How does language influence how we think?

Language shapes how we think about the world. Benjamin Whorf, a linguist in the early 1900s, called this phenomenon linguistic relativity. It is often said that the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, but it turns out that’s not true. Eskimo-Aleut languages have about as many words for snow as the English language. But the Sami languages spoken by indigenous people near the Arctic Circle in northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway have hundreds of words for snow. For example, in Lule Sami the word vahtsa means “one or two inches of new snow on top of old snow.” Bulltje means “snow that is stuck to a house” and åppås refers to “virgin snow that has not been walked on.” It’s important to keep in mind that just because the Sami have more words for snow, it does not mean that non-Sami speakers do not understand what “one or two inches of new snow on top of snow” means.

But how do broader concepts that are denoted by language affect our experience? Every language has different distinctions for color, for example, and linguists have surmised that what colors you can say are related to what colors you can see. In some languages green and blue are not different colors, but different shades of the same color. In Vietnamese, the word xanh is the color of both tree leaves and the sky.

An even more extreme example is the language Guugu Yimithirr (spoken by an indigenous group in Queensland, Australia) which does not use “left,” “right,” “behind,” or “in front of” to describe positions. Instead, Guugu Yimithirr speakers use cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) to describe the relationships between things. Where an English speaker may say, “To get to the bathroom, go to the end of the hallway and turn left. It’s the second door on the right,” a Guugu Yimithirr speaker would say, “Go to the end of the hallway and turn north. It’s the second door on the west side.” As Guy Deutscher explains in his book Through the Language Glass, the small change in vocabulary may have an immense influence in your attitude towards the world.

Byline: NDSU Ag Communications

Although winter feed costs represent 60 to 70 percent of the expense of maintaining a beef cow, less than 20 percent of U.S. beef producers perform a pregnancy check in their herds.

“Producers can realize significant savings by identifying and culling nonpregnant females prior to winter feeding,” says Carl Dahlen, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist.

Historical cull-cow markets reach a low point in November, which coincides with the time most producers would wean calves and pregnancy check cows. Based on the average cull-cow market price for 2005 to 2010, the price difference between selling in August or November is roughly $8 per hundredweight, which equates to a difference of $108 when selling a 1,350-pound cow.

“Producers who are able to perform pregnancy exams and subsequently cull open cows during the next several months may realize substantial financial benefits, compared with marketing cull cows in November,” Dahlen says.

However, not all producers have breeding seasons, facilities and the labor force to do pregnancy exams during the late summer. Herds with defined breeding seasons are best suited to take advantage of early pregnancy exams, according to Dahlen. see here countdown to pregnancy

If bulls are run continuously with a cow herd or are being pulled from the pasture the same day as the pregnancy exam, producers have no way to determine the cows’ true pregnancy status. Cows that become pregnant early in the breeding season will be identified easily in these instances, whereas cows that appear to be “open” actually may have been bred recently. These recently bred cows may be carrying an early pregnancy that is too young to feel via rectal palpation or visualize with ultrasound.

When to pregnancy check

To accurately and efficiently conduct pregnancy exams on large groups of cows, the exams should be performed from 26 to 30 days after the last possible breeding if using ultrasound for pregnancy diagnosis. If using rectal palpation, pregnancy exams should be conducted 35 to 40 days after the cows are bred.

For example, herds calving in mid to late January would have a bull turnout or artificial insemination date around April 15. If the producer is using a 45-day breeding season, this herd would be ready to pregnancy check with ultrasound around June 29 and with palpation per rectum on July 9. However, a herd that calves toward the end of April (July turnout) and has an 85-day breeding season will not be ready to pregnancy check until the first or second week in November.

Thus, producers with herds that calve in January through March or even late April and have a short breeding season can take advantage of early pregnancy checking to market cull cows prior to the historic market downturn of November. go to web site countdown to pregnancy

“Following these guidelines, with proficient expertise, pregnancy detection should be very close to 100 percent accurate,” Dahlen says. “All cows that are nonpregnant should be identified at the time of the exam.”

However, a small portion of cows determined to be pregnant during an early pregnancy exam will have fetal loss naturally prior to calving (the majority of this loss occurs by 60 days post-breeding). This fetal loss occurs whether or not producers choose to perform early pregnancy checking.

Dahlen also has this advice:

In herds with thin cows, limited pasture or limited forage, removing open cows early may allow the remaining pregnant cows more access to feed resources.

Sufficient labor to gather and work cattle and good handling facilities make pregnancy determination less stressful on both the cattle and the people working them.

As with all activity involving cattle during summer months, be mindful of weather conditions and avoid working cattle in extreme heat.

“Some producers can take advantage of market conditions to capitalize on the benefits of early pregnancy detection,” he says. “Others, however, will have to decide whether to pregnancy check in November or wait until spring to market open cows.”


  1. Jürgen Erhard -  September 13, 2016 - 2:34 am

    To answer your title’s question: not at all.

    Easy, wasn’t it? Why write all that nonsense?

    That’s all, folks.

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  4. Cunning Linguist -  May 11, 2012 - 6:33 pm

    What happens when you put a large magnet in the middle of a room full of people speaking Guugu Yimithirr? Does all the traffic in Queensland go around in circles?

  5. Hamachisn't -  March 3, 2012 - 10:08 pm

    I can see how using “north/east/south/west” may be useful in Guugu Yimithirr. First of all, someone who grows up using such a language must (almost out of necessity) develop an excellent sense of direction so they always know which way is north… but it also has some problems, particularly near the poles. If you start on the north pole, then walk 1 mile south, where would you end up? Could be anywhere on that 2-mile diameter circle.

    Granted, a Guugu Yimithirr-speaker would probably be on one of the poles very rarely…

  6. Bill Davis -  March 1, 2012 - 1:44 am


    It’s not quite that simple. Not only is our idea of the “noble pure indigenous” tribe pretty much our own fiction, but being closer to nature does not mean that people will not orient based on their own bodies. The people we translate for live in a rainforest, but they use “left” and “right” to navigate. They also use “west” (literally setting of the sun) and “east” (rising of the sun), “upriver” and “downriver” but they do NOT know or use “north” or “south” which are pretty much irrelevant to them. They use their own bodies to show the size of things, also… both linear measurements and circumference are demonstrated by different parts of the body.

  7. Paddy -  February 27, 2012 - 5:04 pm

    Directions are assumed from the North.Knowing which direction is North is the key.As you walk, you stumble, fall;You get up!! In which direction are you facing.Don’t know???

    You would if you oriented by the Sun, Moon Stars.Where their aren’t obvious landmarks, you are lost.UUUUUUUURRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKK

  8. Salehin -  February 26, 2012 - 8:52 pm

    “the small change in vocabulary may have an immense influence in your attitude towards the world”- interesting…

  9. ferretluv -  February 26, 2012 - 6:48 am

    My altime favorite is: It’s not versus It is’nt. Do these have different meaning…or is it like a shade of flavors…is it possibly just an artifact from differet geographical areas? Or could it be more of a relic from the basic design of the English language?

  10. bad boy -  February 25, 2012 - 11:11 am
  11. Cliff -  February 25, 2012 - 10:34 am

    Is your politics North or South leaning?

  12. mary torres -  February 18, 2012 - 12:27 pm

    i love poems :)

  13. Language and Thought | Stirring Seas -  February 9, 2012 - 7:25 am

    [...] phenomenon is an example of linguistic relativity, or how languages affect how we think. We’ve discussed before how language affects how you see colors and perceive the world around [...]

  14. eduardathome -  February 8, 2012 - 4:57 pm

    I am involved with colours for purpose of lighting/signal design. When I use the word “pink” I am think of “whitish red” and can visualize its position relative to white and red on the colour chart. What is interesting is that in Engish we have the word “pink” but off hand I can’t think of a word for say whitish blue, or whitish yellow, albeit we do use “gray” for whitish black.

  15. darc -  February 8, 2012 - 1:35 pm

    this is exactly why i dont like to go to the bathroom.

  16. Jorge Loco -  February 8, 2012 - 11:19 am

    Just a thought… another person wrote:

    They aren’t refering to North = straight, west = left, east = right
    They’re talking about the real directions

    … but since they’re in a different hemisphere, shouldn’t the statement have been:

    They aren’t refering to South = straight, west = right, east = left

    I mean, I think of North as “up”, but I live in the US. :-P

  17. Stiofan -  February 8, 2012 - 10:41 am

    In Irish, things like hunger, thirst, happiness, sadness, fear, ar all things that are ‘on’ a person… As if they were thrust upon us. We seem to think we are pure beings that do not feel, but rather have occassions when these feelings are upon us.

