Linguistic Relativity(An interplay of language, neuroscience and our perception of the world)
@ HARSH BAID | Thursday, Mar 25, 2021 | 4 minutes read | Update at Thursday, Mar 25, 2021

We perceive the world around us through our senses and frame thoughts constructed on the stimuli we receive from them. It has long been speculated that our thoughts are universalized and indifferent to the language, culture and environment around us. This has drove the fascination of eminent neuroscientists, psychologists, linguists and philosophers for ages and has galvanised them to delve deep into this mystifying domain. With the advancement in technology and cutting-edge research in psycholinguistic studies, we have foregathered some conclusive results that are indicative of how language alters the way we think. In this blog we will peruse some of the psycho physical evidences and pragmatize the theory of linguistic relativity(how thoughts vary with languages). We will also acknowledge the essentiality of preserving linguistic diversity and thereby our culture.


Is language merely an instrument of expression?

It has been contested that words are just labels for objects and different languages just assign different sounds and structures to things and concepts. On a contrary the “Whorfian hypothesis of language” presents that the language we speak affects our thought process and even the way we perceive and structure the world around us. Nonetheless, recent experiments have proposed that various cultures and languages, steer an individual’s attention towards certain aspects(like colour, attributes and gender) relative to the others. Let me relate a few instances to substantiate the claims of the theory.

Languages and Gestures: In English and Swedish language, “future is ahead” concept is employed which means that they see future in front of them and past behind them(that’s the reason English speakers say we are looking to good times ahead!). Conversely, the speakers of Aymara(spoken in Peru) exercise the “future is behind” concept(They refer the next week as ‘back week’). Consequently, English speakers make forward gestures when talking about future while Aymara speakers’ gesture towards their back for the same. These gestures are emanated from the thoughts generated in their brains. This observation directs us to the fact that using different languages produced different thoughts and thus different gestures. This reflects how language affects our behaviours.

Language and Counting: Certain languages do not have words for some numbers. Subsequently, their speakers find it difficult to count and are impaired from the abilities in arithmetic, algebra and related domains. This reflects that their perception of numbers is less developed than others because of their language.

Language and Colour perception: It has been observed that the languages command one’s colour recognition ability to an appreciable extent. Russian speakers employ two words (Guluboy and Siniy) for different shades of blue while English speakers have just one. In an experiment the shades of the blue were gradually changed from light to dark and different language speakers were made to observe them. The brains of Russian speakers sparked a stimulus as the colour changed between the words employed for different shades of blue while English speakers did not show any such phenomenon. This observation complimentsthe proposed theory.


Language and Attributes: German and Spanish associate gender with nouns. German grammar attributes bridge as feminine while Spanish characterises it as masculine. When German speakers talk about abridge, they use stereotypically feminine words like beautiful, elegant while Spanish speakers use masculine words like strong, long etc. This leads us to believe that a language’s grammar propels its speakers to think about an object a certain way.


These evidences validate and corroborate the ‘Whorfian theory of language” that language has deep underlying connections with our thoughts and thus our perception.

Multilingualism and the vantage point

As we witnessed above the connections of language and thoughts, we can turn this knowledge in our favour through multilingualism. We get a completely new way of looking at world through the secondary language. Learning language as an adult generally involves only one hemisphere of brain (majorly left) and the speaker tends to think in a rational way in the second language (believe me this works wonders!) Here are some other benefits of multilingualism:

  • Multilingualism delays the onset of diseases like dementia and Alzheimer by 5 years.
  • Efforts and attention needed to switch between languages triggers more activity and potentially strengthens the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex which guides the executive functions like problem solving, switching between tasks and attention to tasks.
  • It lets you experience differentcultures and their literature.
  • It rewires the brain and helps improve memory and function.
  • You can watch Netflix without subtitles! (sounds whimsical yet true).


I hope you were able to witness the ubiquitous nature of language and the way it designs our imagination. There are about 7000 languages across the world (indeed huge!) and each bestows a distinct perspective to the world. They have deep intricacies with culture and an individual’s identity. Regrettably we are losing them at an alarming pace. Languages are not just stacks of grammar, they provide different dimensions to the world. We need to understand the gravity of situation and uphold our language high. This can be instrumental in defining ourselves and the human race as a whole.

Social Links