Thinking in Another Language


There is this phenomenon I may have talked about before, where people who speak different languages also tend to think in different ways. I’ve watched documentaries on this and I may have even studied this at some point. Perhaps due to culture, perhaps due to the way the language is structured, either way, it is quite easy to notice that people who grow up speaking a different language will probably also have a different thinking pattern to you.

An example from a documentary (from what I recall, since I cannot seem to find this documentary anywhere) is a test between Japanese and English native speakers. They showed a picture of a group of people with certain expressions. On some, the main person had a happy face while the others all had sad faces. When asked to say what the person in the middle was feeling, the English speakers said he was happy, whereas the Japanese speakers said he was sad, despite the happy face, because the people around him were sad.

Of course, this could be due to the social environment Japanese and English native speakers grow up in, rather than the language they speak. Another example of how language affects our perception is our ability to see colour. Basically, if your language doesn’t have a word for a certain shade, it’s unlikely that you can see it (article). Here’s another study that tests bilingual people using colour perception.

If something as ‘physical’ or ‘biological’ as vision is influenced by our language, what else is?

I bring this up now because this is knowledge I had learned before but had stored away in some unimportant storage compartment in my brain. Like most psych facts you learn as a teenager, it seems really cool but it is rarely put in to practice.

Until yesterday.

I never thought I had any good ideas for stories, especially for Uyghur related things. What I had never actually tried was to write a story in Uyghurche. Isn’t that weird? I don’t actually recall ever writing a story in Uyghur.

So when I started writing on a whim, suddenly I had all these great ideas for a story! Where were all these coming from? Is it really because I was thinking in a different language? I usually think in English. I didn’t think that when I wrote in Uyghurche, the half formed sentences or ideas in my head would crystallise. I had grown up listening to so many Uyghur stories from my uncles. Did thinking in Uyghurche exhume all those forgotten memories, feelings, and ideas?

I always rant about points of views and how important it is to step in to other people’s shoes and actually think from their perspective but I’d some how forgotten that there was a whole new way to do that, and it was through an Uyghur speaking mind.

Yet another advantage of being bilingual!


2017 Edit: I just found an article that says language influences how we perceive time as well


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