Dipping into Diversity: ‘sound bites of thought’ – The power of language in ‘fitting in’

How does the nature of the language and idioms you speak influence your perspectives? Here, Lesley Traverso, Convener of the Institute’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group discusses a TED talk on this fascinating subject.

Have you ever thought about whether words create thoughts or thoughts create words?

When we consider the different ways that people from different backgrounds communicate, we may not always consider some of the reasons for these different ways of thinking and expressing ourselves.  I know that when I first came to Australia I was very concerned the first time somebody said “look” to me at the beginning of a sentence.  I thought he was cross with me for some reason or thought I was really daft, and I was very worried and couldn’t work out what I had done to offend him! 

When we are considering the broader aspects of diversity and inclusion, we may concentrate on the ‘big stuff’, but forget that it is often the little nuances that make someone feel an outsider, not included or inadvertently offended.

There is a fascinating Ted talk, given by Cognitive Scientist Lera Boroditsky, about how the nature of the language that we speak influences our perspectives.  Being adept at speaking the language of the country you are living in is one of the most important parts of fitting in.  Even after 18 years I still feel a bit of an outsider at times when I use the wrong word – why is it that globes are not bulbs and zucchinis are not courgettes anyway?

Of course, it is much deeper than just using different nouns.  How we speak shapes how we think and Lera’s final thought sums this up –

“I’ve told you about how speakers of different languages think differently, but of course, that’s not about how people elsewhere think. It’s about how you think. It’s how the language that you speak shapes the way that you think. And that gives you the opportunity to ask,  why do I think the way that I do?  How could I think differently?  And also, what thoughts do I wish to create?”

Listen to the Ted talk below and let us know what you think – does the way that you use your language influence what you are thinking?

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