How much does language influence culture and thought?

coffe-sesion-libro_2451854Most people think of language as a way to communicate and describe the world around us, but have you ever considered how much our language affects how we see the world?

I read a great article on the Wall Street Journal about just this.  It’s not something that I really think about unless it’s put in front of me, but language really can affect how we interpret the world.

One of the most interesting parts of the article talks about how some cultures (up to a third of languages!) don’t have words like left and right, and instead talk about direction in absolute terms (north, south, etc.).  In these languages, you would talk about things like your east leg, or your northwest arm, depending on which direction you were facing.  If you’re thinking about absolute directions all the time, you are most likely going to be better at finding your way around.  Also fascinating was that for people who speak languages where no blame is given to accidental wrongs (e.g. someone knocking over a glass), it is more difficult to remember who did it.  For example, in English we would say that ‘Jack knocked the glass over’, but in Japanese or Spanish, they would just say that the glass had been knocked over.  I wonder how much this has perpetuated the tendency in English-speaking countries to lay blame on others for things that happen to us.

Does language shape culture, or does the culture we live in affect the language we use?