Why Words Matter--BBC Radio

I want to apologize up front. I could not find transcripts for this radio episode. I've messaged Lera Boroditsky and BBC about it. If I can locate any, I'll update post.

"Why Words Matter" preview

The average English-speaker knows about 25,000 words. And yet those 25,000 words can be combined into an infinite number of sentences -not a simple process. Many people believe that, whatever language you speak, the words you know have a profound influence on the way you think. This is a controversial theory among linguists. In this edition of the Why Factor, Lane Greene explains how paying attention to the language we use can give us a greater understanding of our politics, our debates, our cultures and even our own minds.

Click for full radio program episode

Please note that the word "Eskimo" is only appropriate to describe a specific group of Inuit living in Alaska. Other Inuit folks are not "Eskimos".

You could blink and miss 21:49's nod to language diversity's connection to human capacity for greater problem solving. The brevity of its mention is unfortunate. Problem solving is one of the things I value most about language and want to celebrate and emphasize for people to pay attention to. If you want to read a bit more information on that, you can check my previous discussion How Langauges Shape the Way We Think. :)

April 20, 2017



Thank you for this article

the big debate on BBC

Is also on the words

words in debate

one word or 25,000 words

and which or whom shall

choose those fine words


April 20, 2017

In terms of, for lack of a better word, "pop linguists", you get to see what -must- be a call and response with the sapir-whorf theory (the "whatever language you speak, the words you know have a profound influence on the way you think" bit). There's a book I absolutely loved, that convinced me that language shapes how we think, "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages". I later found out there is a book called "The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language".

I haven't actually read the latter, but I really want to, and I'm sure it will leave me going "huh, well, that makes sense too." ...and then my brain will explode.

April 21, 2017

I believe the wider critique of Sapir-Whorf was that it reached too wide, not that 100% of it should be scrapped.

The reason I love thinking of the problem solving capacities of language is huge. Does it mean that we don't have access to some of those problem solving capacities if we don't speak that langauge? It might only be that a missing concept needs to find its way into a language without it to transform that language's capacity in a direction. For instance, adding counting units to a language. Or, adding a zero to a language that had counting units but not zero. But, then maybe the counting units, once introduced, combines with other existing concepts into the borrowing culture that wasn't available in loaning culture and even more possibilities reveal themselves than what the loan culture could have produced.

(More about how counting units changed human history in the previous discussion I created that I linked in the OP.)


PS Thanks for the book titles. I want to read them both!!

April 22, 2017
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