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Saying is believing

Does what you say shape what you see?

Intuition tells us that our descriptive language arises in response to information furnished by our senses; that we learn to name relevant aspects of our environment. However, in 1956 Benjamin Lee Whorf made the then radical suggestion that our language may actually shape our thoughts and perceptions of the world. This came to be known as the linguistic relativity or Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. One prediction of this hypothesis would be that the speakers of different languages might actually perceive the world differently. A popular example of this is the supposed extensive vocabulary the Inuit people have to name and perceive many more types of snow than speakers of other languages. Although this example has now been discredited, a substantial body of work on colour language and perception does support the notion that speakers of languages that have different colour vocabularies actually perceive colour somewhat differently. For instance, Dr Sowden's research found that Setswana speaking members of the Bangwaketse tribe from Botswana, who do not have separate colour terms for blue and green, perceived these colours as more similar than an English speaking population. In this talk Dr Sowden will discuss examples of cross-cultural research on colour cognition and what they tell us, together with current work that is seeking to unravel the mechanisms in the brain that accompany linguistic influences on thought and perception.


Dr Paul Sowden | talks | www


Date and Time:

28 April 2009 at 7:00 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



The Royal Institution
21 Albemarle Street
020 7409 2992

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Tickets cost £8, £6 concessions, £4 Ri members

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