  18. Irma Beck -  February 8, 2012 - 5:32 am

    There was a very good article in NYT that spoke more about the tribe in Australia. They are oriented at all times to the cardinal directions, relative to the directions of the globe. That kind of awareness is integrated into the language of the people. Knowing that, it would be hard for such a person to ever ‘lose their bearings’. I totally believe that language affects our perception, and support use of ten dollar words to be able to express ourselves more clearly.

  19. nascimento -  February 1, 2012 - 11:48 pm

    The first space of language is our body. When you say comand, it means ‘co’, ‘com’ which means add; ‘man’, mand which mean hand. Two hands because 1 hand (and) plus 1 hand. The letter ‘h’ is not pronouced then and equal hand.
    Left hand or right hand… You see: body to means direction. The nose means ahead. Turn the head right and left means a negative. Turn head up and down means a afirmative.
    Verify means to see (ver+dade); then ver+ify came from ‘ver’.
    To point came from the point of indicator finger.

  20. lulu -  October 12, 2011 - 9:01 pm

    I particularly found all the controversial comments about Vietnamese blue and green interesting! I’m Korean and we have something kind of like that. Though we have total and distinctively separate names for blue (pahrahng) and green (chohrohng), often when things are green (i.e. lettuce) we say, oh, it’s so blue (chahm purudah)! I don’t really know what that’s all about, or the history behind it (I’m sure there is, though). Still, we say the same about the sky (cham purudah!) as about the lettuce.

    Note: I spelled the Korean words above extremely true to pronunciation. Most people (including I) don’t spell it that way normally, but I thought it best to give the best type of…evidence? experience? possible, for this situation.

  21. gaodi -  October 10, 2011 - 10:23 am

    Ah, Carlitos, the eternal fool. You may think yourself clever trying to hide your blatant political bias behind discussion, but every post you make betrays your intentions. There are no aborigines who don’t have words for left and right, how insulting is that? Last I checked no human in the world can perform telepathy, like you claim. Perhaps it would be wiser if you did not cling onto a so-called native identity, yes?

  22. Archon -  October 8, 2011 - 5:44 am

    The French have two expressions for happiness, bonheure and sans souci. Bonheure translates roughly as happy hour (time), and sans souci translates to approximately, without (having) cares. If they’re not partying, they’re not (not having) fun. I’m still convinced that the construction of their language, and all others, influences the way they think.

  23. Carlitos -  October 5, 2011 - 12:38 am

    Fantastic Jess, I meant no disrespect and I certainly did not mean to garner any stereotypes.

    What I meant to imply was complimentary: I believe that the further from nature we venture, the lesser humans we become; so removed from the bosom of the Earth, especially without looking back. I consider (many) aboriginal and native peoples, especially many Native Americans, to be some of the finest examples of “real” humanity. This is not a generalization for ALL of these people, of course.

  24. Homer -  October 4, 2011 - 4:58 pm

    @Matt J: Actually, the ancient Greek word for blue was “kyano” (you may recognize it in the English word cyanide, CYAN). ‘Wine-dark sea’ sounds a lot more poetic though, don’t you agree?

  25. Ruth -  October 3, 2011 - 10:00 am

    @ Alexander

    Please excuse the venom. At least he stopped wee-ing on the rug.

  26. Jess -  October 2, 2011 - 6:35 pm

    Carlitos, this is the wrong forum for this debate so I won’t go into it but I used “ideal savage” sarcastically, which I thought would be obvious given my position arguing against your stereotyping. That you call Australia’s indigenous population “simplistic” confirms my opinion of your position. It may interest you to know that as a COMPLEX Walpiri woman I am a REAL aboriginal… bunched up undergarments and all :-)

  27. puzzler -  October 2, 2011 - 4:29 am

    @Amy. Interesting. I feel I do sometimes have just the word in mind when I am thinking especially if I am reading or in conversation. When painting or drawing I have the image in mind. I’m sure I also have, just one step away, all the associations that together make up the concept which in turn connect with other concepts and associations rather like computers on the internet do. Presumably at a lower level, as children, we begin thinking with only feelings and then experience emotions and get more sophisticated from there as our experience expands.
    @Archon. I would have the same reaction as I believe you have to Derek’s assertion that people’s experience of the world does not vary even if their language does. It is precisely because they inhabit different worlds to us (environmentally, geographically, climatically for example) that their language is different to allow them to express those varations to others who do and do not share the same experience.
    @saint-exupery. It may be that intelligence does not create everything. It does not take intelligence to initiate or appreciate pain and emotion though it helps to understand them. If this is not true, then bizarre though the idea may be, perhaps everything has intelligence and can feel but in very different ways to those we recognise. A tree’s roots seek out water. Speeded up on film the tree roots appear to be ‘walking’ towards the water source. What is the process by which it feels the need to get closer to the water source? Is it sensing this? Is it a kind of thirst which is felt by the tree – a very different kind of feeling to our own thirst? And could this be evidence of intelligence – albeit a very different form compared to human intelligence? Dowsing with a hazel twig suggests there may be something important going on here that we don’t fully understand.

  28. nascimento -  October 1, 2011 - 5:37 am

    Blue is Nitrogen of atmosphere which is hitting by particle’s light.

  29. Archon -  September 30, 2011 - 11:36 pm

    @ Alexander

    We Yanks will try to teach site techies about the use of the subjunctive if you Limeys promise to finally fix that aluminium thing. Honestly, it’s been over a century and you’re still spelling and pronouncing it incorrectly. Even France is laughing at you behind your English Channel.

    @ Zach

    Verius was speaking of combining pure light wave color. You’re talking about mixing pigments. That’s a whole different jackass. Pigments absorb various ranges of light waves and only reflect back the ones which we see as the color of the paint we want. If you combine enough of the absorbants, almost none of the colors can escape, and all you get is that mud-brown, chromatic grey. That’s not a color, that’s a lack of color.

  30. Ruth -  September 30, 2011 - 4:34 pm


  31. SS -  September 29, 2011 - 10:15 pm

    Here in my country, my people in the cities say “turn to the right or left…”, while those in the farms say “head to north, or turn to west…”
    Mathew, I agree with you about “Ordinal directions are absolute. Left and right are relative. This means the directions cannot be mapped to left and right unless you know which ordinal direction you are facing when your start.”

  32. Mike McKelvy -  September 29, 2011 - 9:25 pm

    Who first said “cool” and it did not mean cold to the touch? Weall know what it means now!

  33. Luck in W -  September 29, 2011 - 9:15 pm

    I forgot about the title of the article:
    How does language influence how we think?

    I’m not sure that this is really how the question should be formulated. I guess it would be a question whether thought or language is considered primary in the development of a language.

    And the cardinal directions for left, right, ahead (front) and back? Do the people constantly look to see where the former are? Most people that I know have a great deal of problems doing so when they can see where the sun is. However, it could be that this has become so automatic that nobody there has any problems.

  34. Mike McKelvy -  September 29, 2011 - 9:13 pm

    O – it is Sapir that disappeared

  35. Luck in W -  September 29, 2011 - 8:49 pm

    Thinking of colors–someone may have mentioned this already–we seem to be forever enlarging our color vocabulary to encompass every single shade of color. This is particularly true of marketing comes especially in the fashion industry or in furniture, paint, drapes, etc.

    We can also see the this principle at work in the fact of the words in one language that cannot be translated into another like the German words Schadenfreude and Gemuetlichkeit, which can be explained but not in a single word, although the first is composed of two separate words; the second has a root “Mut” which means courage. The rest are a prefix “ge-” and 2 suffixes “-lich” and “keit.”

    Though the different languages I’ve studied don’t otherwise have such radically different word/mind examples, there are definitely other examples where one could say that they come from different world views or mindsets, apart from just different vocabulary that is coined for nature’s manifestations.

  36. Alaskagrown -  September 29, 2011 - 3:58 pm

    another thing to add is that in Alaska there are hundreds of native languages depending on the region, so that could be where the misconception that there are multiple words for snow comes from. its a different dialect/language. (ps, alaska is awesome!)

  37. Maya -  September 29, 2011 - 12:51 pm

    I would be so lost if someone told me to turn north to find the bathroom in their house and look for the green door if they really meant turn left and the door is blue.

    It’s not worth the trouble. I’ll just hold it.

