Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Boroditsky

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Boroditsky

Have you ever wondered how language affects time? Time is a little complex when we really get into the concept of it, and language has been shown to have a relationship with how we, as humans, perceive time. Boroditsky (2001), in their article, Does Language Shape Thought?: Mandarin and English Speakers' Conceptions of Time, investigated how language affects how we think through understanding how native speakers from different places talk about time.

  • First, we're going to provide a Boroditsky theory summary, discussing Boroditsky linguistic relativity and the context it provides.
  • We will cover Boroditsky's hypothesis in psychology, discussing Lera Boroditsky's views on language and thought
  • Finally, we will delve into an evaluation of Boroditsky's theory.

Boroditsky (2001), three people speaking different languages in speech bubbles, StudySmarterLanguage can affect how people perceive time, freepik.com

Boroditsky Linguistic Relativity

Linguistic relativism is the concept that humans interpret and see the world in different ways because of differences in languages.

Language relativism is also known as the 'Sapir-Whorf hypothesis', which was investigated by both Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf (hence the term, Sapir-Whorf).

There are two versions of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the weak version and the strong version. The weak hypothesis suggests language affects thought, and the strong hypothesis states language outright determines thought (linguistic relativism vs linguistic determinism).

Lera Boroditsky Language and Thought

Lera Boroditsky (2001) found that language depicting time affects how time is thought about and perceived.

  • In Mandarin Chinese, time is represented vertically and 'up' means earlier/before, and 'down' means after/later, meaning people of this language think about time vertically.
  • In English, time is represented horizontally, with 'left' meaning earlier/before and 'right' meaning later/after. So people of this language think of time horizontally.

This provides evidence for the concept of linguistic relativism.

Boroditsky (2001) also provides evidence against linguistic determinism, or 'strong Whorf', by explaining that even though people who speak the Dani language only have 2 words for colours, they did not struggle to learn the English set of colour categories, of which there are a lot more.

Boroditsky theory of personality

Boroditsky claims that learning a new language is not just about learning to speak differently, but also learning to think differently, since there are differences between languages in types of thinking. Her most famous study, as mentioned above, shows that Native English speakers talk about, and therefore think about time in a horizontal way.

Mandarin speakers on the other hand talk about, and therefore think about time in a vertical way. There are also many accounts of bilingual speakers reporting to think and speaking in a different way when they speak different languages, and this change is not due to the words being different.

For example, when people speak in Russian, they have more freedom to speak and think in a non-literal, ironic and metaphorical way, compared to when speaking and thinking in English, in which a more literal, straightforward approach is taken.

Boroditsky Theory Summary - Key Study

Boroditsky's study was based on the notion that the language we speak has an affect on the way we view and perceive the world, specifically the concept of time.

This is related to linguistic relativism and linguistic determinism.

The languages Mandarin and English have different ways of speaking about time. The differences are:

  • English speakers tend to talk about time horizontally. There is past, present and future, and time moves in a linear fashion. When talking about the past, words like 'going back' are used, and when talking about the future, words like 'ahead' are used.
    • Timelines are a great example of this since they are a visual representation of people who speak the English language viewing time horizontally. 'Left' indicates the past and 'right', the future. Therefore, it is concluded that English speakers talk and think about time horizontally.
  • In the Mandarin language however, it's the opposite. Mandarin speakers talk about time in a vertical sense. They refer to past events as 'up' and future events as 'down', for example, Wednesday is lower than Tuesday.

Boroditsky (2001), a speech bubble containing the letter A and a chinese writing symbol,StudySmarterAccording to Boroditsky, those who speak Mandarin perceive time in a vertical sense, whereas English is perceived in a linear sense, flaticon.com

Boroditsky Aim

The aim of Boroditsky's (2001) study was to focus on the effect of language on the way people think about and view the world.

By investigating the effects of language, Boroditsky was able to highlight how different languages affect the concept of time and how it is perceived and communicated.

Boroditsky Hypothesis psychology

If setting up someone to think about time vertically, Mandarin speakers will be quicker than Native English speakers in answering true or false questions about time.

Similarly, if setting up someone to think about time horizontally, Native English speakers will be quicker than Mandarin speakers in answering true or false questions about time.

Boroditsky Procedure

There were 46 participants in this study, who were all Stanford University students; 26 Native English speakers, and 20 Native Mandarin speakers.

  • In this study, Boroditsky used priming techniques, meaning she set the participants up to think a certain way.
  • In one condition, the participants were made to think of the time in a horizontal way, e.g. by showing an image like the one below.

Boroditsky Boroditsky theory summary StudySmarter

Boroditsky horizontal priming example, StudySmarter Originals

  • In the second condition, the participants were made to think in a vertical way, e.g. by showing them an image like the one below.

Boroditsky Boroditsky theory summary StudySmarter

Boroditsky vertical priming example, StudySmarter Originals

Then she carried out different tests to see what effects the priming had.

  • The participants saw single slide scenes with statements. Then they were asked if the statement was true or false.
  • They were also asked true or false questions about slides that they were shown with 'time' statements, which was done to see whether the participants being primed vertically or horizontally had an affect on how long it took them to answer these 'time' statements.
  • The slides were all presented one by one, and other slides with statements about months and time were asked to hide the true purpose of the study.
  • The participants were all tested in English. It was hypothesised that Mandarin speakers would answer questions about time statements quicker when vertically primed rather than horizontally.

