The Power of Language
Lera Boroditsky in Conversation with Roy Eisenhardt
Wednesday March 20th 7:30pm at the Herbst Theatre
There are over 7,000 languages around the globe and each one may shape a given culture’s conception of time, space, color, or even justice. Lera Boroditsky, who conducts groundbreaking research on how language shapes thought says that “each language is its own universe”. Boroditsky is a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University who pays attention to what a speaker of a given language thinks, perceives, and remembers about an event. She makes the claim that “different languages invite speakers to develop different cognitive skills.” This idea that language shapes thoughts puts her at ends with linguists such as Noam Chomsky who contend that thought and perception are universal entities expressed but not shaped through language. The connection between language and thought has long captivated poets, philosophers, linguists, and thinkers of many sorts, but the modern debate has its roots in the work of the early-20th-century American linguist Benjamin Whorf and his Yale mentor, Edward Sapir. They believed that the structure of language was integral to the formation of thought and the evolution of cultural. The Whorf-Sapir theory of language was all but abandoned after about the 1930s. Boroditsky is often called a “neo-Whorfian” cognitive scientist as she is bringing this theory back to the forefront of discussion. She is “one of the first to show truly convincing evidence for the effects of language on cognitive processes,” including mental imagery, reasoning, perception and problem solving. Lera Boroditsky will be in conversation with Roy Eisenhardt who practiced law for twelve years in San Francisco and has taught at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. He previously served as the Executive Director for the California Academy of Sciences. Some of his numerous interviews for City Arts & Lectures include Stephen King, Gene Wilder, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Desmond Tutu, David Remnick and Isabella Rosselini.