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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Meditation found to increase brain size

Meditation found to increase brain size 
Mental calisthenics bulk up some layers 
By William J. Cromie
Harvard News Office
Harvard University Gazette
February 2, 2006 
Sara Lazar (center) talks to research assistant Michael Treadway and
technologist Shruthi Chakrapami about the results of experiments
showing that meditation can increase brain size. (Staff photo Kris
Snibbe/Harvard News Office) 
People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don't.
Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter
the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted
reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in
parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory
In one area of gray matter, the thickening turns out to be more
pronounced in older than in younger people. That's intriguing because
those sections of the human cortex, or thinking cap, normally get
thinner as we age. 
"Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical
plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional
processing and well-being," says Sara Lazar, leader of the study and
a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. "These findings are
consistent with other studies that demonstrated increased thickness
of music areas in the brains of musicians, and visual and motor areas
in the brains of jugglers. In other words, the structure of an adult
brain can change in response to repeated practice." 
The researchers compared brain scans of 20 experienced meditators
with those of 15 nonmeditators. Four of the former taught meditation
or yoga, but they were not monks living in seclusion. The rest worked
in careers such as law, health care, and journalism. All the
participants were white. During scanning, the meditators meditated;
the others just relaxed and thought about whatever they wanted. 
Meditators did Buddhist "insight meditation," which focuses on
whatever is there, like noise or body sensations. It doesn't involve
"om," other mantras, or chanting. 
"The goal is to pay attention to sensory experience, rather than to
your thoughts about the sensory experience," Lazar explains. "For
example, if you suddenly hear a noise, you just listen to it rather
than thinking about it. If your leg falls asleep, you just notice the
physical sensations. If nothing is there, you pay attention to your
breathing." Successful meditators get used to not thinking or
elaborating things in their mind. 
Study participants meditated an average of about 40 minutes a day.
Some had been doing it for only a year, others for decades. Depth of
the meditation was measured by the slowing of breathing rates. Those
most deeply involved in the meditation showed the greatest changes in
brain structure. "This strongly suggests," Lazar concludes, "that the
differences in brain structure were caused by the meditation, rather
than that differences in brain thickness got them into meditation in
the first place." 
Lazar took up meditation about 10 years ago and now practices insight
meditation about three times a week. At first she was not sure it
would work. But "I have definitely experienced beneficial changes,"
she says. "It reduces stress [and] increases my clarity of thought
and my tolerance for staying focused in difficult situations." 
Controlling random thoughts 
Insight meditation can be practiced anytime, anywhere. "People who do
it quickly realize that much of what goes on in their heads involves
random thoughts that often have little substance," Lazar comments.
"The goal is not so much to 'empty' your head, but to not get caught
up in random thoughts that pop into consciousness." 
She uses this example: Facing an important deadline, people tend to
worry about what will happen if they miss it, or if the end product
will be good enough to suit the boss. You can drive yourself crazy
with unproductive "what if" worry. "If, instead, you focus on the
present moment, on what needs to be done and what is happening right
now, then much of the feeling of stress goes away," Lazar says.
"Feelings become less obstructive and more motivational." 
The increased thickness of gray matter is not very much, 4 to 8
thousandths of an inch. "These increases are proportional to the time
a person has been meditating during their lives," Lazar notes. "This
suggests that the thickness differences are acquired through
extensive practice and not simply due to differences between
meditators and nonmeditators." 
As small as they are, you can bet those differences are going to lead
to lots more studies to find out just what is going on and how
meditation might better be used to improve health and well-being, and
even slow aging. 
More basic questions need to be answered. What causes the increased
thickness? Does meditation produce more connections between brain
cells, or more blood vessels? How does increased brain thickness
influence daily behavior? Does it promote increased communication
between intellectual and emotional areas of the brain? 
To get answers, larger studies are planned at Massachusetts General
Hospital, the Harvard-affiliated facility where Lazar is a research
scientist and where these first studies were done. That work included
only 20 meditators and their brains were scanned only once. 
"The results were very encouraging," Lazar remarks. "But further
research needs to be done using a larger number of people and testing
them multiple times. We also need to examine their brains both before
and after learning to meditate. Our group is currently planning to do
this. Eventually, such research should reveal more about the function
of the thickening; that is, how it affects emotions and knowing in
terms of both awareness and judgment." 
Slowing aging? 
Since this type of meditation counteracts the natural thinning of the
thinking surface of the brain, could it play a role in slowing - even
reversing - aging? That could really be mind-boggling in the most
positive sense. 
Lazar is cautious in her answer. "Our data suggest that one small bit
of brain appears to have a slower rate of cortical thinning, so
meditation may help slow some aspects of cognitive aging," she
agrees. "But it's important to remember that monks and yogis suffer
from the same ailments as the rest of us. They get old and die, too.