Boroditsky Evaluation

Let's evaluate Boroditsky's study.

  • Variables were controlled (e.g. extraneous variables) since an experimental method was used, increasing the validity of the study.
  • Randomised slide orders prevented participants from guessing the purpose of the study.

Frequently Asked Questions about Boroditsky

The main thesis (hypothesis) of Boroditsky's article is based on linguistic relativism, the concept that humans interpret and see the world in different ways because of differences in languages. Boroditsky conducted an experiment investigating how Native English and Mandarin speakers speak and think about time differently. Her hypotheses were: 

If setting up someone to think about time vertically, Mandarin speakers will be quicker than Native English speakers in answering true or false questions about time.

Similarly, if setting up someone to think about time horizontally, Native English speakers will be quicker than Mandarin speakers in answering true or false questions about time. 

Lera Boroditsky's main theory about how language shapes thought is based on the concept of linguistic relativism. Linguistic relativism is the concept that humans interpret and see the world in different ways because of differences in languages. 

She then conducted an experiment which supported her theory and found that Native Mandarin speakers talk and think about time in a vertical way, whilst Native English speakers talk and think about time in a horizontal way.

Lera Boroditsky is famous for her study of language and thought, in which she investigated whether or not different languages cause people to think differently, specifically in the context of time and how it is perceived in English and Mandarin speakers. 

Boroditsky claims that learning a new language is not just about learning to speak differently, but also learning to think differently, since there are differences between languages in types of thinking. Her most famous study shows that Native English speakers talk about, and therefore think about time in a horizontal way. Mandarin speakers on the other hand talk about, and therefore think about time in a vertical way. There are also many accounts of bilingual speakers reporting to think and speak in a different way when they speak different languages, and that this change is not just down to the words being different.

Australian aborigines are better at spatial navigation because their language uses cardinal coordinates when saying hello.

Final Boroditsky Quiz

Question

What is the definition of linguistic relativism?

Show answer

Answer

Linguistic relativism is the concept that humans interpret and see the world in different ways because of differences in languages. 

Show question

Question

What is linguistic relativism also known as?

Show answer

Answer

Linguistic relativism is also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Show question

Question

What does 'Weak Whorf' refer to?

Show answer

Answer

Linguistic relativism

Show question

Question

What does 'Strong Whorf' refer to?



Show answer

Answer

Linguistic determinism

Show question

Question

What concept was Boroditsky's study based on?

Show answer

Answer

Linguistic relativism

Show question

Question

Which 2 languages were involved in Boroditsky's study?

Show answer

Answer

English and Mandarin

Show question

Question

What were the 2 hypotheses of Boroditsky's study?

Show answer

Answer

If setting up someone to think about time vertically, Mandarin speakers will be quicker than Native English speakers in answering true or false questions about time.

Similarly, if setting up someone to think about time horizontally, Native English speakers will be quicker than Mandarin speakers in answering true or false questions about time. 

Show question

Question

What was the aim of Boroditsky's study?

Show answer

Answer

The aim of Boroditsky's (2001) study was to focus on the effect of language on the way people think about and view the world in the context of time, specifically English and Mandarin speakers (English speakers perceive time horizontally, whereas Mandarin speakers perceive time vertically).


Show question

Question

How do Native Mandarin speakers talk about time?

Show answer

Answer

Vertically

Show question

Question

How do Native English speakers talk about time?



Show answer

Answer

Horizontally

Show question

Question

What was the technique called that Boroditsky used to make participants think about time in a certain way?

Show answer

Answer

Priming

Show question

Question

What was the dependent variable?

Show answer

Answer

The dependent variable was the reaction time in answering the true or false questions, which was recorded in milliseconds.

Show question

Question

What were the results regarding Native English speakers?

Show answer

Answer

Boroditsky found that Native English speakers were significantly quicker in answering time questions after being primed to think horizontally (2128 milliseconds) compared to when primed to think vertically (2300 milliseconds). This supports the hypothesis.

Show question

Question

What were both of the results regarding Native Mandarin speakers?


Show answer

Answer

Mandarin speakers did not show a significant difference in reaction times when primed to think horizontally (2422 milliseconds) compared to when primed to think vertically (2428 milliseconds)


There were however differences in Mandarin speakers regarding which words were used in the target ‘time’ statements. When the words ‘earlier and later’ were used (which are more time related) the Mandarin speakers were faster in answering after vertical priming (2347 milliseconds) than after horizontal priming (2503 milliseconds).

Show question

Question

What were the two weaknesses regarding the validity of Boroditsky's study?

Show answer

Answer

  • The study lacks ecological validity since the participants were Stanford University students, who would have differences in thought, language and thinking compared to the general public.
  • Also, validity is lowered because of the fact that the participants' thoughts were primed, which doesn't happen in real life when answering questions.

Show question

Question

What did randomising the slide order do?


Show answer

Answer

Randomised slide order prevented participants from guessing the purpose of the study.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Boroditsky quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.