  38. M -  September 29, 2011 - 12:13 pm

    To all the people trying to translate the directions:

    East is not always to the right. It is a cardinal direction in relation to the poles of the earth, not in relation to which way a person is facing. You might tell someone to turn left at the end of a hallway, but this does not translate to “turn West.” What if the hallway is pointing North?

  39. leigh -  September 29, 2011 - 12:10 pm

    I lived for many years in a small ocean-side community, with a mountain range nearby. Sometimes it was easier to say ‘turn towards the ocean’ or ‘towards the mountains’, rather than left or right, west or east, especially when giving directions to tourists.

  40. Litt -  September 29, 2011 - 11:53 am

    @my new name is Adam
    Most people at my university just say “board” for both now. I think too many “intellectuals” corrected people when they said the wrong one! :D

  41. gkhuilfui -  September 29, 2011 - 11:23 am

    blue is the same as green so i think they just need to extend their vocabulary

  42. Jaden -  September 29, 2011 - 10:40 am

    In Latin, there are hundreds of words for colors. One for every different shade. There is no “light green”, “blue-green”, or “light bluish green”, there is a whole word for it.

  43. jennay thechemist -  September 29, 2011 - 10:04 am

    thank you tomsboat for learning english and coming to this website and leaving a message so that later i would read it and… well, for circumbendibusly teaching me a new word, i guess :)

  44. Valdir -  September 29, 2011 - 9:29 am

    Makes me think of Saussure. Nothing in the world is separate or together in an objective way: we think things differ because language separates them. Language can make blue different from green, young different from old, men different from women, etc. It organizes our experience, so that we can think by putting objects under either same and different labels, that leading even to prejudice. There’s a story by Jorge Luis Borges, called ‘Funes the Memorious’, that discusses this labeling. I recommend it.
    Just my opinion, but I’d say this faculty is what really makes us humans, and it’s the basis of all societies.

  45. zach -  September 29, 2011 - 9:14 am

    @verius – white isn’t produced by combining all colors. try mixing paint and see what happens. white light, however, is what we see when the colors of the visual spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) are unrefracted. when you turn on a lamp or stand in sunlight, that’s white in terms of the visible light spectrum. this doesn’t even count the invisible spectrum, e.g. infrared, ultraviolet, etc. if you mix all primary colors in practical terms, i.e. with pigments or paint, you get a brownish color that is know as chromatic grey.

  46. Surain -  September 29, 2011 - 8:45 am

    This reminds me so much of that scene with the blond woman on the couch at the beginning of “Waking Life,” and the monologue she has about language.

  47. LINGUISTICRELATIVITY | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 29, 2011 - 8:44 am

    [...] ‘Linguistic relativity’ or context of time and place and space and speaker and spoken to, or Species of teenager from which hood whence they came — or is that Anthropological Morphology? — Dependent on the same. — The process of discovery of Where, Why, When, Who, What and Bell and How — Well, Somebody has got to do it. — That’s the Human Nature of Adventure of the Now. — Sounds a Bit productive, finding answers to the questions, linguistically or otherwise. — Like a Movie with Projections Lacking the Blood Thirsty Violence — Of Space and Time and maybe a Rhyme — Satirically or with Sensitivity — Curious as to where we’re going as Humans with communication about where we’ve been, and the ever changing nature and our context of Relativity confused linguistically right now and ever more. –>>L.T.Rhyme This entry was posted in L.T.Rhyme by admin. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  48. Guru -  September 29, 2011 - 8:15 am

    The webpage headline should read, “What if there were no word for blue?”

  49. Guapo -  September 29, 2011 - 7:10 am

    As a die-hard Aborigine, I am currently moving to introduce legislation that will force all people to speak my language when they speak to me. Also, in related news, my wife, who is an “Inuit” says they all actually prefer to be called Eskimos.

  50. minimonk -  September 29, 2011 - 6:48 am

    This article is driving me nuts, well, not the article, the comments. There are so many comments I want to correct, I am almost gibbering!
    The confusion about directions is incredible (and missing the point)..

  51. Crimson Rose -  September 29, 2011 - 6:45 am

    Well I’m Vietnamese too and I say that the person who wrote this IS correct, but to be more specific, green is “xanh la cay” or “xanh luc” and blue is “xanh duong” and yeah, like a lot of other people said.

    I think “lam” is the word for a color that is blue/green….

  52. JRCC -  September 29, 2011 - 6:07 am

    Left is 90 degrees from right? Glad you’re not flying the next flight I’ll be taking.

  53. Jewels -  September 29, 2011 - 6:02 am

    Who cares about snow… why aren’t there 50 words that mean different degrees of love?

    I like-like him.
    I’m not in love with you, but I love you?
    We’re ‘friends’?
    I love you so much I could explode.

    I don’t love my mother and by husband the same, why is the word the same?

    We ways to ‘describe’ a type “love” or “lover” but none are too precise and nothing means exactly what we want.

    English needs more words for love, who’s with me?

  54. Alex B. -  September 29, 2011 - 5:33 am

    I believe what he means by the Cardinal directions bit, is that they are always speaking relative to themselves. Therefore, whichever direction they are facing is their constant “north”, whatever is on their left is their constant “west”.

  55. Amy -  September 29, 2011 - 5:23 am

    I think language is wonderful, and the thought of how different cultures have varied words for ideas and things is very interesting to say the least.
    By the way, I don’t think pink and red are the same at all, as one writer says. They come from the same hue though. But think of this, we have so many names for certain colors, like cobalt blue, cyrian, sienna, orange-red, etc. I wonder if other cultures do the same with colors. And just look at all the colors available in a box of 60 crayons, all with varying shades of the basic colors.
    @ Puzzler: When we think, do we use words in our minds, or do we just have thoughts run through them? I never think with words, or feel things with words. When you see an airplane in the sky, do you say to yourself in your mind, “That is an airplane.” No, you just notice it and take note of it. So when you say here,” is thinking possible with little or no language”, I believe the answer is of course, yes, and to animals, they don’t think deeply at all, because they don’t have the intelligence to do so. Animals are smart and know what to do in situations, but they aren’t “deep thinkers”!

  56. simpleman -  September 29, 2011 - 5:06 am

    “If there was no word for ‘blue…’”

    You should teach whomever writes your front page headlines about English grammar. That should be “If there were no word for ‘blue…’” It’s called the subjunctive mode; learn it.

  57. kt -  September 29, 2011 - 4:13 am

    @Kim: north means north, not ahead

  58. kt -  September 29, 2011 - 4:11 am

    do ya geddit now?

  59. Umid -  September 29, 2011 - 4:01 am


    1. Its impossible for 2 person to stand at north pole!
    2. What is the difference… How an english men gives you direction!?

  60. matt michaud -  September 29, 2011 - 3:26 am

    Great article that covers a theory we all probably ponder about on a daily basis but haven’t the time or sometimes inclination to delve into more deeply.

    I subscribe the the eskimo – snow theory or linguistic relativity if you prefer. Essentially, the more contact you have with a particular walk of life (be it building, computers, sports, etc.) the more accurate and developed your use of language / vocabulary will be.

    I guess you can look at different cultures as being more accustomed to certain fields than others. Brazil is a country with a lot of ethnic mixing and a host of different complexions. Interestingly enough, they have at least half a dozen terms to refer to ‘mixed race’. I forget them now, but they’re related to the tone of skin colour and also whether someone is half black – half white; half black half native (indian); half white – half indian, etc. Conversely, a country like Italy where there are very few black people and consquently not much mixing between White and Black people, mixed race people who would typically be called ‘mulato’ are often simply perceived as ‘black’.

    English is very rich language, idiomatically, and we’re also a culture associated with ‘binge drinking’ and getting drunk. I wonder how many words there are for drunk in English? pissed, sozzled, plastered, slaughtered, trollied, wasted, hammered, smashed, sloshed, mullered, battered, pickled, marinated, inebriated, squiffy, bladdered all come to mind pretty quickly… and indeed, whether that’s the same with other cultures infamous for their drinking habits e.g. Russia/Scandinavia/Germany.