However, they do claim to enjoy an increased capacity for attention
and memory." 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Lost in Translation - WSJ - An interesting read for Sanskrit
Sunday, May 29, 2011 
Lost in Translation -- Wall Street Journal 
 "All this new research shows us that the languages we speak not only
 reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we
wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages
 profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart
 and sophisticated as we are." 
 (Please read the article online, here are some of my comments as I
 was reading it.) 
Note: This is an interesting peace of information that I stumbled
upon, researched a bit, and felt like sharing with you. There are no
claims of Sanskrit being the best language or anything of that sort.
Reader discretion is advised. 
I read this article last summer, but got reminded of this article
last evening during a discussion on the effect of languages on human behavior and culture.
The article above is a beautiful peace discussing how languages play
an important role in shaping our perception, observation and
expression. (You'll see this once you read the article.) 
There are many dimensions to this article, but in the context of interest and time, I
would briefly focus on two that are interesting to us as Sanskrit
students (and skipping others like phonetics, grammar etc.). 
First, there is an information theoretic part to the language, which
is fundamental, yet beyond the scope of their study. 
And that has to do with the size of the script. Before getting to the
point, let me take an example to clarify. 
Consider number 1000. The number is expressed in 4 digits (1, 0, 0 &
0) in our base10 number system (where we represent 0,1,..9 for
counting). The same number in binary system (i.e. using only 0 & 1)
takes 10 digits (1111101000), so is relatively more difficult to
process (or remember /recall / write / convey). 
Below is a list of some languages (that are very different than
Sanskrit) with number of basic alphabets: 
Sanskrit: 54 (
Arabic: 28 (
English: 26 (
Latin: 26 ( --> Most
European languages, e.g. German, Italian, use Latin script.
Hebrew: 22 
Some South American languages have as few as 12 letters in the
script, which makes it easier to do poetry (because words are very
long and everything rhymes), but more difficult to do science.
English with 26 letters, so it's clearly at a huge advantage in terms
of compaction. 
Devanagari is among the richest of script, with 54 basic letters and
couple of hundreds of mixed and special forms. The level of
compaction achievable is immense when compared to English & many
other language. 
Working with a larger script base, one is inherently at an advantage
of compaction, and as a result, of speed. 
Apart from a popular script, the structure of the language (e.g.
different shabdha roopas for pullinga, strilinga, napunsaklinga etc,
and several tenses pluralities) add further expansion of the
language base, providing a compaction of the language. And all these
tied together in 14 verses of Maheshwar Sutras (see here ) or ~4000 rules of Paninian
Remember, that this compaction was also a need of the time, as
writing material was scarce, and messages or texts had to be very
very compact. 
Second, the historic fact that much of Indian art, science and
history has been recorded in Sanskrit (and most likely conducted by
people who spoke the language). And ever since Sanskrit was dropped
as the language of choice for education, India's contribution to arts
& sciences has been on a decline. 
Also note that, as the article above argues, culture and language
mutually influence each other. Changing the language is like changing
the thinking, as claimed: 
 "One of the key advances in recent years has been the demonstration
 of precisely this causal link. It turns out that if you change how
 people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another
 language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the
 world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another,
they start thinking differently, too." 
One must remember that there are languages that have far too many
characters. For example, some Asian languages, like Chinese &
Japanese, with scripts that have open script system have several
thousand alphabets (anyone can create a new one). (I am not qualified
to comment on these languages as I don't understand them, but my
guess is that it would be extremely difficult to master the tens or
hundreds of thousands of alphabets (see here 
I am also not aware of and could not find other languages with more
alphabets than Sanskrit. If you have more info on that, any info
would be much appreciated.) 
- A. 
Lost in Translation 
New cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences
the way people see the world; a different sense of blame in Japanese
and Spanish 
By Lera Boroditsky
The Wall Street Journal
July 23, 2010 
[Caption] 'The Tower of Babel' by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1563.
The Gallery Collection - Corbis 
(Please see Corrections & Amplifications below.) 
Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? Do they merely
express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our
knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express? 
Take "Humpty Dumpty sat on a..." Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme
reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English,
we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say "sat" rather
than "sit." In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) change
the verb to mark tense. 
In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing
the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to
decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero
sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a
different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall. 
In Turkish, you would have to include in the verb how you acquired
this information. For example, if you saw the chubby fellow on the
wall with your own eyes, you'd use one form of the verb, but if you
had simply read or heard about it, you'd use a different form. 
Do English, Indonesian, Russian and Turkish speakers end up attending
to, understanding, and remembering their experiences differently
simply because they speak different languages? 
