Language Influences Your Thought4 min read

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11:9 (KJV)

Language – According to Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist, she states there are over 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. Why is this important? Language is a driving factor in how you think. Without speaking the same language as those who authored the Bible, we’re likely not going to think the same way they did. Lera explains this disconnect based on how different cultures use language.

Significant minute mark breakdowns in the video

3:32Language has direct impact on our knowledge

In the example given, the Australian tribe provides their directional heading every time they greet one another. Because of this, this tribe is very good at orientation and understanding direction.

4:42Big differences in how people think about time

Most people represent time in a linear progression from left to right (because most languages are read left to right). And that doesn’t change according to the direction one is facing. However, the Australian tribe shows the linear timeline based on the East to West coordinates. Time always begins in the East no matter the direction they’re facing.

John Walton also points out the differences of time according to the Near Eastern thought.

In contemporary Western societies we tend to imagine ourselves on the linear path of time with the past behind us, striding into the future, which is shrouded in mist. In the ancient Near East, in contrast, terminology indicates that the people viewed themselves positioned at the convergence of fields representing the past and the future. At this convergence they were oriented toward the past with its ancestors and traditions, while the future was obscured behind them. (John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, p. 222)

6:16Some languages don’t have number words

This causes difficulty keeping track of exact quantity.

6:52Some languages have a variety of words for color

This allows those people who speak those languages to identify differences in color quicker.

8:01Some languages use grammatical gender

This causes stereotypical feminine or masculine descriptions of nouns that are either feminine or masculine. People view the noun in different ways according to which gender it is for which language.

9:26Some languages focus on the noun while others focus on the verb

In English, if someone accidentally broke a vase, we’d say “he” or “she” broke the vase. In other languages they’d say “the vase broke itself” because it was an accident. They focus on the action rather than the who. This greatly changes perception of intent when speaking about the incident.

  1. Language can have BIG effects like space and time.
  2. Language can have DEEP effects like number words opening up mathematics.
  3. Language can have EARLY effects like allowing someone to differentiate at quicker speeds because they have more vocabulary for the items with which they are interacting.
  4. Language can have BROAD effects like grammatical gender influencing how you view an object.
  5. Language can have WEIGHTY effects like which piece of the communication is being focused on more than the other; noun or verb.

All of this together impacts how we think about and view the world. When reading cultural documents, such as the Bible, it’s important to read it as close to their language and worldview as possible if we want to understand what they meant and what the authors were trying to convey.

So why was Paul the one sent to the Gentiles (Romans 15:14-16)? It’s because Paul was taught Greek by the Rabbi Gamliel during a time when other Rabbis did not approve of learning or teaching Greek. Paul, because of his Rabbi’s desire to learn other languages, was better equipped to go out and spread the Good News.

His learning of new languages helped him make better connections and relationships with others. Just think about how learning the languages of the Bible might help you make better connections and relationships with the Word of God.

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