… the mechanics of using a language such as English, which tends to assign an agent to an action regardless of the agent’s intent, also tends to more vividly imprint that agent in the speaker’s memory. Other linguistic differences help young children in aboriginal cultures achieve powers of navigation that would confound a Harvard professor.
Boroditsky’s own journey began in Belarus, where she was the only child of parents who were both engineers. At 12, she says, she spoke Russian and struggled with Belarusian and Ukrainian. She was learning English in school when her parents got the opportunity to emigrate. A close friend had preceded them by three months and settled in Skokie, Ill., where they went as well. Boroditsky’s background and passion for argument earned her the nickname “Red Fury” in high school, she says with a laugh. She recalls thinking even as a teenager about the degree to which language could shape an argument and exaggerate the differences between people.