Study: Japanese and Mandarin

To continue with the theme of grammatical and syntactical differences between languages, and whether or not that could possibly determine if language shapes or influences how we think, we travel to the far east. Now, the general character-based appearance is obviously different from alphabet-based languages, but let’s take it a step farther.

If I gave you six objects to categorize, as pictured below, how would you group them?

Arguably, this is highly dependent on which language(s) you speak. English-speakers are more likely to group by category, “pen and pencil” (for writing), “cup and plate” (for eating), “car and Legos” (for playing), whereas Japanese speakers might group more by material, “pen and car” (metal), “pencil and plate” (wooden), and “cup and Legos” (plastic).

Japanese and Mandarin both have classifiers, or “measure words”, which attach themselves to numbers–so how you say, “one tree” is different than how you would say, “one car”, since trees are in the “wood” category and cars are more in the “metal” category.

To learn more, check out the following linguistic studies: