Use It Or Lose It – Words Have Power

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell, 1984

Through the study of language, we can discover some revealing things about any given culture.  It is said that the Eskimos have over 35 words for “snow” because its exact condition is very important to their thinking. Sanskrit has 96 words for love.

Approximately 359 million people speak English as their first language. Although the English language has only one word for love, it reportedly has over 500 words for the female genitals and almost as many for the male apparatus. Merriam Webster dictionary has 23 synonyms for the term ‘sexual-intercourse’.

How language Affects 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.”

Language shapes how we understand, space, time, and causality

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. 

  • Does language shape our thoughts and influence culture? 
  • Do English, Chinese, Russian and Japanese understand and remember experiences differently simply because they speak different languages?

These questions touch on major controversies in the study of the mind, with important implications for politics, religion, and sexuality. The idea that language might shape thought was for a long time considered untestable, at best, or dismissed altogether. 

New cognitive science research has shown that language does profoundly influence how we see the world. 

New research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts but also shape the very thoughts we express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct our reality, and assist us in being as smart and sophisticated as we are. 

“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 that we can’t find in our own language.”

Steve Kallaugher


What role does the media play in shaping our thoughts and our language?

News coverage of the pill (in the 60’s) and of the Clinton/Lewinsky episode proved to be 2 turning points in an accelerating preoccupation by the American Media with all things sexual.

The role of the media in shaping public perceptions and opinions regarding significant
political and social issues has been the subject of both speculation and research since its inception. Now the focus has shifted to Social Media. With so much going on globally, media has the power to influence not only our perceptions it also decides what is important and what isn’t.

The Julian Assange case is a striking example of how corporate media buried news about one of the most important political trials of our lifetime.

The “power of language” not only means language in service of power,  remember that language can also undermine power

While censorship is often conducted by corporations and governments to prevent words, images, or ideas from entering the mainstream, censorship of literature was around as early as 399 B.C.  The Catholic Church had been compiling lists of banned books since 1559, and only stopped the practice in 1966. 

“Of all the weapons of destruction that man could invent, the most terrible-and the most powerful-was the word. Daggers and spears left traces of blood; arrows could be seen at a distance. Poisons were detected in the end and avoided. But the word managed to destroy without leaving clues.” 

― Paulo Coelho

Published by Maddalena Di Gregorio

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in” Robert L. Stevenson

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