indeed it is surprising.

3 thoughts on “Language may shape human thought”

  1. Grrr! I need to find a wall to bang my head off of…

    Not <bang> the <bang> strong <bang> form <bang> of <bang> the <bang> Sapir-Worf <bang> Hypothesis <bang> again!

    Language quite categorically neither limits nor broadens the thoughts you can have. It may *shape* them, but that’s it.

    Bloody developmental psychologists! They should study linguistics for a while.

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