Ever to figure out why, and thus

Ever since I was a child my interest has always been in languages. I remember from a very young age my parents enrolled me several foreign language classes, thus this cultivated my love for languages. I have always wanted to explore many different aspects of languages, but there are too many that I want to explore. For my research project I want to study how language affects the way we as humans think. I’ve always found it interesting that despite how similar we are as race in terms of appearance, we think about certain things quite differently. I myself have had personal experience with this, due to me being multilingual, as well as my first language not being english. My first language is Lakota which is the language of the Lakota people of South Dakota, with whom I am a full blooded member of. When learning English and other languages, I found that certain words and even ideas didn’t translate very well, and sometimes not even at all. This intrigued me to figure out why, and thus I began doing my research on it all. I think that this is a very interesting topic because it could possibly help to bridge the gap in our current world due to not only linguistic, but cultural understanding of each other as well. Concepts such as attitude, time perception, how we act, how we even do day to day activities will all be explored within my research paper. I think that this is a topic that isn’t explored too much in everyday language classes even in English. With my research I believe that this as stated before will help us as a race understand each other. While learning and teaching other languages, I often get asked or just out of curiosity, I look up an idiom or certain way to say a phrase or word. What I find most of the time is that the idea I want to either express or share doesn’t translate accurately or even if at all into English. This led me to question why that is, and so I’ve learned that it all depends on the way we perceive the world around us. Each culture has its own unique way of seeing even everyday objects. For example the concept of time is actually quite abstract depending on whom one talks to. In the article by Anne Rothwell, she states that “Greek and Spanish speakers tend to mark time by referring to physical quantities, e.g. a small break, a big wedding. The passage of time is perceived as growing volume.” (Rothwell). This is a stark contrast when compared to English where we tend to “…mark the duration of events by referring to physical distances, e.g. a short break, a long wedding, etc… The passage of time is perceived as distance travelled” (Rothwell). Even though when comparing two similar languages like Spanish and English, it’s obvious to see even how different these two are when differentiating between concepts such as time. Lakota my native language however tells time based on weather patterns. For example in order to say “what time is it”? One must say literally “what weather has passed”? Or “where is the sun located”? This is very different than many European languages which rely on time as being more of a duration of events and distance. Native languages tend to base many of their concepts such as time on the surroundings of an area. Thus this leads to many different ways of expressing time unlike, European languages which have a set way of expressing this. Color too also has several different ways of being expressed. For example in Japanese there are several different ways of expressing the color blue. There is no one term for blue, as blue can come in many different shades. Thus this allows the speaker to easily know what shade of the color is being used automatically without having to ask. This is different in English where the color is often generically said and the actual shade is left up to the listener to figure out. English has a tendency to categorize colors based on the major identifiers that we as children learn. We tend to leave the subcategories of colors as an afterthought, but that is not the case in Russian and Dani. As stated by Antonio Benitez-Burraco “Russian has 12 basic terms for colors, whereas Dani, a language spoken in New Guinea, has only two: mili (for cold colors) and mola (for warm colors)” (Burraco). This however does not limit the Dani and Russian people to only the 12 and 2 colors, that they distinguish between, rather they are then able to distinguish beyond a wider range than we are capable of in English. With all of this information one might wonder how this plays into the thought process that other languages tend to bestow upon the speaker. The answer to that is each speaker of a different language has their own frame of reference in the language in which they are speaking in. It’s like having another window to look through instead of the one that one might always look into. This allows them to focus and think differently regarding the use of color and how they perceive it.Color and time though don’t limit the speaker to just a few concepts, rather it alters the perception, as well as thought process about how we think about the world around us. In the following article Nancy Owano talks about how bilinguals can have thought process that change depending on what language is being used. According to the article she says “Thought processes can change even in the same people depending on which language they use… speakers of German, Afrikaans, and Swedish, tend to mention endpoints, look at endpoints, and favor endpoints in similarity judgments, whereas speakers of English, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian, do so to a lesser extent.” (Owano). This goes into the grammar aspect which too also plays a huge role in how different cultures see things. In Lakota we often add case endings to verbs and adjectives that can then tell the listener what it is being described or spoken about without the use of a noun. There really isn’t a good example of this due to the fact that for each verb in English, there are many different forms of that verb that can exist based solely on context and whom is being spoken to. For example in Lakota there are infinite ways to say “to tear” depending on what is being torn. Contrary to English and several other European languages where there may be only one to two ways of saying “to tear”. In addition grammar has certain endings that may exist when talking about other things such as directions. Growing up we were always taught that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. North and south were always a 50/50% chance of being correct. Lera Boroditsky a cognitive science associate professor from the University of California, however conducted an experiment where she placed a group of distinguished professors with their eyes closed in one room, and from there she asked them to point to where they thought southeast east would be. The 5 year old Aboriginal girl who was in the room with them took part, and regardless of her age always seemed to get it right. As