Words and Visual Language

Radiolab has an excellent example of how language defines our thinking. If you are not a native English speaker (or pretty close to one), this will be an interesting collection of images and words, but knowing the language adds so many more levels to the experience.
In Radiolabs own words:
“Words have the power to shape the way we think and feel. In this stunning video (made to accompany our Words episode), filmmakers Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante bandy visual wordplay into a moving exploration of the power of language.”
Imagine if we all spoke 3 or 4 languages, and language shapes our thinking, wouldn’t we all think thoughts we otherwise would never have access to?
Or as the scarecrow in the “Wizard of Oz” would say: “…I could think of things I never thought before, and then I’d sit, and think some more…”
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5 Responses to “Words and Visual Language”

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  1. Cathy says:

    I really enjoyed the video. I was raised bilingual and studied a third. I would agree with you that learning another language gives perspective. I believe that it shapes our thinking when we are exposed to different cultures and not sitting in a classroom.

    I always appreciate your thought provoking posts, Kathrin. Thanks for sharing : )

  2. MissKoolAid says:

    Very interesting post. Definitely makes me think…
    Thank you for sharing this video. I really loved it.

  3. Kampinga says:

    Yes, interesting, that.. I don't know about thoughts that are only accesible in one or another language, but I agree, language does seem important in how we experience things, or even in how we behave. Japanese for example forces you to think about the social position, in relation to your own, of the person you are talking to before you can speak, as the verbs you use depend on that (you use different words talking to your grandmother than you would when talking with a friend, for example). I'm pretty sure that my own compulsion in making sure I use an appropriate level of politeness, even when I'm speaking another language (not that I know that many!), has been stronger ever since I learnt to speak Japanese. I'm also sure that was probably part of me before then, but I do think that a different language (and the culture coming with it of course..) can emphasize different aspects of behaviour. Fascinating stuff!
    (Still very much intrigued by the question – in the (New York Times?) article you linked to before – of whether German bridges will be more female in character than Spanish ones.. )

    Have a lovely weekend!

  4. annekata says:

    Thanks so much for your inspirational comments. It is an interesting idea to think of thoughts that would be unique to a certain language and didn't exist if they couldn't be expressed. But isn't that how consciousness evolved and evolves? Is thinking always tied to words? I've been wanting to learn one more language; a dramatically different one than the roman or germanic languages. Japanese, Arab or Hungarian perhaps…

  5. katie bee says:

    this is such an interesting post! I'm studying linguistics and love this. It may end up in my term paper, if you don't mind. I think it's undeniable that language shapes how we think, but even more so, it shapes the way we can express those thoughts that don't match up with words. In English, for example, we have an enormous vocabulary for expression, yet I remember being incapable of finding a word (even with my years as an English student) to express thoughts and feelings, or moments of inspiration, and turned to drawing, sewing, or painting to get those thoughts out on paper.

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