  61. parapluie -  September 29, 2011 - 2:57 am

    ironicly, i am “para more” than before, i am Chinese and i am attracted by
    no word for blue title, for in Chinese my given name is 青 which means either
    blue or green ;),,
    and recently i want to have a relationship with a ‘young’girl named 雪 which means snow…i was asking permission from GOD,while watching “skins” chapitre of tony first interview in University.not mention that i was walking with my first love in secret while seeing someone’s t-shirt passing by saying viva un coup de foudre.
    and i travelled in lapland ,in finland, and drop into a i maginary “spy case coded in name stpetersburg”for the reason i travelled in stpetersburg…
    and,woolgathering is the word of the day.
    i could only explain i’m men se(immense), Yimithirr makes me think Ymir ,
    while lezza’s comment provokes me to think what if a dead language describe a
    word GOD in other form,well hot in french means chaud which chaud could mean difficult to understand…the complicated world huh

  62. Senseon -  September 29, 2011 - 2:54 am

    You are what you speak, meaning is often found in the silence after the word has been heard. I AM what I see, as there is no difference between you and me. We are both realising this ” I ” thing.
    best quote of this text: “As Guy Deutscher explains in his book Through the Language Glass, the small change in vocabulary may have an immense influence in your attitude towards the world.” SO TRUE !

    Blessings sacred beings.

  63. herpderp -  September 29, 2011 - 1:10 am

    wait isn’t it “..end of the hallway and turn north, its the second door on east side”? cause if turning left is north then the second door on the right is the east side.

  64. Archon -  September 28, 2011 - 11:58 pm

    @ Derek McAllister

    I have to agree that concepts shape the language first, but, long after the socio-political concepts which shaped the language are gone or greatly changed, the language continues to shape the minds of the speakers. Even two languages and cultures as similar and intertwined as English and French have a myriad of linguistic/cultural differences, ranging from minuscule to overt.

    French and English show and tell. A group of marines meet their commanding officer’s wife and, out of respect, remove their headgear. The French language assumes that every man has only one hat each, therefore French says that ten men tip one hat. Americans would find that hilarious. A bilingual cereal box recently showed me that French speakers can sit back and take it easy, while Anglophones have to work. English speakers were given an order to, “Look inside the box for the healthy nutrition”, while French speakers were told that, “The healthy nutrition in the box will be shown to you.” It’s just the opposite when it comes to telling time. Anglophones can take it easy, and just “watch” to see what time it is, while Francophones are either more eager or more assertive. The word “montre” in the French wristwatch, montre-bacelet, means “show me.” No waiting around for them.

    These are just three minor examples of how speakers of two sister languages experience their worldview differently. What about speakers of vastly different languages formed by vastly different past cultures? An Arab would have as much trouble speaking to an Eskimo about snow as the Eskimo would, discussing sand. They experience the world in different places, from different viewpoints, and very differently

  65. Yankeefan42 -  September 28, 2011 - 11:30 pm

    How dry I am, how wet I’ll be, If I don’t find, the bathroom key

    I found the key, I found the door, OOPPSS too late, it’s on the floor.

  66. Sailine -  September 28, 2011 - 11:27 pm

    “In some languages green and blue are not different colors, but different shades of the same color. In Vietnamese, the word xanh is the color of both tree leaves and the sky.”

    Sorry, perhaps you haven’t done your research thoroughly or the person who told you this didn’t make himself/herself clear enough for you to understand.

    The Vietnamese word for the color of tree leaves is “xanh lá cây” or “xanh lục”. (green)
    The Vietnamese word for the color of the sky is “xanh da trời”. (sky-blue)

    The word “xanh” standing alone wouldn’t mean either blue or green, but just a color. Normally, when describing the color of something, we wouldn’t just use the word “xanh” but “xanh lục” or “xanh da trời” to make sure the listener understands the specific color we’re talking about. We even have the word “xanh nước biển” or “xanh lam” for the color of the ocean (navy blue)!

  67. Beej -  September 28, 2011 - 11:24 pm

    @Sparrow can correct me if I’m wrong, but in Bahasa Indonesia, the term for “pink” is “merah muda” meaning “young red”. I like that.

  68. Kathleen -  September 28, 2011 - 8:51 pm

    Whatever. All I know is language is pretty interesting…

  69. Elistariel -  September 28, 2011 - 8:41 pm

    I think I’m more fascinated by the idea that people can just automatically know which direction they are facing. As a child it took me “forever” to learn right from left. I have no clue which direction I’m facing in.

  70. Tara -  September 28, 2011 - 8:27 pm

    RE: “This is a hotly debated philosophical issue: Language before concepts or concepts before language.” Just a quick response here. In falling on one side of that question, Derek has, perhaps, just added a layer of complexity to this issue that he perhaps wasn’t even conscious of. :) Which begs the question.

    If you are going to posit that it is necessarily concepts before language on the premise that (or because of) the existence of a specific language does not *necessarily* lead to a different experience of the world and you do so within a linguistic structure (logic) that gives that argument its force, then you would not to test the soundness of the exactly opposite configuration, regardless of content. It seems you would also need to assume homogeneity within languages – so, blue is blue within a certain language, yes? That’s presupposed in comparing languages as such. While that assumption is highly problematic, I would still say it’s okay for the sake of comment. So you would say: “Just because speakers of the same language describe the world the same way, it does not follow that they experience the world in same way.” Is this still logically sound from your perspective?

    If so, you seem like you’re back where you started with the original question. It’s just a matter of how far you’re going to stretch the concept of relativity and how totalizing the use of the concept language.

    We are living, evolving creatures. Our minds are creating, among other things, with our interactions with other people, animals, the environment, etc. That inner voice is largely constructed by these experiences. When we learn in school we acquire more conceptual skills. If we go to college, many of us pick up very abstract, conceptual skills that allow knowledge already acquired to take on new light, become more complex, link with other aspects of knowledge, and so on. To me, however, it seems exceedingly obvious that the language we use to describe the world very much textures that world, changes our experiences of it. Our emotions work in concert with our activity in the world. This is why religious ritual is so important to the majority of the world’s religions. Why ideological movements like Nazism become so passionately emotional for people. Why people who theorize feminist theory literally see, talk about, experience gender differently than people who give those kinds of academic concepts no thought whatsover. It’s not that there might not exist “pure concepts” that are in some tenuous relationship to their more articulated forms – be it in hate or academic writing – but the idea that those forms exist in the mind prior to experience in the world, or at least predominatly in a way more powerful than the effects of interaction in that world, seems ridiculous. As if we’re just the walking dead.

  71. Kaya -  September 28, 2011 - 7:46 pm

    I have a tertiary degree, but can’t tell the difference between left and right. Ask me quickly, and I’ll do whatever comes to my head – it is usually, but not always, wrong. I have tried and tried to explain it to myself, but can’t. Even if I think carefully, I get it wrong. So the terms are useless to me. I orientate myself by objects (door, window). As for language – can you image a precise and advanced language like German doesn’t have a word for ‘opportunity’. How odd is that. Yes, language shapes the brain.

  72. Tom((M) Hall -  September 28, 2011 - 7:29 pm

    Many very pertinent comments.
    I am reminded of an old observation of my own, which still rings fresh and clear: “Trying to think with language [words] is like playing a game of soccer [football] on an old minefield” [minedfield] (pun not unnoticed, but not intended). I propose a question for consideration: Does “LANGUAGE” influence “How we think” more, or less than “ourBody” influences how we think? – Compare”

    obscure reference: “dia nous” : “dia” -through, “nous” -thought,mind

  73. Adam K -  September 28, 2011 - 6:55 pm

    i think its relative to whatever direction your currently facing tom.

  74. hi im pie -  September 28, 2011 - 6:37 pm


  75. Oddie -  September 28, 2011 - 5:45 pm

    There are isolated tribes in South America that have no words for numbers/quantity. I’ve heard it described as “they can only count to 2″. So basically 1=1 and 2=more than 1.

  76. Arian Ahmadpour -  September 28, 2011 - 5:25 pm

    I have been searching for a word that is said the same in most common languages. So far, I have gotten nothing. But now, at least I know that a word for Color isn’t one.

  77. Eli -  September 28, 2011 - 4:46 pm

    North refers to forward, east refers to right, west to left, and south to behind. It’s not the ACTUAL directions. So if you go east then turn west, its like turning right then turning left.

  78. LMRY -  September 28, 2011 - 4:02 pm

    This article and following comments made me pondered about how languages are born and evolve. There was a time where there were no such thing as languages and people of different tribes used a bunch of sounds and signs in order to communicate. Tribes met one another and exchanged their vocabulary. It seems like a natural way of evolution that words are borrowed from other language in order to make a more precise and more complex tongue.

    Also, languages have to stay relatively compatible with their older generation. Completely restructuring a language because some expressions no longer make sense is not possible because people knowing the older version might not be able to adapt to a completely new language structure (Just like it is generally harder to learn a foreign language). Plus, doing so would actually give birth to a brand new language.

