Linguistic Relativity and Linguistic Determinism

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by Abu Bishr, Sep 19, 2006.

  1. Abu Bishr Senior Member

    Afrikaans, South Africa
    I'm not sure if this question has been discussed before.

    Does language determine the way people think or even perceive the world? In other words, do different language speakers think differently because of their languages? Eskimos have many more words in their language for snow and describing different types of snow than any other language, does that make their perception of snow more acute? Desert Arabs have several words for sand and camels, does that affect their perception of sand and camels in any significant way? Also, do the distinctions that certain languages make (e'g. gender, number, polite forms) impact in any way on our behaviour and attitudes? Also, it has been said that German is more logical language and therefore more amenable to logical thinking than other languages.

    This is called the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis and has both a strong and mild version. What are your views on this hypothesis in both its strong and mild versions? Also, do you think that this hypothesis, if taken to its extreme, can lead to negative consequences?
  2. BlueWolf

    BlueWolf Senior Member

    I quote something about that I found really interesting (by Neva):
    I think languages do determine in some ways how people see the world. A think I feel about English for example is that, since it has only "you" for both singular and plural, even if you talk to lots of people, you always feel more "implicated" in it.
  3. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I personally don't believe too much in it. I do think that there is some correlation between linguistic terms and cultural concepts, but in my opinion it goes the other way round. So if there is a percieved need to express a concept that does not have a word, it won't take more than a few months till one is created and spread through a linguistic community. One example where I think it can be rather clearly seen that language is a tool of rather than Lord over minds is the fast wear-out pace of euphemistic terms: as long as people think their cleaning lady is inferiour to them, a houshold maintainer (or whatever will be the correct term in five years) will be "inferiour", too. As soon as people get over class prejudices, "cleaning lady" will be an hounourable term of adress.
  4. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    Yes and no. Yes, when it comes to different shades of abstract ideas as (I think) learning more words means forcing your brain to understand the difference (sometimes very slight) between their meaning. That, however stands only for abstract ideas.

    No because even if someone calls deep red and light red just "red" he/she can still distinguish between the two.

    No because the fact that Greek i.e. just love overtly complex phrases which often run to a 5th line or so doesn't mean that Greek think in a more complex way that others or that the Greeks are incapable of thinking straight (although I have heard it said that we are too crazy to do so but I, the Queen of Lalaland, consider it pure slander)
  5. maxiogee Banned

    How could one tell?
    We are conditioned by our langauge.
    I cannot tell what anyone else thinks, whether they think in the same language as me or not.

    Imagine for a moment that joint brain implants allow you to see things as I physically see them. Now, imagiine that I have defective eyes and see red when you see blue, and vice versa. You look at the sky and see blue, I look at the sky and see red, but think it is called "blue". You look at a traffic light and see red, I see blue but think it is called "red". I have no way of knowing what you see when you see the sky. I assume that you are "seeing" exactly what I see — be it snow, sand, camels or sky. Having words for these things doesn't allow me to know what you mean by these things.

    Language is often only an approximation - a group of geese is a group of geese, yes? But if they are walking they are are flock of geese, and if they are flying they are a skein of geese. Who needs to distinguish between what the group is doing in order to describe the group. The geese haven't changed since they took to the wing.
  6. Daddyo Banned

    The hypothesis might hold true if the societies continued their semi-isolated existances as before. But in the last few decades (perhaps the last two centuries), the advent of cheaper and safer transport has caused a more rapid sharing of perspectives from different societies that might have never before had the opportunity of sharing a common ground, so to speak. I think, in light of how easy it has been to adapt neologisms and barbarisms into many different languages because of a wider commerce between the previously separate societies and their idiosyncracies, that the reality is that the social pressures between and within a group of people is what determines their perspective on reality, and defines their language instead of the other way around.
  7. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French

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