Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mind Your Language

When I was doing my psych research year, I had the opportunity to look in depth at how our brain processes languages and all the other cognitive aspects that come along with it. This included how the awareness of our thought processes. In The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker attacks the idea that one's thought is affected by one's language. There are many schools of thought about this, no pun intended, and obviously, there are as many people who campaign and propound the theory that language and in turn culture does influence thought and then, there is the Pinker camp.

Even as a student of cognitive psychology, I never thought very deeply into it. It always hurt my head when I had to face convoluted arguments putting forward what sometimes seemed like the most common sense way of looking at things.

But in the recent weeks, I've become somewhat of a guinea pig, caught between Pinker and the Sapir-Whorf camp. Though this is technically superficial, I find myself amused that I'm a cognitive experiment all by myself.

I've been at home for the last 3 weeks with a confinement nanny and a domestic help for company for most of the day. My confinement nanny speaks only Mandarin and I spend most of my day either chatting with her in my beyond rusty Chinese. On the other hand, I spend less than 3 hours a day chatting or hanging out with Packrat. The result of this is many-fold. The one I choose to concentrate on and the most bizarre and surreal one is something I guess I would never have thought twice about had I not read Pinker's stuff or lived and breathed Cognitive Psych for an entire year.

More than once or twice this week, I've caught myself at the tail end of a thought, when it become available to my conscious mind and to my great surprise, this tail end of a thought seems to be articulated to myself in Chinese! Albeit broken, but Chinese nonetheless. Leading me to stop myself in mid-thought and go WTF????

It's an alien sensation to discover myself thinking in Chinese and wonder if I am going to change now that I don't think in my mother language. And this was a phenonmenon- ok, I know one person does not a phenomenon make but seeing my track record in Chinese, in my mind, it is of proportions that are that large- that snuck up on me when I wasn't looking and too busy trying to keep myself sane. My Chinese hasn't improved very much, if at all but it sure does show that my brain has adapted itself to the Chinese language. I told Packrat he was to blame for it because if we chatted more after he got back from work, this would never have happened to me. I wouldn't be conducting conversations in my head in a foreign and alien language.

My life, to say the least is ONE kind of bizarre now.

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Ondine tossed this thought in at 17:33

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" Far in the stillness, a cat languishes loudly"