In Arrival we see that learning a new language has done significant changes inside the brain.

Can learning a new language really “rewire your brain”? Was this plot point in the movie based on a theory or concept from reality or just fiction invented for the movie?

  • Welcome the the site! Your question probably belongs on psychology.stackexchange.com. This site is for questions specifically about movies and tv. – sanpaco Oct 19 '18 at 4:38
  • @sanpaco does my edit make it on-topic. I made it such that OP might get an answer as to what the makers intended & executed – KharoBangdo Oct 19 '18 at 6:30
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    sanpaco sorry i thought it was about the movie. i wanted to know that its possible. kharobangdo thank you for the edit – jowoke Oct 19 '18 at 7:48
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    The film actually mentions the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (also known as Linguistic Relativity), which, at least in its strong form, isn't well regarded. - The Smithonian has a short article about it and the connection to the movie ... – Oliver_C Oct 19 '18 at 18:16
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    - And here is an interview with a linguistics professor about the movie: "It was a ton of fun to see a movie that’s basically all about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. On the other hand, they took the hypothesis way beyond anything that is plausible." – Oliver_C Oct 19 '18 at 18:16


Maybe not to the extent where Arrival shows (you start seeing the future), but indeed it does.

I read this article years ago, comparing German and English bilinguals.

English has a grammatical toolkit for situating actions in time. German doesn’t have this feature. This linguistic difference seems to influence how speakers of the two languages view events. German speakers matched ambiguous scenes with goal-oriented scenes about 40% of the time on average, compared with 25% among English speakers. This difference implies that German speakers are more likely to focus on possible outcomes of people’s actions, but English speakers pay more attention to the action itself.

There are many other articles on the topic, like this and this, but it seems to be accepted that language does shape how we think. I don't think the field is mature enough to draw conclusive proof, but it seems to be plausible at this stage.

PS: My sister, a speech therapist, also tells me that language is in fact fundamental to how we think. She works with disabled kids (e.g., austists) whose behavior can be seen to change as specific communication patterns are taught to them.

  • Note that it is unproven which came first, the mindset or the language. It's equally possible that Germans are simply goal-oriented and their language eventually came to reflect that. The only way to confirm that is to run a study whereby you actively steer a language and observe any behavioral changes over a long period of time; which (afaik) hasn't been done yet. – Flater Feb 13 '19 at 15:17

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