Language quiz: does the world look the same in any language?
The Japanese language has a single word that encompasses both green and blue colors, whilst the Russian language has separate terms for different shades of blue. So does this mean that people who speak Russian and Japanese perceive these colors differently from English speakers? And even more questionably: are we only able to form concepts of things for which we have a name?
Many people argue that language does indeed shape the way we view the world—and that cultures with different ways of naming things will see the world differently. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, first formulated in the 1930s, famously advances this view. The hypothesis grew in influence amongst linguists, anthropologists, and psychologists and the media often argue that having distinct names for particular colors makes people perceive them more vividly.
However, according to linguist John McWhorter, this hypothesis is just plain old wrong. In his new book The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, McWhorter reveals that no such connection has ever been discovered. Even though a language’s vocabulary and grammar may influence its speakers’ culture, it does not determine the way they see the world. Thus, someone living on the other side of the world from you—speaking a different language and doing very different things— will see the world in the same way as you see it.
Do you agree with McWhorter? How well do you know other languages? Take our quiz below and gain a whole new perspective on the world!