ChineseEFPSA, the “journal of European psychological students,” recently shared a paper that should make many writers sit up and take notice. Perhaps literally. Because it deals with how languages determine our perceptions of space, color, and other phenomena such as time, and how these can be changed by adopting the worldview coded into other languages.

The paper, “The Influence of Our Native language on Cognitive Representations of Colour, Spatial Relations and Time,” by Nicholas P. Sarantakis at Scotland’s Glasgow Caledonian University, focuses chiefly on a review of available literature and experimental studies on the field. The author cites one study of relative spatial perception among Dutch speakers and South American Mayans, demonstrating that the frame of reference dictated by their linguistic structure (left/right relative to the speaker for the Dutch, relative to points of the compass for the Mayans) does appear to influence their perceptions. Other research, comparing spatial and temporal structures dictated by English and Mandarin, indicated that “a short learning session can change the way in which native English speakers depict temporal relations in space.”

The conclusion is that “speakers of one language seem to be able to consciously use their learning capabilities to practice the spatial and/or other ways of thinking that are common in another language.” Which sounds like a good reason, if any were needed, to get away from monolingualism and try the color or spatial perceptions of another tongue or language family. Who knows what your eyes might be opened to? Literally.



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