Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

Tuesday 7 September, 2010

Fellow T’bird Bart Kohnhorst alerted Thunderbird President Angel Cabrera to this article in the New York Times: Does Your Language Shape How You Think? & he blogged about it, which brought it to my attention.  My 1st reaction is “Of course language shapes how we think.”  My experience is in Germany in German.  Here are my thoughts on the relationship between the German language & how Germans think:

  • German is a very structured language & Germans think in a very structured way.
  • Germans are more exact because their language compels them to be.
  • There are 3 genders, masculine, feminine, & neuter-I found that many relationships are still very old fashioned, reflecting dated gender roles.
  • Sentences usually follow a pretty consistent pattern, but in some cases throw the verb (or its prefix) to the end: occasionally the Germans will go a little wild.
  • Many foreigners find many of German’s rules complicated;  the Germans recognize they have an advantage with foreigners speaking their native tongue & are not hesitant to use it.

Here are a few observations on how Americans think & its relationship with the English language:

  • perhaps we as Americans see men & women equally because we don’t differentiate between them as other languages do
  • some other cultures don’t focus on the future like Americans do because their languages only speak in 1 tense, usually the present tense
  • English is known to be full of exceptions-is it any surprise that we’re encouraged to seek the exceptional?
  • might how Americans think of geography& space (always referenced to where we are) a reflection of our self-centeredness compared to others who reference to direction (North, South, etc.)

So how does this apply to international business?  It just reinforces the need for global business people to learn as much of the language as they can of the people with whom they’re doing business wherever they go.  It will give you some insights into how they think, which can provide some small advantage or simply bring a small observation that you might have missed thinking of the world only in English.  Every little bit helps.


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