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I have learned two languages from childhood: English and Malayalam. I find it that most of the time when I think and reflect, my thoughts are mostly expressed in English.

Now, the interesting part is, if I were to choose to think in Malayalam, the structure of thought would be totally different. For instance, Malayalam is mainly SOV while English is SVO. We find many other grammatical differences between the two languages when we examine them in detail.

This leads to my question: When an idea is presented in two languages whose grammars differ greatly, would thinking in these languages result in opinions and conclusions that would differ greatly as well?

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  • Your post and question are two different things.
    – Lambie
    Nov 12, 2022 at 18:44
  • Coudl you explain why? Isn't the final statement of subject a different way to say "biased" @Lambie Nov 13, 2022 at 10:15
  • I think bias is the wrong word. There was just a very long article about this in the New York TImes but I can't find it. Languages color perception of the world.
    – Lambie
    Nov 13, 2022 at 16:48
  • You may want to read about Code-switching or Situational code switching - people may behave quite differently when speaking in different languages, but this is not necessarily explained by purely linguistic factors (e.g., cultural awareness may influence how one speaks and formulates thoughts.)
    – Roger V.
    May 11, 2023 at 12:05

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Unsatisfying answer: it depends what you mean by "affect". Different versions of this theory have been known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or just the Whorf hypothesis, or linguistic relativism, or linguistic determinism.

At one extreme, you could ask if language constrains what we can think, if we're unable to think of things that our language does not allow. This version is common in pop culture (like Nineteen Eighty-Four), but has been pretty conclusively debunked.

At the other extreme, you could ask if language determines what words we use for things. But this version is so weak as to be meaningless: of course what words we've heard affect what words we use.

The more interesting part of the question lies in between these two extremes, but as jk says, this is a very difficult topic to study because of how difficult it is to make solid, falsifiable hypotheses. Famously, Kay and Berlin showed that the way a language categorizes colors affects how quickly and easily people can distinguish them. Native speakers of English, which fundamentally separates "pink" and "red" and "orange", find it easier to distinguish reddish colors than native speakers of Swahili (which doesn't). But we find it harder to distinguish bluish colors than native speakers of Russian, which fundamentally separates "indigo" from "cyan".

Now, this doesn't mean English-speakers can't distinguish indigo from cyan. But there's a definite, quantifiable effect that can be measured in the lab, showing that our language to some extent affects the categories we impose on the continuous world, and we're faster and more accurate at identifying differences between categories than within them.

What does this mean for, well…anything except colors? Unclear. If you look into linguistic relativism you'll find a huge amount of discussion and not a lot of hard data. I would consider this one of the big questions of the field of psycholinguistics.

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Nothing at all absolutely and automatically forces a person to be biased, but interpreting your "make" to mean "influence", grammar can easily influence an individual, especially if they are monolingual. Typically, a monolingual will think that 'Bob saw Carl' is the logical way to arrange those words into a proposition if their grammar is SVO, they will think that 'Saw Bob Carl' is the logical way to put it if their language is VSO, and that any order is as good as any other, logically speaking, if they speak a free word order language.

Similarly, languages differ in what propositional and attitudinal facts are encoded as fixed grammatical forms (e.g. verbal inflections: Malayalam has a lot, English has just a few). Monolingual speakers of a language tend to think that the only logical way to say things is however it is said in their language. Therefore, it would be incomprehensible-ish to an English speaker that some language may not distinguish "I eat" and "I am eating"; it would be incomprehensible-ish to a Logoori speaker to learn that some languages do not have completely different verb forms for describing things that just happened, versus things that happened yesterday, or a week ago.

Multilingual speakers tend to not have these biases.

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This is a very difficult question and a lot of opinions exist about this, but few hard data. To find more on this theme, the Wikipedia article on Linguistic Relativity aka Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is a good starter.

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In addition to the points mentioned in this answer, I found a standpoint relating to this answer when studying philosophy of Structuralism.

Proponents of structuralism argue that a specific domain of culture may be understood by means of a structure that is modelled on language and is distinct both from the organizations of reality and those of ideas, or the imagination—the "third order."[14] In Lacan's psychoanalytic theory, for example, the structural order of "the Symbolic" is distinguished both from "the Real" and "the Imaginary;" similarly, in Althusser's Marxist theory, the structural order of the capitalist mode of production is distinct both from the actual, real agents involved in its relations and from the ideological forms in which those relations are understood.

There is also post structuralism, which as a differnt take.

Post-structuralism rejects the structuralist notion that the dominant word in a pair is dependent on its subservient counterpart, and instead argues that founding knowledge on either pure experience (phenomenology) or on systematic structures (structuralism) is impossible,[9] because history and culture actually condition the study of underlying structures, and these are subject to biases and misinterpretations.

Ultimately, this is all just philosophy, but I think, at the very least, it may give some food for thought for people who want to explore more after seeing my question.

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