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Aaron Yang

High school Mathematics teacher,

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Has language limited our capacity of thought?

"Words can't describe..." is a very common saying. We may be hearing this all too often now that the world is changing like never before. But this also begs the question of, in what other mediums are we able to understand things? can these ideas be recorded on paper? video? etc. Just wondering what all you TEDsters thought of this.

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  • Jan 30 2012: What an intriguing question!
    As a bilingual, I've been discovering some differences in nuance between Korean and English.
    Since Korean is my mother tongue, I am more familiar with Korean than English.
    So when I try to write something in English,
    I from time to time have a bit trouble with choosing "proper" and "touching" words.
    Whereas, when I use Korean I can use proper words and touching words—even unconsciously.
    Not only that,
    I feel sad when I cannot feel the same pleasure in this word: quiet, while I can feel joy in this word: 고즈넉한(Korean).
    “quiet” implies just tranquil, calm, and placid, but 고즈넉한 means more than its meaning to Korean I think. When I use this word, I can picture some grandma’s peaceful smile, quiet atmosphere in country, bean-paste smell—in this case I can imagine that I smell it, and a picture of a cow that grazes.
    So, if I want to translate this “고즈넉한” word to English, I cannot conceal my bitterness.
    Because…
    This word is too much meaningful to translate just “quiet” or “tranquil”.
    If I were an American or the English, I wouldn’t be able to picture and feel those awesome images and the feelings that I have when I use “quiet”.
    (The reason why I feel like this is just because I’m a Korean.
    Every bilingual or trilingual can feel the same feelings I have.)
    I think this answer is slightly irrelevant to Aaron’s question, but the thing is…
    Language can limit our capacity of thought if we believe that all of the words and expressions we use everyday are “enough” or “perfect”.
    However, if we take advantage on this shortcoming of language, such as being a bilingual or trilingual and trying to find the various differences among the countries and cultures, we can rather expand our capacity of thought—that doesn’t mean that being a bilingual is the only answer for that.
    P.S. I wish I could learn more languages in the near future so that I can realize more values and drawbacks of Language,btw.
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      Feb 2 2012: I was also raised in a household that spoke Mandarin and Taiwanese. Your thoughts are definitely relatable to my upbringing. There are many words and phrases that can be described in Mandarin that may take a paragraph to even vaguely define in English. But i believe that as language evolves, the way in which we express ourselves will also evolve.

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