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Hidden Brain

Lost In Translation: The Power Of Language To Shape How We View The World

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DrAfter123, Getty Images

If you're bilingual or multilingual, you may have noticed that the different languages you speak will make you stretch in different ways.

Languages like Spanish or French require you to remember the gender assigned to every noun, even inanimate objects. Uttering a sentence as simple as "I read the book" in Russian requires you to indicate whether you finished the book or merely read a few pages. If you're toggling between English and a language like Arabic, you have to swap which side of the page you look at first.

These may seem like minor differences, but Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive science professor at the University of California, San Diego, argues that features like grammatical gender and reading direction can have a real effect on the way we think.

"Language can guide you to discover something about the world that might take you longer to discover if you didn't have that information in language," she says.

Lera points to studies she and other researchers have done that show language can shape how people think about time, agency, and gender.

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This week on Hidden Brain, we explore how languages can give us different ways of seeing the world.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Renee Klahr. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

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