These questions touch on all the major controversies in the study of
mind, with important implications for politics, law and religion. Yet
very little empirical work had been done on these questions until
recently. The idea that language might shape thought was for a long
time considered untestable at best and more often simply crazy and
wrong. Now, a flurry of new cognitive science research is showing
that in fact, language does profoundly influence how we see the
The question of whether languages shape the way we think goes back
centuries; Charlemagne proclaimed that "to have a second language is
to have a second soul." But the idea went out of favor with
scientists when Noam Chomsky's theories of language gained popularity
in the 1960s and '70s. Dr. Chomsky proposed that there is a universal
grammar for all human languages -- essentially, that languages don't
really differ from one another in significant ways. And because
languages didn't differ from one another, the theory went, it made no
sense to ask whether linguistic differences led to differences in
Use Your Words 
Some findings on how language can affect thinking. 
Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are
better able to visually discriminate shades of blue. 
Some indigenous tribes say north, south, east and west, rather than
left and right, and as a consequence have great spatial orientation. 
The Piraha, whose language eschews number words in favor of terms
like few and many, are not able to keep track of exact quantities. 
In one study, Spanish and Japanese speakers couldn't remember the
agents of accidental events as adeptly as English speakers could.
Why? In Spanish and Japanese, the agent of causality is dropped: "The
vase broke itself," rather than "John broke the vase." 
The search for linguistic universals yielded interesting data on
languages, but after decades of work, not a single proposed universal
has withstood scrutiny. Instead, as linguists probed deeper into the
world's languages (7,000 or so, only a fraction of them analyzed),
innumerable unpredictable differences emerged. 
Of course, just because people talk differently doesn't necessarily
mean they think differently. In the past decade, cognitive scientists
have begun to measure not just how people talk, but also how they
think, asking whether our understanding of even such fundamental
domains of experience as space, time and causality could be
constructed by language. 
For example, in Pormpuraaw, a remote Aboriginal community in
Australia, the indigenous languages don't use terms like "left" and
"right." Instead, everything is talked about in terms of absolute
cardinal directions (north, south, east, west), which means you say
things like, "There's an ant on your southwest leg." To say hello in
Pormpuraaw, one asks, "Where are you going?", and an appropriate
response might be, "A long way to the south-southwest. How about
you?" If you don't know which way is which, you literally can't get
past hello. 
About a third of the world's languages (spoken in all kinds of
physical environments) rely on absolute directions for space. As a
result of this constant linguistic training, speakers of such
languages are remarkably good at staying oriented and keeping track
of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes. They perform
navigational feats scientists once thought were beyond human
capabilities. This is a big difference, a fundamentally different way
of conceptualizing space, trained by language. 
Differences in how people think about space don't end there. People
rely on their spatial knowledge to build many other more complex or
abstract representations including time, number, musical pitch,
kinship relations, morality and emotions. So if Pormpuraawans think
differently about space, do they also think differently about other
things, like time? 
To find out, my colleague Alice Gaby and I traveled to Australia and
gave Pormpuraawans sets of pictures that showed temporal progressions
(for example, pictures of a man at different ages, or a crocodile
growing, or a banana being eaten). Their job was to arrange the
shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order. We
tested each person in two separate sittings, each time facing in a
different cardinal direction. When asked to do this, English speakers
arrange time from left to right. Hebrew speakers do it from right to
left (because Hebrew is written from right to left). 
Pormpuraawans, we found, arranged time from east to west. That is,
seated facing south, time went left to right. When facing north,
right to left. When facing east, toward the body, and so on. Of
course, we never told any of our participants which direction they
faced. The Pormpuraawans not only knew that already, but they also
spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their
representations of time. And many other ways to organize time exist
in the world's languages. In Mandarin, the future can be below and
the past above. In Aymara [
It is a language spoken since pre-Columbian times only by the indigenous population around the Titicaca Lake region, i.e., occidental Bolivia, south of Peru, and northern areas of Chile and Argentina.] the future is
behind and the past in front. 
In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand
causality. For example, English likes to describe events in terms of
agents doing things. English speakers tend to say things like "John
broke the vase" even for accidents. Speakers of Spanish or Japanese
would be more likely to say "the vase broke itself." Such differences
between languages have profound consequences for how their speakers
understand events, construct notions of causality and agency, what
they remember as eyewitnesses and how much they blame and punish
In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at Stanford, speakers of
English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping
balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or
accidentally. Later everyone got a surprise memory test: For each
event, can you remember who did it? She discovered a striking cross-
linguistic difference in eyewitness memory. Spanish and Japanese
speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as
did English speakers. Mind you, they remembered the agents of
intentional events (for which their language would mention the agent)
just fine. But for accidental events, when one wouldn't normally
