cover image The Power of Language: How the Codes We Use to Think, Speak, and Live Transform Our Minds

The Power of Language: How the Codes We Use to Think, Speak, and Live Transform Our Minds

Viorica Marian. Dutton, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-18707-4

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 [multiple ones]” 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. (Apr.)