    I guess I’m not tryign to get to any conclusion it’s just me pondering out loud (on the keyboard)

    … I also had a 3rd part about each generation being a finer definition of things from the generation before, but I have a hard time articulating it in a sensible manner. Words are to some extent connected together since you can define words with other words. But you still have to build on what exist already in a language unless you borrow words and expressions from another language…

  79. Kevin -  September 28, 2011 - 4:02 pm

    Actually, the Vietnamese language DOES have a way of distinguishing blue.

    In viet, if you were to say the one word that sounded like “Sahn”, people wouldnt know whether you were referring to blue, or green, as I assume that was what the front page was talking about.

    So, to fix this problem we say “Ocean sahn” and “Leaf sahn” which, in a direct translation means Ocean-blue/green and leaf-green/blue

  80. Diana -  September 28, 2011 - 3:40 pm

    Eskimo is not correct. Eskimo is a Iroquois word for ‘blubber eater’ and is a derogatory term. the right word is Inuit.

  81. Graveside -  September 28, 2011 - 3:19 pm

    I believe you think you understand what it is you thought I said. I’m not sure, however, you understand that what I said is not what I meant.

    Let’s coin some new ‘words’. ‘Bink’ for light blue and ‘Gink’ for light green.

  82. Anon -  September 28, 2011 - 3:13 pm

    ___ | E
    | | NS
    | | W

    I’m assuming the cardinal directions are relative to magnetic north (hence the turn north statement). In that case, it should be ‘turn north, second door on the EAST side’.

    Counter-example if you disagree.

  83. Matt B. -  September 28, 2011 - 2:36 pm

    I’m personally trying to think of color in terms of twelve hues: red, orange (of which the greyish version is brown), yellow, chartreuse, green, teal, cyan, azure (a.k.a. sky blue), blue (a.k.a. true blue), purple, magenta (of which the light version is pink), and coral.

    We’ve been trained to think the opposite of red is green, when it’s actually cyan, and that the opposite of blue is orange, when it’s actually yellow. We’ve been trained to think the primary colors are red, *yellow* and blue, when they’re actually red, *green* and blue.

  84. Alexander -  September 28, 2011 - 2:11 pm

    if there WERE no colour blue? Blimey, get your subjunctive sentences correct.

  85. Leroy Jankins -  September 28, 2011 - 1:43 pm

    and btw: there are three primary colors: yellow, red, and blue, you can conbine those with each other to make different colors.

    ex: red + yellow = orange

    then you add white or black to the color to change its shade.
    therefore, i dont care what language you use, blue is blue, and blue + yelllow is green, but no matter how much black or white one puts in blue it will never be green, therefore green is not a shade of green. thank you for reading this.

  86. Leroy Jankins -  September 28, 2011 - 1:35 pm

    these coments are very entertaining thank you for distracting me from my homework….

  87. the epicness that is me -  September 28, 2011 - 12:09 pm

    That’s really interesting. Even within a language, different people can use different words different ways aside from what they were taught. For example, I tend to think of of more turquoise-ey shades as blue, when most people (including my mom) would refer to it as green. It’s confusing sometimes, my mom will refer to the green shirt or whatever, and I don’t know what she’s talking about because all I see is a blue one.

  88. Nikki -  September 28, 2011 - 11:56 am

    So when referring to left and right directions by north and south.. is foward north, right east, behind south and left west?

  89. foobearjones -  September 28, 2011 - 11:48 am

    The directions given in the example make a specific shape when you map them. Draw it for yourself. All you have to do is place the shape on a compass (you can draw this too) and you have solved the problem. It all depends on your initial direction and that you are using the “right/left” directions to draw the map. If you use the cardinal directions to make the map you have two distinct possibilities because you can approach the corner from the east or west (not the north or south) to turn north. When using the criteria of “turning left” and the door ending up on the “western side” none of the maps I drew matched each other. Maybe one of you can make it work, but this is obviously, in the main text, a mistranslation :P

  90. Matt J. -  September 28, 2011 - 11:36 am

    The article cites Whorf. But Whorf always did overstate his case, and in that extreme form, it has long since been refuted. Language has a major influence on how we think, but it does not determine it. Even ‘mould’ is too strong a word to use.

    The article mentions the Vietnamese example. But those of us with a classical education know of an older example: the reason Homer keeps referring to “the wine-dark sea” is because he had no word for ‘blue’. Yet it is pretty obvious the Greeks knew what the colour of the sea was, and what the colour of the sky is.

    Modern Greek uses the French word for ‘blue’.

  91. Small Potatoes -  September 28, 2011 - 11:32 am

    I hate to be nitpicky but on the dictionary.com homepage the title for this article reads “if there was no word for blue.” It is the subjunctive case and should read: “if there were no word for blue.” I’m sorry, but misuse of the subjunctive case is one of my biggest pet peeves. I think it may disappear completely in a couple of generations, because hardly anyone uses it correctly anymore.

  92. saint-exupery -  September 28, 2011 - 10:51 am

    @puzzler: you said, “I would like to know how important is language to thinking and is thinking possible with little or no language and if so, do animals think less deeply because they have less language?”

    Language is only a system of symbols that we (our mind) created in order to communicate with each other; so obviously we already thought before we made language–it takes intelligence to create anything, including language. Language is not necessary–babies don’t know language; do you think babies don’t know how to think? Actually, their thinking is much clearer, without all the ‘noise’ that language creates in your mind.

    We ARE mind; we have thoughts; if we didn’t have thoughts we would not exist.

  93. wolsamnoraa -  September 28, 2011 - 10:46 am

    Influence is probably greatest in languages that use gender to identify words.
    One might imagine a feminine word in one language differently than if that word is described as masculine in another.

  94. saint-exupery -  September 28, 2011 - 10:25 am

    sorry for the nincompoop–I got carried away…

  95. saint-exupery -  September 28, 2011 - 10:21 am

    @LechDharma: congratulations, finally someone who makes sense. It is the mind that creates the language–the language doesn’t mold anything; we just make sounds with our mouth and attach a meaning to it; that is all there is.

    DOES LANGUAGE SHAPE HOW WE THINK? Of course not you nincompoop, it is the mind that makes and shapes everything.

  96. Derek McAllister -  September 28, 2011 - 9:46 am

    This is a hotly debated philosophical issue: language before concepts or concepts before language. I’m inclined to think the latter. Just because speakers of one language describe the world differently from another language, it does not follow that different language-speakers experience the world differently.

  97. Vikhaari -  September 28, 2011 - 9:21 am

    Interstng, thought provoking and great learning, of course.
    East, west, north south has more meanings than one and justifiedly so. Thank you.

  98. puzzler -  September 28, 2011 - 8:41 am

    There is something missing in the title of this article. It is the idea that how we think can influence our acquisition of language. This is because no-one can tell us precisely the meaning of a word when we learn a language the natural way. We acquire our interpretation of the meaning using previous knowledge (context, experience, usage by others etc.) and explanation from other users (influenced in turn by their own experience and interpretation). To people with colour blindness the names of colours they cannot experience are as precise as dialling on a touch pad telephone but still convey meaning to them and others. Language is both personal and common to groups. I would like to know how important is language to thinking and is thinking possible with little or no language and if so, do animals think less deeply because they have less language?

  99. Melinda -  September 28, 2011 - 7:01 am

    In Utah, where most cities have a huge Mountain range to the East, they also use “turn east” instead of “turn left” with surprising frequency. After a while one does develop a different sense of place than in, say, Connecticut, where you have no idea where you are facing.

  100. giogio -  September 28, 2011 - 5:14 am

    For a more in-depth discussion on how language, and even the development of an alphabet, actually influenced human thinking, try a book called “The Axemaker’s Gift” by James Burke and Robert Ornstein. I found it to be fascinating stuff.

  101. Lujosumo -  September 28, 2011 - 5:04 am

    Outstanding. Now I realized where I’m standing on!!

  102. Marilyn -  September 28, 2011 - 4:05 am

    The English language is amazing, the way a single word can have multiple meanings. Take, for example, the word “run”. You can run a race, run for office, run late for work, get a run in your stocking, and even get the “runs”! No wonder it’s so hard for people to learn it as a second language. Are there any other languages that have such an array of meanings assigned to a given word, and so many figures of speech? Here’s another example: I went to check to see if any washing machines in the laundry room were available. When I arrived without laundry, the manager asked what I was doing there. I told him “I just came down to see if any of the machines were free.” He said, “Of course not. You have to put money in them.” English wasn’t his first language, and you can probably understand why he misunderstood me. How about for all new words in English that we stick to just one meaning?!

