Story by Yashowanto Ghosh, Reporter
Have you ever heard that humans use only 10 percent of their brains, or read suggestions on how to use more brainpower? Well, that is a myth, but I know how to grow a second brain.
Back in my summers of German language immersion, a few dozen of us would spend six weeks every summer living in the same house, and we would all take an oath to only speak German. Of many miraculous things that happened there, the final one every year would be this: At the end of the summer, when we were allowed to speak English again, all of us would suddenly seem to acquire very different personalities than those we had in our weeks of speaking German. Some people would become nicer, others meaner; people’s voices would become higher or lower; people would even change their postures. I was really surprised by this at the end of my first immersion, and one of our teachers assured me it happened every year.
Later, as a communication major, I learnt an explanation: The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, named for 20th century linguists Edward Sapir and B.L.Whorf, suggests that the language we use influences our thoughts, our decisions, and our worldview. This hypothesis was proved by the research of cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky and her collaborators in the early 2000s. Boroditsky’s team conducted several experiments to prove this hypothesis. One such experiment appeared in the Proceedings of the 24th Annual Conference of the CognitiveScience Society in 2002. Speakers of English and speakers of Indonesian saw pictures like the following, and decided which pair was more similar, pair A or pair B.
Speakers of English mostly decided the pictures in which different actors were at the same stage of kicking the ball were similar, whereas speakers of Indonesian (which lacks verb tenses ) mostly decided the picture in which the same actor was at different stages of kicking the ball was more similar.
In another experiment, the subjects would see a random one of the following three pictures; later, they would see all three and try to recall which one they had already seen:
Participants were asked: “Which one of these three pictures did you see earlier?” English speakers performed significantly better in this particular task.
The paper even repeated both experiments with people who were fully bilingual in English and Indonesian, and the difference was still statistically significant, now depending on the language in which the questions were asked!
New language equals new brain.