Gravity of language on thoughts | Panos Athanasopoulos | TEDxUniversityofMacedonia

Panos Athanasopoulos’ research programmes seek to understand how people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds communicate and perceive the world around them, focusing on how we see colours and objects, and how we experience motion and time. It is often said that language is our species-defining characteristic, what makes us human. At the same time, it is intuitive to think that as humans our understanding and interpretation of reality and the world is fundamentally the same, regardless of the language we speak. But in the early 20th century linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf proposed the very opposite: We do not all think the same, but rather we think along the lines laid out by our native language. If each language presents its own version of reality, its own perspective on the world, how are we ever going to understand human nature and get to the one true core of it? Panos Athanasopoulos is the Director of the Perception and Learning Laboratory (PERLL) at Lancaster University, where he holds a Chair in Applied Linguistics. His research programmes seek to understand how people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds communicate and perceive the world around them, focusing on how we see colours and objects, and how we experience motion and time.

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9 Responses to Gravity of language on thoughts | Panos Athanasopoulos | TEDxUniversityofMacedonia

  1. I am not sure they will find the one true human core in language. Fact is that all human beings share the different emotions, even if they express them differently.

    What was first, perception or language? 😉 I think that different perceptions where first, influenced by living circumstances, and so the different languages came into being. If then a child has a certain language as mother tongue, it will be influenced in its perception by that language. But language is changing, as living conditions change and together with new experiences this is changing the perception, and thus the language. Also the learning of foreign languages changes one’s perception. So it is a continuous development. I am not sure that I am expressing myself clearly right now … 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • agogo22 says:

      If i understand you correctly you are saying that each of us perceives the world uniquely and that, combined with differences in life experience, is the root of language (or differences in languages)?
      I agree that when you are trying to create something the conversation between yourself and the materials one uses , be they concepts or clay, influences one’s perception and therefore the end result, but i think the changes in language are to do with consensus as to what is apposite at any one time (look at the arguments about how appalling modern management speak is)?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I meant more the latter, not that individuals change the language, but groups of people. Sometimes they do it on purpose for different reasons, and sometimes it is just a development caused by changed circumstances of the group.

        Liked by 1 person

      • agogo22 says:

        I agree that its usually groups of people, with notable exceptions (Shakespeare, Goethe to name two), but one modern tension is between fragmentation and cohesiveness as the language hybridises in ways that are locally fashionable, whilst being influenced by other global trends (look at what has happened to Portuguese, English, Spanish, French and German as they’ve been spread around the world)?

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      • Yes, that’s very true. The European languages underwent a metamorphosis in the “new” countries, due to new circumstances and input from the local people, I would say. Did you ever hear Lousiana French? But even inside the “mothertongue” country, there are a lot of different versions of the language, that would be then the “locally fashionable”, I presume.

        You see, I feel that my English is not good enough for this discussion. It would be much easier for me in German … 😉 … understanding a language is much easier than talking/writing.

        And it is such an interesting topic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • agogo22 says:

        Leider ist mein Deutsch so schlecht! I agree with your point about comprehension (Brazilians have a saying,”entende mas pode falar = I can understand more that I’m able to speak).

        Here in the UK the traces of Norse and Anglo Saxon influences on the development of English are still evident, especially in the rural parts of those regions where descendants of the “invaders” still live.

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      • So schlecht kann es nicht sein! It is grammatically correct, which is difficult in German.

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    • This is a good question. What was first? Actually your statement makes sense. The perception might have shaped the language and with this we learn the language and take on the perception of it. Maybe one can relate this back to the example given in the talk. Persons having only one word for “Blue and green” will perceive it differently like persons who differentiate between blue and green with their language.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This a a very interesting topic. Language can change our thoughts, our perception and also how we act. Language is much more influence on the human beings and the world than one might think. What happened if you do not understand the language, will you think the same way as when you understand it? Probably not.


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