Sunday, April 17, 2011

What is a teenager?

Most definitions start out by saying it is someone between the ages of thirteen and nineteen years.

For the term to have a point, you've got to believe that there are some characteristic traits that people of those ages share.

Does it make sense for nineteen to be included?  Why not twelve?

I find it odd and an interesting example of contingency that the names of numbers have influenced our perception of social behavior and human development.

You wouldn't be as likely to come up with the concept of teenager if you were working in Spanish, for example, which names the numbers 11-19 as:
11: once
12: doce
13: trece
14: catorce
15: quince
16: dieciseis
17: diecisiete
18: dieciocho
19: diecineuve

In Spanish, you might instead have come up with a term for the -ce years, 11-15, and a term for the dieci- years, 16-19, and expect particular behaviours for those two groups.

How often our understanding and ability to talk about an issue is bounded and informed by our language and choice of terms.

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