Space and Thought
(two of Boroditsky's stimuli, pdf here)
Yet again, Andrew Sullivan treads into the area of linguistics and cognition research. But at least this time he's wise enough to make no comments about the studies he links to (he's typically misguided, or flat out wrong in his linguistic sensibilities, see here, here and here).
This time he reprints a quote here from an article titled How Does Our Language Shape The Way We Think? written by Stanford assistant professor Lera Boroditsky regarding how language influences thought. Of course, Sullivan reprints the least interesting piece of information in the article, a mere behavioral anecdote about how speakers of different languages use different direction terms. This fact has been well known for a long time (I first learned about it in an introductory cog sci course in 1998 and it was old news then). The more interesting fact is the following effect she observed during a test to compare Russian and English speakers' ability to discriminate shades of blue (color terms is a classic topic within cognitive science going back to Berlin & Kay's work in the sixties, see here):
The disappearance of the advantage when performing a verbal task shows that language is normally involved in even surprisingly basic perceptual judgments — and that it is language per se that creates this difference in perception between Russian and English speakers.
After skimming Boroditsky's article, I felt had it was a very good review of the field of language and thought studies as I remember it, but it didn't add much, if anything, but it's clearly a layperson's article, so I looked at her Stanford page and skimmed her list of publications and more critically, the references she cites.
My first impression was, "she doesn't cite much, does she?" I'm used to experimental psychology articles containing lists of references almost as long as the article itself, but most of her (first author) papers have a handful of citations. But the more surprising thing was the notable absence of two names, Len Talmy and Jürgen Bohnemeyer. I'll grant that I'm a little biased because both of them were professor's at my grad school, but the granting ends there. I can't imagine writing a serious research paper on how language shapes thought without references to one or both of these researchers, especially as Talmy has written an extensive, typologically rich, two volume set on the relationship between language ands thought: Toward a Cognitive Semantics and he has a forthcoming book The Attention System of Language (his work in progress handout on the same topic can be read in this pdf).
Don't get me wrong, I basically like Boroditsky's research methods and approach. I just think it's time for her to review Talmy and Bohnemeyer.