  103. Bob -  September 28, 2011 - 1:55 am

    LIKE! Cause it said Vietnamese >.<

  104. Sarah -  September 28, 2011 - 1:28 am

    Oh no! What about for those of us with horrible senses of direction??? I suppose I would learn really fast…or be lost all the time!

  105. Kim -  September 28, 2011 - 1:26 am

    but you don’t actually “turn” north do you…. you’re already heading in that direction, if north means ‘ahead’

  106. Edward -  September 28, 2011 - 1:22 am

    Each word is an individual work of art. The more you know, the more lucid your thoughts. The lucid your thoughts, the more advanced your ideas. Speak to a master engineer who speaks in technical terms and it might as well be a foreign language. Speak to a philosopher and their words themselves are ideas you may never have imagined. Although it’s possible to explain the idea with an entire sentence rather than a single word, the concept will be hazy rather than striking, and a surfeit of haze results in sentences such as “so like you know it’s like, umm, like this one time right…”

  107. All right -  September 28, 2011 - 12:27 am

    The teaser asks “Does language mold your thoughts,” while the article headline asks HOW language influences the way we think. Not the same question, of course. The headline and the article work from the assumption that language does mold your thoughts. The first sentence of the second paragraph restates and reemphasizes the question… but alas, this little blurb can hardly answer such an interesting and worthy question.

    The examples about snow and colors are about creating and using categories, which is a fundamental function/use of language. Pay attention to a baby learning to talk to see very clearly how categories develop and how the older members of the group teach the little ones what categories are “correct.” There are many types of snow, there is a spectrum of color, there are many ways to sort lots of different aspects of the environment and experiences. Then, as humans, we weave value judgements throughout all of it. A color is just a particular wavelength of light… right? Can one color be better than another? Ask your closest four-year-old to tell you what colors are good and what colors are bad. They will probably even be able to tell you why.

  108. anad -  September 28, 2011 - 12:18 am

    A couple of posts above have referred to language constructions that on the surface mean basically the same thing and are describing the same bit of reality, e.g. “I like chocolate” vs “Chocolate is pleasing to me,” and similarly “Mary broke the vase when she dropped it” vs “The vase broke when Mary dropped it.” These very similar ways of expressing things can have strong consequences on how we view the situations they represent, though. “I like chocolate” implies that I initiate the feeling, whereas “Chocolate is pleasing to me” makes me a passive recipient of the pleasure. Now why did I just eat that entire bag of Hershey’s Kisses? Oooops.

    Perhaps the second example is even clearer. Whose fault is it that Grandma’s favorite vase is broken? Nobody’s fault, it just broke, or Mary’s fault because she broke it? I’ve heard about some of the research on people’s attitudes toward assigning blame, and it turns out this isn’t trivial or even very subtle. Does poor little Mary get in trouble for carelessness or is an unintended accident forgiven and forgotten? On a bigger scale, do we find a person or company to blame? Do we hire a lawyer and go to court? Our language shapes what reactions we have, how we share and interpret and create our shared realities, and what actions then seem reasonable or desirable.

  109. thinksew -  September 28, 2011 - 12:14 am

    Language clearly does mold how we think, and how we think molds how we use whatever language we have access to. It is recursive. In using language to communicate we create shared interpretations of reality, community, and those shared interpretations become the background assumptions for further communication. A simple example is an “in” joke… you have to be in the group to get it, or a “location” joke… you had to be there. Enter a person who was not part of the shared interpretation, a person who is not part of that community, and you have infinite plot possibilities. Will the individual change the community, will the community change the individual, both, or neither?

  110. beave -  September 28, 2011 - 12:12 am

    “what if dog, really meant cat?” Ogre – Revenge of the Nerds III

  111. Emjee -  September 28, 2011 - 12:11 am

    But, if the Eskimo (they like to be known as Inuit, not Eskimo) is standing at the north pole, every direction is south!

  112. phil -  September 28, 2011 - 12:08 am

    Correct sentence should be:

    Turn north and it will be the second door on the east.

    Because once you are facing north and its the second door on the right then you would have to face east. West would be to your left. Right?

  113. Morteza -  September 27, 2011 - 11:40 pm

    “…the small change in vocabulary may have an immense influence in your attitude towards the world.”
    I wonder how thoughtful this article has ended. Thanks

  114. Zoe -  September 27, 2011 - 10:52 pm

    Rezarta, you are right about Americans being more Christian than the Swedish. Although I am a non-religious American, my family is very religious. I don’t see a religious reason for saying “move your body” as opposed to “move yourself.” The word “move” can mean to put something into motion. Generally, to “move your body” means that you just wriggle a part of it, or perhaps dance, but you could choose to do so in the same place. However, to “move yourself,” would more likely mean to relocate your body. In such a case, it would be more common to ask somebody to “move over.”

    To “Move yourself!” might be said with frustration to somebody who had asked you to move over because you were in each other’s way. It could also be said with frustration to somebody who had asked you to help move their belongings, for example, when they are moving into a new house.

    To make it even more confusing, a person can be “moved” by a religious or other touching emotional experience (to have sudden strong emotions,) and there are also other uses for the word “move.” The nuances of languages are often very difficult to understand, even for a native speaker. We don’t know WHY we say something. This is perhaps a case in which “just because” is actually a correct answer. (“Actually” being a word which I understand is unnecessary in other languages, and overused in English but sometimes seems very necessary to add emphasis “just because.”)

  115. The Master -  September 27, 2011 - 9:15 pm

    Technically, all colors are just slightly different frequencies of the visible spectrum of light. So really they are all interconnected, making it hard to draw the line between colors.

  116. Sparrow -  September 27, 2011 - 9:01 pm

    Language is fascinating. I seem to think/speak/write differently in English – compared to when I do so in Bahasa Indonesia (my mother tongue).

  117. Dave Miller -  September 27, 2011 - 7:58 pm

    As a teacher of ESL to an Hispanic population of adults I find both the article and the various comments fascinating. Todo de recho is straight ahead. a la izquierda to the left and a la de recha to the right.
    The four directions are common norte, este, sue, oueste. Atras would be behind.

    Left is 180 degrees from right unless you are in a military cadence Left face I believe is 90 degrees to the left.

    We also say latest record meaning recording or release though it is a CD.

    I am curious what other words we have held onto. I can use them in class discussion.

    The other fun category is brand names like tissue we say Kleenex.

  118. Carlitos -  September 27, 2011 - 7:43 pm

    @Jess on September 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Carlitos, “real” aboriginals? Are you serious? Your elitist notions about the ideal savage stem from an inherently simplistic and paternalistic view point. Your limiting understanding of indigenous identity reinforces stereotypes and perpetuates discrimination. You don’t have to look or act a certain way to be an Australian Aboriginal.


    The “ideal savage” Are you serious? Your elitist notions blah blah blah. Good gravy. Perhaps you should take a cue from a real aborigine and stop wearing those bunched up undergarments.

    You call me paternalistic while using “ideal savage” yourself? I’m no authority, I have no claims to stake. But my opinion is simplistic- just like the natural way of thinking of many aborigines and native peoples. Take away the concept of time, personal direction, and selfish notions that we are burdened with and you get a clear thinker. I’m not advocating from a position of superior thought or intellect, in factm I feel like a crippled human in this modern society of ours, as you should too!

  119. Benjamin -  September 27, 2011 - 6:49 pm

    Read 1984. It explains the entire concept of language made to control us.
    Ex: How can we know what freedom really feels like if there were no word for it? Would slavery after a while (without the use of the word) become our version of freedom? How can one rebel without knowing what rebellion is?

  120. Raclot -  September 27, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    I think language is an amazing thing. It is diverse and different, it is usually the language that is your mother tongue that you understand the most easily.

