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Does language influence thought? A look at past research and thoughts for the future.

Poster B99 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Tally McCormick Miller1, Friedemann Pulvermüller2; 1Freie Universität Berlin

The idea that our language may influence our thought has persisted throughout history. Recent empirical evidence seems to point towards a conclusion: linguistic relativity effects have been seen among an ever-growing research body of empirical evidence. But how convincing are these arguments, especially if some notable skeptics remain unconvinced? Recent research into the causal effects that language has on perception has been growing exponentially in recent decades. Much of this research strongly suggests the presence of linguistic influences and interactions onto a variety of cognitive domains. However, we have yet to decipher one of the key interplays of the complicated, functional interconnectedness of language, categorization, and perception. The current state of research falls short of demonstrating the extent of the effects that language can have on our perception and has thus far not investigated if said effects can be attributed to cross-modal effects outside the domain of language, or if it is indeed something specific to language itself. Evidence of how language may shape our cognitive representation of world knowledge has been accumulating for decades (e.g. von Humboldt 1836, Whorf 1940, Thierry, Athanasopoulos et al. 2009, Boutonnet, Dering et al. 2013, Maier, Glage et al. 2014, Li, Casaponsa et al. 2019, Vanek, Soskuthy et al. 2021). Often, the focus is on how language creates individual categories, such as how we divide the spectrum of perceivable light into individual color words (Boroditsky 2000). Previous studies testing possible effects of new or known verbal labels on perception have spanned various sensory domains, including vision (Winawer, Witthoft et al. 2007, Thierry, Athanasopoulos et al. 2009, Zhou, Mo et al. 2010, Boutonnet, Dering et al. 2013, Maier, Glage et al. 2014, Athanasopoulos, Bylund et al. 2015), sound (Dolscheid, Shayan et al. 2013) and touch (Miller, Schmidt et al. 2018, Schmidt, Miller et al. 2019). It has been well argued that attributing language effects to the results attained by group comparisons is problematic due to possible confounds such as, but not limited to, differences in cultural-specific experiences or previous knowledge, which cannot be excluded when comparing groups (Freundlieb, Ridder et al. 2012). The vast majority of research, however, continues to focused entirely on intercultural differences, in that they compare native speakers of two different languages and look for group differences (e.g. Boroditsky 2001, Winawer, Witthoft et al. 2007, Boutonnet, Dering et al. 2013, Athanasopoulos, Bylund et al. 2015, Li, Casaponsa et al. 2019). Fewer studies divide participants into groups which undergo differences in their linguistic trainings and exposure (Zhou, Mo et al. 2010, Maier, Glage et al. 2014, Vanek, Soskuthy et al. 2021). But only a handful of research is able to avoid group differences and cultural confounds by using within-subject manipulation in order to test for differences (Miller, Schmidt et al. 2018, Schmidt, Miller et al. 2019). I propose an overview of what has been done, and what is lacking, in order to determine whether language can affect the nature of our perception, as well as examine putative extents and limitations of these mechanisms.

Topic Areas: Language Development/Acquisition, History of the Neurobiology of Language

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