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Lera Boroditsky (born about 1976 in Belarus) is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at UCSD and Editor in Chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology. She studies language and cognition, specifically focusing on interactions between language, cognition, and perception. She received her B.A. from Northwestern University and her Ph.D. from Stanford University, where her thesis advisor was Gordon Bower.
Her research combines insights and methods from linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology. She has received several awards for her research, including an NSF CAREER award, the Marr Prize from the Cognitive Science Society, and being named a Searle Scholar.
Her work has provided new insights on the controversial question of whether the languages we speak shape the way we think (see Sapir–Whorf hypothesis). She has discovered empirical examples of cross-linguistic differences in thought and perception that stem from syntactic or lexical differences between languages. This work had influences in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and linguistics in countering the notion that human cognition is largely universal and independent of language and culture.
In addition to scholarly work, Boroditsky also gives popular science lectures to the general public, and her work has been covered in news and media outlets.
In her article “Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers' conceptions of time” (2001), Boroditsky has argued for a weak version of linguistic relativity, providing a ground for it through her cross-language studies on verb tenses carried out with English and Mandarin speakers. She argues that English speaker conceive time in a way that is analogous to their conception of a spatial horizontal movement, whereas native Mandarin speakers associate it to a vertical movement. She has also stated that these differences do not totally determine conceptualization, since it is possible for the speakers of a language to be taught to think like the other language speaker do, needless to learn this other language. Therefore, and according to Boroditsky, mother tongues may have an effect on cognition, but it is not determining.
- Boroditsky, Lera, "Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers' conceptions of time" Psychological Science, 13(2), 185–188.
- Boroditsky, L. (2003), "Linguistic relativity", in Nadel, L., Encyclopedia of cognitive science, London: Macmillan, pp. 917–922
- Boroditsky, L.; Schmidt, L.; Phillips, W. (2003), "Sex, syntax, and semantics", in Gentner, D.; Goldin-Meadow, S., Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 61–80
- Boroditsky, L. & Ramscar, M. (2002). The roles of body and mind in abstract thought. Psychological Science, 13(2), 185–188.
- Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought? English and Mandarin speakers' conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology, 43(1), 1–22.
- Boroditsky, L. (2000). Metaphoric Structuring: Understanding time through spatial metaphors. Cognition, 75(1), 1–28.