I was studying the media theorist and culture critic Neil Postman, in particular, his work on the influence of television in American culture* and his concept of Technopholy, a society overwhelmed by technology.*
While discussing the role of television in the devaluation of language, through its structural characteristics being; fastness, discontinuity, an overabundance of contents, and decontextualization, he affirms that variations in the language structures translate into a different understanding of the world, our idea of time and space is influenced by the language we speak.
Language is the most significant way of communicating and a truly astonishing ability we have. With words, we express our culture, describe our ideas, dreams, and fears. Through language, we identify and shape those ideas, make them real, at least in our minds. The human ability to communicate through language allows share ideas through space and time, transmit knowledge.
So, does your language shape your way of thinking? It turns out yes. Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky in her Ted Talk* introduces a few beautiful examples of how a language shapes cognitive abilities.
During one of her studies with the aboriginal community of the Kuuk Thaayorre in Pormpuraaw in Cape Town she understood how in their language there is no concept of left and right, they employ cardinal directions instead. This translates into a higher ability to orient yourself better than we think a person can do. The use of cardinal directions in various aspects of their culture allows them to always know where the north is. When greeting somebody by saying hello, which literal translation from Pormpuraaw language corresponds to the question "where are you going?", you answer by indicating your direction with cardinal points. In Italian there are proper words to identify light and dark blue (azzurro/blu), while in English it falls only under one category, meaning more sensibility in recognizing colors shifting. The term "bridge" has a feminine article in German (die Brucke) and masculine in Spanish (el puente). Does this difference influence how a German mother tongue perceives the sun compared to Spanish? It does. A german person will describe the bridge with more stereotypically feminine adjectives (beautiful/elegant) and the Spanish will probably describe it as robust, sturdy, huge.
"Language shapes the way you think" might be a strong statement, your way of thinking is unique to you. But it can affect your cognitive abilities, all those processes through which a person perceive, record, modify, use and express information, which is strictly related to the culture.
Learning new languages, traveling, experiencing different cultures, and engaging with people will help you broaden your perspective and let you understand that meanings change historically and culturally. Your understanding of right and wrong, the meaning of love, your relationship with your surroundings and nature are not definite and invariable but shaped by your culture and language. Here lies the importance of cultural diversity and cultural sharing for a more inclusive world.
* Neil Postman, Amusing ourselves to death 1985
*Neil Postman, Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology 1992
* Lera Boroditsky, How language shapes the way we think