mention the agent in Spanish or Japanese, they didn't encode or
remember the agent as well. 
In another study, English speakers watched the video of Janet
Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" (a wonderful nonagentive
coinage introduced into the English language by Justin Timberlake),
accompanied by one of two written reports. The reports were identical
except in the last sentence where one used the agentive phrase
"ripped the costume" while the other said "the costume ripped." Even
though everyone watched the same video and witnessed the ripping with
their own eyes, language mattered. Not only did people who read
"ripped the costume" blame Justin Timberlake more, they also levied a
whopping 53% more in fines. 
Beyond space, time and causality, patterns in language have been
shown to shape many other domains of thought. Russian speakers, who
make an extra distinction between light and dark blues in their
language, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue.
The Piraha, a tribe in the Amazon in Brazil, whose language eschews
number words in favor of terms like few and many, are not able to
keep track of exact quantities. And Shakespeare, it turns out, was
wrong about roses: Roses by many other names (as told to blindfolded
subjects) do not smell as sweet. 
Patterns in language offer a window on a culture's dispositions and
priorities. For example, English sentence structures focus on agents,
and in our criminal-justice system, justice has been done when we've
found the transgressor and punished him or her accordingly (rather
than finding the victims and restituting appropriately, an
alternative approach to justice). So does the language shape cultural
values, or does the influence go the other way, or both? 
Languages, of course, are human creations, tools we invent and hone
to suit our needs. Simply showing that speakers of different
languages think differently doesn't tell us whether it's language
that shapes thought or the other way around. To demonstrate the
causal role of language, what's needed are studies that directly
manipulate language and look for effects in cognition. 
"That language embodies different ways of knowing the world seems
intuitive, given the number of times we reach for a word or phrase in
another language that communicates that certain je ne sais quoi we
can't find on our own." - Steve Kallaugher 
One of the key advances in recent years has been the demonstration of
precisely this causal link. It turns out that if you change how
people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another
language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the
world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another,
they start thinking differently, too. And if you take away people's
ability to use language in what should be a simple nonlinguistic
task, their performance can change dramatically, sometimes making
them look no smarter than rats or infants. (For example, in recent
studies, MIT students were shown dots on a screen and asked to say
how many there were. If they were allowed to count normally, they did
great. If they simultaneously did a nonlinguistic task -- like
banging out rhythms -- they still did great. But if they did a verbal
task when shown the dots -- like repeating the words spoken in a news
report -- their counting fell apart. In other words, they needed
their language skills to count.) 
All this new research shows us that the languages we speak not only
reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we
wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages
profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart
and sophisticated as we are. 
Language is a uniquely human gift. When we study language, we are
uncovering in part what makes us human, getting a peek at the very
nature of human nature. As we uncover how languages and their
speakers differ from one another, we discover that human natures too
can differ dramatically, depending on the languages we speak. The
next steps are to understand the mechanisms through which languages
help us construct the incredibly complex knowledge systems we have.
Understanding how knowledge is built will allow us to create ideas
that go beyond the currently thinkable. This research cuts right to
the fundamental questions we all ask about ourselves. How do we come
to be the way we are? Why do we think the way we do? An important
part of the answer, it turns out, is in the languages we speak. 
Corrections and Amplifications 
Japanese and Spanish language speakers would likely say "the vase
broke" or "the vase was broken" when talking about an accident. This
article says that Japanese and Spanish speakers would be more likely
to say "the vase broke itself." 
- Lera Boroditsky is a professor of psychology at Stanford University
and editor in chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology. 
Related Video 
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Learning a Language Online 
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Journal Community: 
Some interesting comments for this article
·        Dieneba N'diaye Wrote:
What about if one speaks several languages? Many of us have travelled and learnt languages to be able to communicate? Will what we will call our 'native' language be the only influencer in our thinking process? What about our experiences in foreign countries? won't the environment we lived in also influence that process? My personal experience will push me to say that even though scientists might assess that language shapes our thinking, it is not the only influencer. Cultural knowledge is also an important factor (
·        --------------------------------------------------------------------
·        Nelida Kreer Wrote:
@ Lera Boroditsky: Please see my reply to Margaret Glass's post. Also, I would like to mention that if you say "Aymara which is spoken in South America" without any further qualification, it may give your readers a false picture, as It is a language spoken since pre-Columbian times only by the indigenous population around the Titicaca Lake region, i.e., occidental Bolivia, south of Peru, and northern areas of Chile and Argentina. As you put it, one gathers the impression that Aymara is spoken in South America across the board, which is certainly not the case.
·        Roland Najm Wrote:
This is one of the most interesting articles I've read in years!