noted by Lera Boroditsky “…the difference lies in language…the Australian aboriginal language doesn’t use words like left or right. It uses compass points, so they say things like that girl to the east of you is my sister” (Yu). This could be due to the fact that Aboriginal languages may or may not have diacritics or endings which can denote directions in order to tell where an object or thing is. This whole idea goes to show that certain languages have their speakers attention more on a specific aspect, contrary to English where we tend to focus more on the general surroundings rather on the specifics. I think that overall it demonstrates that within grammar, cultural nuances and cues can be found. In English we have several different tenses ranging from the present, to past, and future. It’s worth noting that not every language shares this same commonality. An example of this would be in the Asian languages such as Japanese and Chinese. Japanese grammar doesn’t have a future, or even subjunctive tense, rather the language talks about the present, past, and remote past. The future and potential/volitional forms do exist however they are not used as often as past and present like many other European languages. This goes into the mindset of the culture as a whole where the Japanese tend to not think as much about what will happen, rather they tend to focus more so on what is happening and what has happened. And going with this mindset, one can easily go into China and see that it’s vastly different than Japan. Chinese as a whole has absolutely no tenses. They denote tenses by contextual clues and surroundings. For example the phrase, “Have you eaten yet”? is a common form of greeting in China that the host asks the guests when they enter the house. The verb “to eat” can be applied in any tense based on the situation. An example of this can be found going off into the Slavic and Nordic languages, an experiment conducted by Efren O. Perez, and Margit Tavits easily showed the relationship between the grammatical tenses in Finnish and Russian. In the experiment they “conducted a survey experiment in Estonia with bilingual adults…who speak a futureless (Estonian) and futured (Russian) language by randomly assigning their interview language” (Perez, Tavits). Throughout the experiment they both found that “…the presence or absence of future tense in a language significantly affects the extent to which speakers discount the future and support future-oriented policies” (Perez, Tavits). This alone shows that grammatical tenses can influence the decisions of even policymakers and voters. That is why it’s important to have an understanding of another culture and language. Tying all of this together one can go into the political minds of the government and see how this all works. Within many governments being bilingual or even multilingual is considered a necessity. The UN employs many interpreters who work closely with foreign leaders to interpret what is being said into their native language if need be. An example would be back at the end of World War II during the Nuremberg Trials a man by the name of Peter Less helped the Nazi War criminals in their trials. His parents were killed in the concentration camps and despite all of this he was still able to interpret for the people who caused the death of them. He was a native German  and thus spoke German fluently. He said “I had a big advantage, because I knew Germans. I knew the way Germans think, the psyche..I knew how their minds worked” (Kelly, Zetzsche 35). This goes to further show the importance of language and even how the culture can affect the thought processes of individuals. Knowing the language and culture can help make government officials create better debates and even improve communication. As shown previously by Peter Less’ knowledge of the German people and their language, helped the International War Tribunals properly deal with the war criminals present. He knew how the German people thought and therefore was able to make an accurate and comprehensible interpretation of what was being said. But even so, interpreters often find themselves having to quickly sift through their minds to search for the right idea or concept. What is being said can often times not even be interpreted accurately if at all as stated previous times before. Knowing how the mind is affected by language can help them. As stated in the book “Found In Translation, How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World” the author states: Culture is inextricably tied to language, so interpreters often find the greatest challenges in conveying terms that require a deep knowledge of their own or another  culture. For example, Hmong in the United States have a higher likelihood of contracting certain kinds of cancer than other population groups, but they traditionally have no word for “cancer” or even “cell”. Medical practitioners and linguists at the University of California (UC) at Davis have spearheaded an effort to create a Hmong Neologism for cancer, mob khees xaws, but interpreters still have to explain relatively simple statements by a physician in great length… This leads to a variety of problems, including late detection of cancer and the misunderstanding among Hmong immigrants that cancer is closely linked with their new home. As one Hmong leader said, “Cancer is so new that we do not yet have a word for it” (Kelly, Zetzsche 20).Even this example shows how language and culture can influence the way a person thinks. As shown in the quote, the Hmong people don’t have a word for cancer and thus when interpreting, the interpreter must find the appropriate word or idea that would convey this message. This all goes to just show how important it is to even have knowledge of other cultures and people. Knowing how another culture thinks really can help improve relations between people. One can even see the relations between the U.S and the EU. We have been able to work together so efficiently due to the fact that we understand each other, and we even have bilingual people that can serve as cultural advisors. In conclusion, I believe that language is the very center of our being. It’s what keeps us together and it’s also what has helped us become who we are today. Language is to me one of the very first things that helps us bond, as well as t’s the first thing that we see and hear as babies. I think that language in of itself isn’t a topic that is explored too much, and I think that needs to be changed. There’s so much that we can learn just from examining the most basic of our abilities. Yes we can learn about physics, astronomy, and culinary arts as much as we want; but I still don’t think that it is as important as language. It is what is basically the glue of our society and the way that we think. It’s an important aspect that we often overlook and I hope that one day we as not only Americans, but as well as humans realize that it’s such an important trait we have.