Language and Thought

A Lan­guage of Smiles — Olivia Jud­son Blog — NYTimes​.com

A set of exper­i­ments inves­ti­gat­ing the effects of facial move­ments on mood used dif­fer­ent vow­el sounds as a stealthy way to get peo­ple to pull dif­fer­ent faces. (The idea was to avoid peo­ple real­iz­ing they were being made to scowl or smile.) The results showed that if you read aloud a pas­sage full of vow­els that make you scowl — the Ger­man vow­el sound ü, for exam­ple — you’re like­ly to find your­self in a worse mood than if you read a sto­ry sim­i­lar in con­tent but with­out any instances of ü. Sim­i­lar­ly, say­ing ü over and over again gen­er­ates more feel­ings of ill will than repeat­ing a or o.

I’ve long been intrigued by the effect of lan­guage on thought process­es or world­view. For exam­ple, the ten­den­cy for verbs to end up at the end of Ger­man sen­tences loads a whole lot of mean­ing in the last words of a sen­tence, and I won­der how that affects both con­ver­sa­tion­al inter­rup­tions and lis­ten­ing habits. I’ve recent­ly been intro­duced (thanks, Zach) to the Sapir-Whorf hypoth­e­sis of lin­guis­tic rel­a­tiv­i­ty which is, more or less, a sci­en­tif­ic inquiry explor­ing my self­same thoughts.

I hadn’t thought about language’s effect on emo­tions; that is equal­ly inter­est­ing, but doesn’t seem to have been test­ed in the same way.

The exper­i­ment quot­ed above, though, fails; it doesn’t explain why I love Ger­man and why say­ing things like “Öl” and “müde” make me hap­py. ;)

3 thoughts on “Language and Thought

  1. Most like­ly the scowl is attrib­uted to an unfa­mil­iar vow­el enter­ing per­cep­tion. You don’t see Ger­mans scowl­ing all day — I think you get used to it.

    Actu­al­ly, come to think of it… Ger­mans ARE scowl­ing most of the time ;)

    1. “Amer­i­can sub­jects, but not the Ger­man sub­jects, rat­ed the ü sound as less famil­iar, r(17)=4.5l, p< .001, and more dif­fi­cult to pro­duce, t(17) = 2.61, p < .02, than the o sound. For the Ger­man speak­ers, o and ü were equal in dif­fi­cul­ty. Because we have here two sam­ples show­ing sim­i­lar affect rat­ings and sim­i­lar tem­per­a­ture changes, and because one found the phoneme ü dif­fi­cult and the oth­er found it easy, we can elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­i­ty that o was per­ceived as more pleas­ant than ü just because it was more famil­iar or eas­i­er to pro­duce.”

      Who knows, real­ly? It’s a long study; I didn’t read the entire thing. O:-)

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