I've been thinking about that very notion for years now, unaware that there was actual research being done on this very subject of "Does our language determine how we see the world or does how we see the word determine our language?"

My conclusion was: Our language determines how we see the world

Thought experiments - Computer programming:
The code (or language) used in computers determines which variables they "see", understand, take into account, use in determining the result. Using another code on the same machine would greatly influence the results; some variables would not be taken into account, some of them won't even be recognized.
Imagine a human being who does not have a word for Freedom, Synergy, Empathy, or Love for example. He will see, understand, judge and behave very differently than other people who do. You would need to reason with him/her for a relatively long time to get to the conclusion of "give your children some space" or "accept differences and don't be threatened by them" for example; He/she would not do this "instinctively". He/she would have fundamentally different paradigms of seeing the world around him/her.

That thought experiment lead me to the following conclusions:
1- Language for humans does not include all the words in the dictionary for that official language nor the complete set of grammar rules it has. Human language is the language he/she use everyday.
2- Not having a word for a concept in a certain language means not having the concept altogether within the culture that uses this language.

Application - Conflict Resolution:
Many conflicts in the world could be better understood and even avoided if we deeply understand the differences within the different languages of the cultures in conflict:
1- The arab language has more than 12 shades of HONOR and only 1 word for BOTH freedom and liberty for example. While freedom is important, honor seems to be about 12 times more influential in decision making and behavior. In other words, achieving freedom CAN NOT be done while compromising on honor and therefore can not come at "any cost". The "honorable" way of doing things is more important that the "right" way. (The shade of "honorable" is only present in the arabic language and cannot be even translated to english)
2- Deep similarities in languages would suggest both a very interesting notion to be analyzed deeper and a possible common ground to build on to resolve such conflicts. Take the word "VALUE" for example, that same word is used for moral guidelines (A) and to determine the worth of goods and services (B) in both the english and the arabic language (French too and I suspect many other languages although I'm only familiar with those 3). It would suggest that a moral value (A) is only as important as its value (B) in both cultures. And that if in a certain culture, Honor has a higher value (B) than freedom or democracy, Honor would be a more important value (A) in that said culture.

