The world of Brain research has a secret flaw. For decades, studies of the workings of the mind have been conducted primarily by English-speaking scientists on English-speaking participants. Nonetheless, their conclusions have been branded as universal. A growing body of work now suggests that there are subtle cognitive differences between populations who speak different languages — differences in areas such as cognition, memory, mathematics, and decision-making. Generalizations we make about the mind may actually be wrong.
in one learn published in the journal Trends in cognitive scienceAsifa Majid, Professor of Cognitive Science at Oxford University, has outlined the lack of understanding that results from ignoring languages other than English. “We can’t assume that what’s happening in English is representative of the world,” she says.
Take, for example, the Pirahã, an indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon. They count by approximation – what scientists call a “one-two-many” system. And that’s why they don’t do well in arithmetic experiments compared to, say, speakers of languages like English, whose vocabulary includes large cardinal numbers—20, 50, 100. “The way your language expresses numbers affects how you think of them,” says Majid. “It is the numerals themselves that enable us to think accurately in large numbers. So 17 or 23, that doesn’t seem possible without words in your language.”
If you are reading this, you speak (or can understand) English. This is not surprising as it is the most widely spoken language in human history. currently approx one in six people speaks some English. Still, there are over 7,150 living languages today, and many of them convey meaning in wildly different ways: they vary greatly in sound, vocabulary, grammar, and scope.
When English is used to study how the human brain works, scientists formulate questions based on the elements that English expresses and make assumptions about what mind, knowledge, or cognition is, depending on how the language describes it – and not what they might represent in other languages or cultures. Additionally, participants in cognition studies tend to be “odd”—western, educated, industrialized, wealthy, and democratic. But the majority of the world’s population does not fall into this category. “There’s this bias in academic research, partly because of where it’s done, but also because of the meta-language that the research is talked about,” he says Felix AmekaProfessor of ethnolinguistics at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in Majid’s work.
“If I ask you now: ‘How many senses are there?’ I suspect your answer will be five,” says Ameka. But in the West African language Ewe, spoken by over 20 million people, including Ameka, at least nine senses are culturally recognized – for example, one sense that focuses on being physically and socially balanced, one that focuses on it , how we move through the world, and one is about what we feel inside our bodies. Yet while this is well known, it does not enter what is considered scientific fact. “Western science has this huge wall,” says Ameka.