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Jun 10

You are what you can say

It’s known that language shapes the way people think, but the development of a new form of sign language in Nicaragua has allowed scientists to examine this in a more controlled way. They gave two groups of signers a spatial test. The first group were older, and had learned a less evolved version of the sign language when they were growing up which lacked some spatially-related concepts which developed in the language later on.

Pyers explains, “The first-cohort signers find these tasks challenging because they do not have the language to encode the relevant aspects of the environment that would help them solve the spatial problem.” She added, “[They] did not have a consistent linguistic means to encode ‘left of’.”

This is a fascinating result, especially since the first group of adults were older and had been signing for a longer time. It’s clear evidence that our spatial reasoning skills depend, to an extent, on consistent spatial language. If we lack the right words, our mental abilities are limited in a way that extra life experience can’t fully compensate for. Even 30 years of navigating through the world won’t do the trick. And they may never catch up, even though the language they invented has advanced – after all, some studies with American Sign Language suggest that people who learn spatial terms later on in life never master them.

  10:35am  •  Science & Technology  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment

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