Language and Space: Momentary Interactions


Does language change thought? This classical question has recently received renewed attention, as new lines of evidence have been offered, either supporting or arguing against the idea that speaking a particular language-- or having a language at all-- affects our non-linguistic representation. The domain of space has provided particularly fertile territory for this debate. In this talk, I will present a new hypothesis about the way in which language interacts with visual-spatial representations, arguing that this occurs on a momentary basis, with no repercussions for permanent changes in our non-linguistic spatial representation. These momentary interactions increase over development, resulting in obligatory linguistic encoding in many tasks, but no real change in non-linguistic representations. This hypothesis not only accounts for new data I will discuss; it also accounts for much of the existing data on both sides of the aisle, in domains as different as spatial cognition and the representation of color. Having a language undoubtedly changes human cognition-- but it does not change our non-linguistic representations.

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