Scientists and philosophers have wondered whether each person’s language determines, to some extent, how he or she sees the world.
“Every language is a vast pattern-system, different from others,” wrote the 20th-century American linguist Benjamin Whorf. And through language, he added, a person “analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, channels his reasoning, and builds the house of his consciousness.”
Whorf famously argued that Eskimos have 200 words for snow, indicating that they think differently about the substance than do, say, English-speakers. Other scientists have disputed that the word count is that high, or that it really reflects different ways of thinking.
Whorf’s whole theory remains controversial. But a team of scientists says new research clarifies the debate.
Their study found that Whorf was correct—but only for the left half of the brain, which, aptly enough, handles language.