  121. some one -  September 27, 2011 - 4:35 pm

    Another interesting point about the development of languages is how a whole nation doesn’t share a language (at least in the old world). for example england had english and irish although the national language is now english (duh). Spain had portuguese, castellano, etc. but then portugal suceded and an evil dictator forced all of spain to speak catellano later renamed espanol (because all of espana spoke it instead of just castella y leon (state)). italy is really whacked up in the sense that each state speaks its language predominantly (sicilian, torinese, piedmontese, napoletano) and the only reason that italian is the national language is italian is because rome speaks italian (dont get me wrong they all speak italian but its seen as a foreign language through out most of italy). I think india is the best example with over 200 languages and hindi was eventually chosen to unite everyone. I dont know about the east asian islands (which appears to be where most of you are from) but most of the old world has a huuuuuuuge number of languages and only a selected few that are recognized world wide. it kinda sucks for the new world since their parent european nation kinda prevented this natural growth, but even so there are small differences between the definitions through out. household dialect between spanish speaking countries is completely different between regions (ex: mexico uses platano for banana while most of colombia uses banano and cali (city in colombia) uses banano for mint candys. in the us the word bar be cue is different between the north and south. i thinks that all that i have to say

  122. Corwyn -  September 27, 2011 - 2:24 pm

    To elaborate a bit on what Bill said: Many languages have a blue-green word. I have studied many Celtic languages (Welsh, Irish, Breton) and this seems to be common. The word ‘glas’ in Welsh can refer to natural shades of blue, green and grey. If a color is say, neon green, then it is ‘gwyrdd.’ Just another example. :)

  123. gelogic -  September 27, 2011 - 1:49 pm

    I’m not sure if ‘K’ was on this brainwave but just something to think about for those who corrected ‘K’, since we are talking about interpretation and such.
    Eastern orientation was customary on early maps before the modern convention of placing north at the top was adopted. So east was once north. The reason why is debatable. ‘K’, bye :)

  124. ngoc phan -  September 27, 2011 - 1:46 pm

    I’m Vietnamese and I still wonder why xanh means the sky and tree leaves, to differentiate the sky and tree leaves, we say “xanh la” for the color green, “la” or “la cay” is leaves, and leaves are green so combined together, “xanh la”/”xanh la cay” means green!

  125. MJW -  September 27, 2011 - 1:28 pm

    Funny, I asked my 7 year old daughter earlier this week if she wonders whether our dog thinks in dog language or in people language. She has lived with us all her life (the dog, that is. Well, so has my daughter for that matter :) ) so she (the dog) has been around people more than other dogs.

  126. MV -  September 27, 2011 - 12:56 pm


    The thing about pink is that it’s just light red, isn’t it. We don’t have a word for light blue, light green, light yellow etc, at least not something as common as “pink”. I thought that was a great observation @lezza!

  127. Me -  September 27, 2011 - 12:18 pm

    They aren’t refering to North = straight, west = left, east = right

    they’re talking about the real directions

  128. LechDharma -  September 27, 2011 - 12:17 pm

    I think a more apt title to this article would be “How language is shaped by how we think.” The language of any culture—or sub-culture—is a response to the mindset of its members.

  129. Maddalen -  September 27, 2011 - 11:27 am

    Nobody mentioned “bleen” (the alternative to grue).
    And yes, language definitely shapes thought.
    Think of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman-derived words for the same object (stool [A/S] or chair [Norman]).
    And think of how words separate by class or ethnicity. And how words of other languages (amok, schmuck) come into English, and how that shifts mindsets and perceptions.
    Think of Sidney George Reilly, the British spy who is considered the greatest spy of all time. The quote of his that has stuck in my mind for many years is “When you learn another language, you gain another soul.” Profound stuff, and quite true, really.

  130. Ruth -  September 27, 2011 - 10:36 am

    North, west? Whatever!

    I think it is interesting how the words mold the way we feel about things. Take, for instance, the way some British would describe Americans: brazen and earnest, whereas Americans might describe themselves as free and passionate.

    We may be describing the same things, but the cliche terms that we are taught to use bend our own perspectives and shape the perspectives of future generations without directly teaching these ideas.

  131. Rrezarta -  September 27, 2011 - 10:17 am

    I like how in english you “move your body” instead of moving yourself, as you do in swedish. I suppose the english expression might come from the christian belief of that the body is just a medium for your soul. Even though Im not religious, I like the idea of that, although I’d rather give the brain the title of supreme commander.

  132. FooGriffy -  September 27, 2011 - 9:38 am

    How is left different from east when you’re facing south? And how is gold different from yellow? (unless you make it metalic looking, of course)

  133. gm -  September 27, 2011 - 9:35 am

    I’m not aware of any ordinal directions. Perhaps cardinal is the word you were looking for.

  134. Thao Anh -  September 27, 2011 - 7:33 am

    Go Vietnam! There are more Vietnamese on this website than I think
    and I also read it cause it said “Vietnamese” X)

    Anyways, yes, I agree with both the article and the comments
    “xanh” is a general word that doesn’t specifically what color it’s talking about, green or blue. So that’s why we add adjectives to make it clearer, as in “la cay” which means leaf, so it refers to the green of the leaves; meanwhile, “nuoc bien” means sea water, or “da troi” means sky, both commonly mean blue.

  135. ed -  September 27, 2011 - 7:31 am

    One of the best articles ever. Could go even more in depth with this concept.

    As far as people trying to explain the right, left vs. north, south ideas, is the end of the hallway to the east or west?

  136. RICKEDY RICK -  September 27, 2011 - 7:02 am

    Very interesting! Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do!! LOL! Oh well. I think the world should adopt the aborigine way of doing things. In school they taight me that they are a superior culture to us because they are “in touch” with gaia, the spirirt of the earth, and that our culture is evil because we are materialistic. There is one thing that confuses me, though: the pure indigenous peoples all light a fire, but doesn’t the smoke murder gaia? Oh well! As long as we adpot their way of directions, we’ll all know where to go!

  137. Warle -  September 27, 2011 - 6:24 am

    There is a Scientific American article from the February 2011 issue titled “How Language Shapes Thought” by Lera Boroditsky that explores exactly the same phenomenon. The aforementioned article uses a different example that is also from an Aboriginal language from Pormpuraaw, a location near Cape York, Queensland, Australia but exhibits the same features as Guugu Yimithirr where they use the absolute cardinal directions of north, south, east and west in all their directional referencing.

    If you do find this little tidbit from Dictionary.com not satisfying, please feel free to take a look into the article that I have mentioned to you.

    @ds the archaic Japanese word for blue and green is “aoi” (あおい in Hiragana or 青い in Kanji). In modern Japanese, blue is still “aoi” while green, as ds said, is “midori” (みどり in Hiragana, 緑 in Kanji)

    Interestingly enough, the first character of the modern Japanese Kanji for blue means lime green in Chinese while the character for green is as it is in Chinese.

  138. my new name is Adam -  September 27, 2011 - 6:13 am

    “Once a word is embedded into the language, do people just keep using it, even when it no longer makes sense? Like we say “dial” a phone number, even though phones haven’t had dials on them for decades…)”

    What color is a blackboard? When I was at school it was black and the teacher wrote on it in white chalk. These days it is white and one writes on it using black/blue/green/red pens, but many people continue to use the word blackboard rather than whiteboard.

  139. Denis -  September 27, 2011 - 5:50 am

    Yes, in English, an injury to the periorbital area typically results in a “black” eye even though it is a shade of blue or purple. German denotes such a condition as blauaugen, or “blue” eye, more in keeping with the actual color seen.

  140. verius -  September 27, 2011 - 2:27 am

    @lezza: the same can be said of orange, green, purple and even white, which is the sum of all colours combined (hard to believe, but it’s true!). why single out pink?

    @spamstergirl: speak for yourself, i’ve wondered this many, many times myself.

    @jc: nothing new for dictionary.com articles. they’re interesting, but shallow.

    @ds: given that the word ‘midori’ predates contact with westerners, i think it’s safe to say that even if they referred to a lot of green things as ‘ao,’ they could still differentiate between blue and green. also, green traffic lights here in japan are more turquoise than the verdant green they are in north america, so it’s not surprising that some people (myself included) see it as bluish. aoringo, on the other hand, leave me stumped.

    and for everyone else nitpicking over the cardinal directions used in the text… seriously, who gives a sh*t? you got the point the author was trying to make and you don’t look any smarter for trying to correct them. really irrelevant.

  141. Matthew -  September 27, 2011 - 2:01 am


    Left is 90 degrees from right??

  142. Matthew -  September 27, 2011 - 1:57 am

    To the people trying to figure out what the intended Aboriginal directions would be…you can’t. Ordinal directions are absolute. Left and right are relative. This means the directions cannot be mapped to left and right unless you know which ordinal direction you are facing when your start.

    This may be another example of the impact that situation/culture can have on language and vice versa. The average Aboriginal finds himself on vast plains in the Outback. He can see the sky and the sun and navigate anywhere he needs to. Industrialised/urban cultures, however, find themselves in cities and buildings where these points of reference are unavailable. We HAD to have right and left to get around. Put an aboriginal in a hospital and explain to him how to get to the Casualty using north, east, south and west and see what happens.