NOTE: This might be a bit surprising, but I did summarize my thought process and chose only a couple of conclusions in an effort to keep my comment as concise as possible. Sorry if that was still a bit long.

·        Claude Thau Wrote:
This is an interesting article and many of the comments are also thought-provoking and educational. 

Whether language affects culture more than the reverse is immaterial. Language DOES affect the way we think. Therefore we can influence the way we think by structuring language. Like anything else, such structuring can be used for beneficial purposes or negative purposes (Orwell’s 1984) and might do both good and bad at the same time. 

A Japanese math professor once interrupted his lecture to explain that in English we speak of continuous and discontinuous functions, but in Russian, the root word represents discontinuous (or curtate) and the modifier represents continuous functions. In the USA, many people tend to think that continuity is the natural state of affairs and that discontinuous functions are the exception. In Russia, it is probably the reverse. In this particular case, I think the differences in the languages add value which we can benefit from if we bring people with the different perspectives together in working on a problem. 

My limited experience with Chinese has been fascinating. In Chinese, there is no word for “no”. The expression for “no” literally translates to “not yes”. That seems consistent with their negotiating style. 

Likewise, the Chinese names for the days of the week and the months of the year are “one-day”, “two-day”, etc. and “one-month”, “two-month”, etc. Their words for numbers are very decimal. 

I think that leads to a more mathematical way of looking at the world. Very few English-speaking children recognize the decimal nature of our numbers with distortions such as ‘eleven’, ‘twelve’, and the “teens”. French uses “4 score” to represent 80, etc. 

Only some of our months were numerical, and that was in Latin and then screwed up by Caesar. So now “September”, the “seventh month” has become our ninth month and October, November and December are all also off by two. 

There are numerous ways in which we could improve our mental abilities by changing language and by changing teaching methods. For example, converting to the metric system would be extremely helpful in the long-run, but we are reluctant to invest for such improvement. With the difficulty we have in converting to the metric system, it seems that language changes will be nigh impossible. 

The comments talk about cultural/language differences in directness, precision and other characteristics. When I taught math, I included some exercises in estimating distances, dimensions, weights, etc. Our culture does not seem to encourage the development of such estimates today. But I suspect that such approximations had more value in the past.
·        kendell bond Wrote:
English, like America, is a language that attracts foreign sentences and phrases like bees to honey. If you can't do the math, your talk with a rocket scientist is likely to be one dimensional - the words you might know but the meaning is lost - doesn't translate well is quite common in international business circles.

If you're new to international business - caution is always best utilized in defining mutually used phrases that are very different in translation and application. In England, "knock me up" , means wake me up, in America, it means get me pregnant, leaving all kinds of opportunity and disaster open to discussion.

If a language doesn't have a word or phrase for something - it does not mean something does not exist, it means you are trying to accomplish something with someone that can't embrace something that does not exist in their world while it may be common in your world.
Margaret Glass Wrote: The "Correction" is wrong, at least for Spanish. In Spanish, I would say "se rompió el florero" (the vase broke itself) or "rompí el florero" (I broke the vase). It does not make sense to say "el florero rompió" (the vase broke) nor "el florero fue roto" (the vase was broken). As to my "credentials" for saying this, I am originally from Cuba, lived for several years in Spain and have had a business in Mexico for several years, this plus the fact that my wife is Puerto Rican and I am close friends with folks from Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, etc. This makes me pretty confident in saying that (for Spanish) the original article got it right and the "Correction" is incorrect.

·        Bernard Moon Wrote:
Insightful piece. Emphasizes things my mom also discussed with me growing up...

"Dear, you have to realize Korean language is indirect and not descriptive, so this affects the culture and people. Which is why Koreans are vague and indirect at times."

