I have many times looked up on the internet, "How to think in a language," or other such pretaining terms, but that often comes up with ways to literally think in a language in terms of language proficiency. What I'm more interested in is seeing how a language can make people think differently. I'm not just referring to stuff like the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis, but also in how a language works semantically, grammatically, and logically. In essence, I would like to know how a language affects someone's perspective and their logic, as well as being able to use linguistic grammar to understand a language's pretaining culture.

Are there any theories, methods, or other such ways in which one can learn to "think" in another language?

  • 3
    As far as I know, none of such lurid popular science claims has ever been scientifically proven. Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 10:33
  • 3
    Well, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is not just a single statement. It's an integral part of many researches of cultural/cognitive/linguistic phenomenons. Just search for the term "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" and check for related works. Even the Wikipedia article has plenty of relevant links in the References section. I doubt you can get more than this in StackExchange format unless the question were narrowed a bit. Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 17:30

3 Answers 3


I recommend John McWhorter's book "The Language Hoax — Why the world looks the same in any language". Here's a short article making the point: https://newrepublic.com/article/117521/different-languages-dont-create-different-worldviews.

  • I've only read the article so far, and I think I can see what it is saying. I wasn't trying to apply or figure out a language's "worth" or which one was better, but more how one can use the way a language works to make one think more -or less- about certain aspects. For example, someone who know's Latin has a much better understanding of the declensive systems and therefore, would be able to understand more easily how a word in a sentence is being used as opposed to an English speaker, who probably would have a harder time diagramming a sentence because of a lack of a complex declensive system Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 15:47
  • @Morella Almann So you mean linguistic knowledge and not really world knowledge or general thinking? Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 17:05
  • I guess to an extent, but I think that there can be some overlap in terms of someone being able to apply a linguistic idea to a real-world situation or being able to identify different patterns or subtlies in a similar way. Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 18:06

One aspect of how people think is what they focus on and don't downplay. An example would be whether you have direct versus indirect knowledge of a fact; or certain relationships between speech events and events that we talk about (I'm referring to tense and aspect). These are properties that are overtly encoded in some languages so that "personal knowledge" or "completed" may be something that you have to include in your communication in one language, though could express in any language.

The problem is that nobody has devised a way of testing "how we think", which is a fairly unscientific albeit intuitive notion. Therefore, we can't actually test how a speaker of Quechua thinks, as opposed to how a speaker of Spanish thinks. If we could, then we might be able to see if Quechua-Spanish bilinguals "think" differently that Quechua monolinguals or Spanish monolinguals. It has been a long-standing observation that culture significantly shapes how people think (to the extent that "how one thinks" means anything), and language is obviously embedded in a culture. So it would actually be impossible in principle to test whether a difference in thought was because of language vs. culture. Quechua-Spanish monolinguals have a somewhat different culture from Quechua monolinguals -- how do you think they got to be bilingual?


Fundamental language differences are rare. Considering the existence of plural maybe allows over-generalisations, hence ethnic prejudices. That would be a bit far-fetched argument. W.r.t. normal variation of speech: non-objective monikers like terrorist / rebel / freedom fighter, that far more influence our mental state.

Nevertheless for speculations enjoy a bit of science-fiction classics: Null-A from A.E. van Vogt, and The Languages of Pao of J. Vance.

Having a regular number-forming systen is said to help in arithmetic: short / single syllable digits, regular dek tri / sep-dek (10+3 / 7x10, Esperanto) as opposed to thirteen / seventy. I doubt there is a measurable effect for adults.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.