The Power of Language
How the Codes We Use to Think, Speak, and Live Transform Our Minds
“Sparkles with insight.”—Daniel Pink
One of Behavioral Scientist’s Summer Books of 2023
One of Next Big Idea Club’s "7 Books that Reveal the Wonders of Writing and Language"
This revolutionary book goes beyond any recent book on language to dissect how language operates in our minds and how to harness its virtually limitless power.
As Dr. Marian explains, while you may well think you speak only one language, in fact your mind accommodates multiple codes of communication. Some people speak Spanish, some Mandarin. Some speak poetry, some are fluent in math. The human brain is built to use multiple languages, and using more languages opens doors to creativity, brain health, and cognitive control.
Every new language we speak shapes how we extract and interpret information. It alters what we remember, how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, how we feel, the insights we have, the decisions we make, and the actions we take. Language is an invaluable tool for organizing, processing, and structuring information, and thereby unleashing radical advancement.
Learning a new language has broad lifetime consequences, and Dr. Marian reviews research showing that it:
· Enhances executive function—our ability to focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t.
· Results in higher scores on creative-thinking tasks.
· Develops critical reasoning skills.
· Delays Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia by four to six years.
· Improves decisions made under emotional duress.
· Changes what we see, pay attention to, and recall.
Marian, a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Northwestern University, makes a convincing case for multilingualism in her illuminating debut. A trilingual herself, Marian grew up puzzling over linguistic peculiarities: why, for example, was "bridge" gendered "she" in German, "it" in English, and "masculine if there's one, but feminine if there are " in her native Romanian? Language influences how humans perceive reality, she explains—Germans are more likely to describe those feminine-gendered bridges as "pretty" than speakers of other languages, cognitive research shows—and multilingualism is beneficial as it "opens up new ways of thinking." Multilingualism also confers various cognitive benefits: Marian's research tracking bilinguals' eye movements revealed they were better able to ignore irrelevant information than monolinguals, a marker of executive function, and studies have shown heightened mental flexibility among those who can speak multiple languages. Socially, multilingualism can promote cross-cultural cooperation, she writes, as appreciating "the utility and beauty of another language," can render one "less prone to... demonizing things or people who are different." The author also dismantles myths of a "critical period" after which it's impossible to become fluent in a second language, and explains languages can be learned at any age. Marian's extensive research and thoughtful analysis lend this entry weight, and the lay reader-friendly prose makes it all go down smoothly. Curious monolinguals will be inspired to expand their linguistic horizons.