Books read may determine how we process/organise language

November 4, 2019

Language is thought to shape most of our perception and understanding – additionally, being able to speak two or more languages might reduce the risk progressive neurodegenerative conditions. Research data by The State University of New York (SUNY), in US, and the University of Manitoba (UM), in Canada, now highlights that a specific kind of language, as defined by the type of books read, may affect how language is processed.

The joint study made use of a specially developed computational method to analyse the lexical content of more than 26,000 works of fiction of some 3,000 authors, written either in American or British English.They then compared this with the language behaviour of over 1,000 study participants who lived in environments primarily based on British or American English.

The participants’ resounding behaviour was found to be affected by their  surrounding environment – those who grew up reading books in American English, compared with those who grew up with books in British English, appeared to process language in a different way, as well as respond differently to language-based tasks.

“When people read or hear language, they comprehend that language through the lens of their own experience,” wrote Brendan Johns and Randall Jamieson, from SUNY and UM respectively. “As such, the differences we find in language environment and behaviour as a function of time and place is what we call the ‘selective reading hypothesis.”

The researchers are interested in finding out whether they can use their machine-learning methods to improve educational strategies and maximise an individual’s learning potential; they would also like to study prevention strategies for progressive neurodegenerative conditions, to enable better language retention in older individuals.


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