    If you have to choose between absolute and relative directions, you’d have to go with relative because absolute is actually just a special case of relative, and you can always transform between relative frames of reference by rotating in multiples of 90 degrees.

  143. ds -  September 26, 2011 - 10:21 pm

    In Japanese, green traffic lights are called “blue” (ao), even though Japanese has a word for “green”, too. It’s supposed to be a relic of an old-fashioned division of the colors blue and green; before, the green of a traffic light would have fallen into the category “ao” (blue), but now people recognize it as “midori” (green). Perhaps the shift in color perception has been influenced by contact with Western culture? Anyway, many people in Japan, if you point this out, do seem to think it’s strange that they call the traffic lights “blue” when, even to their own eyes, they are indeed green. (Once a word is embedded into the language, do people just keep using it, even when it no longer makes sense? Like we say “dial” a phone number, even though phones haven’t had dials on them for decades…)

  144. Javed M. Khattak -  September 26, 2011 - 9:50 pm

    Word Sheen (basically used for green color) is used for both tree leaves and clear blue sky in Pashto language spoken in North West province of Pakistan, recently renamed as “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa”.

  145. Lan -  September 26, 2011 - 9:15 pm

    “In Vietnamese, the word xanh is the color of both tree leaves and the sky.”

    guys, in Vietnamese green is “xanh lá cây / xanh lục” , and blue is “xanh dương / xanh da trời”. using just the word “xanh” is a lazy and may-lead-to-confusion way to refer to these colours.

    i personally never think of blue and green as different shades of the same colour.

  146. Jess -  September 26, 2011 - 8:53 pm

    Carlitos, “real” aboriginals? Are you serious? Your elitist notions about the ideal savage stem from an inherently simplistic and paternalistic view point. Your limiting understanding of indigenous identity reinforces stereotypes and perpetuates discrimination. You don’t have to look or act a certain way to be an Australian Aboriginal.

  147. Kathleen -  September 26, 2011 - 8:30 pm

    Interesting… Never thought of it that way.
    I’m Vietnamese as well and Holly, xanh and xanh both mean green and blue. Xanh la cay means green. And xanh plain just means blue.

  148. Holly -  September 26, 2011 - 7:49 pm

    absolutely wrong, Vietnamese does has a word for “blue.” The person who wrote this piece of article definitely did not have a throughout research on this. Not to mention, I am a Vietnamese, and i have to say our language of course will have an exact word for a simple “blue”

  149. Thanks -  September 26, 2011 - 7:44 pm

    Then I’d say that’s allot hot words. Interesting. Thanks.
    You’re welcome!
    I am?
    By all means!
    Thank you.
    You’re welcome!

  150. Paula -  September 26, 2011 - 7:39 pm

    “^second door on the east side.”

  151. Paula -  September 26, 2011 - 7:37 pm

    K: Sorry, but when you’re travelling on a plane, left is 90 degrees from right, not 180, so “north” is correct, although right from north is east, so it should be “turn north, and it’s the third door on the east side.”

  152. tomsboat -  September 26, 2011 - 6:55 pm

    I found that people think in a different way since I learned English. I think Engish discribes the logic between things or inside things, so English people often express their thinking straightly. Well, Chinese often use some other words to denote the words which are related logically, so Chinese people often express their thinking circumbendibusly, you have to guess what they really want to express through the words they say. But if we want to discribe something beautiful, I think Chinese can be more romantic.

  153. JC -  September 26, 2011 - 6:54 pm

    An intriguing subject, but this article does not answer the question in its headline at all. Mention is made of linguistic relativity, and a scattering of examples is given for how things are named differently in different languages, but nothing is said about how this reflects on the actual subject—the influence of language on thought and attitude. *Why* are things named in such different ways in these other languages? How has language influenced their aesthetic, worldview, environment, history? Or should one instead say that their aesthetic, etc. (their “thinking”) has influenced their language? At the end, it states that Deutscher has made this assertion of language influencing worldview, but says nothing about *how* language influences our attitudes or thinking, blatantly shying away from answering the initial question. I would love to see a more appropriate article for the headline (or for an inverted question of “How does our thinking influence the way we speak?).

  154. GoGreen -  September 26, 2011 - 6:16 pm

    Interesting. hmmmmm….

  155. Carlitos -  September 26, 2011 - 6:15 pm

    Show me a real Aborigine who needs a word for doors, bathrooms, hallways and such, and maybe also an Eskimo who knows what humidity is.

    It’s no surprise they don’t have a word for right, left, etc. Their world is different in that they are always connected to nature and live completely within it (not speaking of the poor ones who are some degrees of assimilated and have had their indigenous culture contaminated and bastardized). Us, in our perpetually disconnected state, have to relate things to ourselves. It’s the concept of the world belonging to us as opposed to us belonging to the world. We’re often terribly selfish and completely lost in the natural world. Almost as if we are no longer natural, but instead have made ourselves artificial.

  156. Emshemie -  September 26, 2011 - 5:12 pm

    Ya lost me…

  157. Vanny -  September 26, 2011 - 4:39 pm

    I just read this cause it said Vietnamese on it :PP

  158. ItsNam -  September 26, 2011 - 4:35 pm

    I like how Lezza said that. I totally agree with her. Like Spanish says words differently, like they say “Chocolate is pleasing to me.”, but English says “I like chocolate.” Its just the matter of fact of where we were raise and how we were taught to say things. It really makes me amused on how the world runs around the world, and how differently we could be and how similar. Once again very nice word choice to Lezza.

  159. anonymous -  September 26, 2011 - 3:39 pm

    I guess that’s why it is sometimes hard to translate certain words from language to language. One culture may have a word that describes an idea relative to their lives, while the other doesn’t have any specific words to describe that same idea. If you think about it, there are infinite possibilities for words to convey specific ideas.

  160. NT17 -  September 26, 2011 - 3:37 pm

    Actually, depending on where the error is, the incorrect sentence should read:

    1. “Go to the end of the hallway and turn ‘south.’ It’s the second door on the west side.”

    2. “Go to the end of the hallway and turn north. It’s the second door on the ‘east’ side.”

    3. “Go to the end of the hallway and turn ‘right.’ It’s the second door on the ‘left.’”

    4. “Go to the end of the hallway and turn left. It’s the second door on the ‘left.’”

  161. Bill Davis -  September 26, 2011 - 3:36 pm

    Great post. Lots of languages have “grue” (the name some anthropologists use to describe the blue/green conflation. I do translation in a language like that. Those language usually only have a handful of color terms. I forget (way back in linguistic anthro class) how many, but it’s usually for those languages with about 5 or 6 color terms that grue spilts into “green” and “blue.”

    There is one language here in the Philippines with out THREE color terms. Basically we might call them “white, black and red.” Black covers all the cool colors (black, green, blue, purple…) and red the warm colors (red, brown, orange…) White is…. white. Pure and simply.


  162. spamstergirl -  September 26, 2011 - 3:11 pm

    language nerds… ha! I wonder why people never think of these kinds of things on their own… wondering about language, where city names really come from, things like that. it’s all very interesting.

  163. thebeardedwoman -  September 26, 2011 - 2:26 pm

    At the risk of being way too nerdy… wouldn’t it be “Go to the end of the hallway and turn north; it’s the second door on the EAST side.” That is, if they’re the same directions as the English translation. K, If you went to the end of the hall, turned east, then looked for a door on the west, wouldn’t you have to turn around?

  164. Gramps -  September 26, 2011 - 2:06 pm

    Deutscher points out that red is the first color to be added to a language after black and white. I would guess that’s why we have gray and pink, but say light green. Russian splits blue into two words, so go figure.

  165. Person -  September 26, 2011 - 1:58 pm

    I don’t like pink.

  166. tom -  September 26, 2011 - 1:57 pm

    “Go to the end of the hallway and turn north. It’s the second door on the west side” is correct. If you turn east, west will be behind you.

  167. lezza -  September 26, 2011 - 1:45 pm

    I have often wondered why we think of pink as being a totally different color than red when it’s really not. I guess it’s just our vocabulary that makes the difference. We use language to define our world, so if our language doesn’t have a distinct word for it, it becomes part of something else that has a wider meaning. I guess I haven’t really thought of it that way. That must be why linguists want to record all of the dying languages before nobody remembers them anymore. I thought they were just being language nerds.

  168. Arcanis -  September 26, 2011 - 1:38 pm


  169. k -  September 26, 2011 - 1:07 pm

    “Go to the end of the hallway and turn ‘east’. It’s the second door on the west side.


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