And when my cousin was a liaison/translator for the Korean army, he told me that it was frustrating translating from Korean to English because there were a few ways to translate and if he didn't know the writer's intent then it was 4 or 5 ways. Of course, there are certain words and descriptions not in English that are in Korean, but these statements refer to a general structural difference between Korean and English.
·        Linda R Wrote:
What struck me most about the article was its reliance circular reasoning to make the point that "language shapes thought." A facile switch of the predicate, and voila, a different conclusion! Example: "Russian speakers, who have more words for light and dark blues, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue." This implies that the language has "shaped" or "constructed" (a favorite word among academics) Russian speakers' ability to discriminate shades of blue. But switch the predicate, and you have the more logical and common-sense conclusion that "Russian speakers, who are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue, have more words for light and dark blues." In my view, the more interesting thing to investigate is WHY they discriminate more blues: do they have more blues in their environment?

The research example of Japanese and Spanish speakers was underwhelming: it seemed to merely reflect the habits of the particular speakers, via their language, which is in turn a reflection of their particular perspective. The MIT experiment seemed merely to show that when the brain has to process too much information, processing ability will deteriorate. And the comment about English sentence structure and our criminal-justice system is just plain ignorant, as our justice system has roots stretching further back than our modern English language (the Old Testament; Rome). Also, much of the world has the same just system as ours -- even languages who have more flexibily in their use of agents in their sentence structure!

Ironically, the author's own essay, taken in its entirety, may have been the most persuasive evidence to prove her claim. The world of academia (though not usually the hard sciences, so this is surprising coming from a cognitive scientist) is pervaded by use of imprecise language and fallacious reasoning. Perhaps the author's thought has been "shaped" by this world.

For those who want a more serious analysis of language and the role of cognition, read Steven Pinker's writings on the topic.

Linda Lee

Being bilingual in Cantonese and English since I was a toddler, I would disagree that in languages such as Chinese that you think in pictures! The pictogrammes form a word that represents the concept. The Chinese word for jealousy or inharmony is represented by the word for woman, written twice, under a single roof. You would string together several words to form a sentence, several sentences to form a paragraph, etc. The average native speaker (as opposed to an artist) of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai tend to think in "words" not in pictures, and there is a way to pronounce those words that would change their meaning in oral discourse. 
I think the biggest difference in communication between you and your wife may be direct vs. indirect communication modes. Japanese and Chinese cultures tend to be closed, and their communication is indirect; meaning that rather than say what they mean, they say what they mean in context. Instead of asking you to shut the window, a person from those cultures may say "it is cold in here". Being a member of the same culture, or having extensive exposure to that culture, you would understand that you are being requested to shut the window or turn on the heat.
·        jeff wagner Wrote:

Jack Vance wrote a wonderful Science fiction book on the subject decades ago - "the languages of Pao"

·        arun bhalerao Wrote:
Dear Dr.Lera, 
I liked your article and the style. But I have few clarifications to seek. 
As per Susan Langer ( Philosophy in a new key ) , our thoughts appear to us in Symbols and language is used by us only to interprete it. Wrong or different interpretation will , of course, change the thought from the symbol. But just using a different language, to interprete a symbol , can't change the symbol itself. In my mother tongue ( Indian language, Marathi ) reference to sexual intercourse is a big taboo and we don't mention it while talking, whereas when I speak English ( that too, American English) I may use the infamous four letter word freely. But does it mean my mother tongue deprives me of the sexual stimulation ( of course at 68, I don't need it so often ) , just due to the language. I don't feel so , even in my language. How do you explain this ? 
Arun Anant Bhalerao, currently at my daughter's place at 733, Center Drive Palo Alto, Tel: 650-3252288
·        Roger Sullivan Wrote:
The Indonesian language has multiple words for banana but only one for both lemon and lime ("limon"). Forty years ago in Indonesia I tried without success to explain to our maid the difference between a lemon and a lime. She made gin and tonics sometimes with lime (my preference) but often with slices of lemon. I sat down with her, sliced open a lemon and a lime, and showed her that the flesh and smell of the lime are quite different from a lemon's. She looked me right in the eye and said,"You can't tell one kind of banana from another." 

Roger Sullivan

·        Robert Cronin Wrote:
In English we tell our children to be good. In Swedish we tell them to be kind. In French we tell them to be wise. In Japanese w tell them not to do things that will make people laugh at them. In English morality is an absolute. In Swedish it is relative to how it affects others. In French it is prudential and in Japanaese it is relative to a social norm .