Whether you say 'this' or 'that' may seem inconsequential, but a recent study suggests that this choice can possess a universal significance. Researchers from the University of East Anglia conducted a study involving 874 individuals who speak 29 different languages, aiming to explore how the words 'this' and 'that' are employed across cultures and what they convey.
The study involved participants describing various objects placed on a table by referring to them as 'this red circle' or 'that green star'. Astonishingly, the data revealed that the word 'this', or its equivalent in other languages, was used 74% of the time when the object was within arm's reach. However, when the object was out of reach, 'this' was employed only 8% of the time.
Professor Kenny Coventry, who spearheaded the study, emphasized the significance of these seemingly basic words. He postulated that 'this' and 'that' were among the earliest words used by ancient humans to convey crucial information regarding predators or sources of food. Today, in our daily lives, these distinctions remain useful when collaborating with others on tasks such as cooking or DIY projects.
The findings have been documented in a research paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. The study involved 45 international academics who analyzed English, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese, and Mandarin. The consistent trend observed across these languages suggests that the usage of 'this' and 'that' is deeply embedded in how we communicate, regardless of cultural and linguistic nuances.
Understanding the implicit meaning behind the choice of 'this' or 'that' can be especially helpful in situations where accurate and precise communication is required. For example, when assisting a partner with a recipe or DIY project, recognizing that a request for 'that' knife probably refers to one they cannot reach allows for smooth collaboration.
This research sheds light on the evolution and universality of human language, unraveling the subtle complexities behind our everyday communication. So, next time you find yourself choosing between 'this' and 'that', remember that the significance of your choice may stretch far beyond what meets the eye, transcending language and cultural boundaries.