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Slobin (2003)

Slobin (2003)

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Published by Keith Wheeler

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Published by: Keith Wheeler on Jan 26, 2011
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7
LanguageandThoughtOnline:CognitiveConsequencesofLinguisticRelativity
Dan1.Slobin 7.1IntroductionThevoluminousliteratureonlinguisticrelativityhasconcerneditself primarilywiththesearchforinfluencesofparticularlanguagesonnon- linguisticcognition
insituationsinwhichlanguageisnotbeingused, overtlyorcovertly.
Thisrepresentsalongtraditioninwhichanthro- pologists,psychologists,andlinguistshavesoughttorelategrammatical andsemanticsystemsofalanguagetotheworldvieworepistemologyor cultureofthecommunityofspeakersofthelanguage.Forexample,Lucy hasproposedasetofrequirementsforstudiesoflinguisticrelativity.He stipulatesthatsuchresearch"shouldassessthecognitiveperformance ofindividualspeakers
asidefromexplicitlyverbalcontexts
andtrytoestablishthatanycognitivepatternsthataredetectedalsocharacterize
everydaybehavioroutsideoftheassessmentsituation"
(Lucy1996,48; emphasisadded).Inthisview,"cognition"isseenasacollectionof conceptsandproceduresthatcomeintoplayregardlessofwhetheran individualisengagedinverbalbehavior-speaking,listening,orverbal thinking.SuchresearchisdirectedtowardwhatLucycalls"anindepen- dentcognitiveinterpretationofreality"(Lucy2000,xii).Aratherdiffer- entapproachto"cognition"isprovidedbyinvestigatorswhoconcern themselveswithlanguage
use
andcultural
practice.
Forexample,Gum- perzandLevinson,introducing
RethinkingLinguisticRelativity
(1996, 8),underlinetheimportanceof"theoriesofuseincontext,"including formalsemantictheories(e.g.,DiscourseRepresentationTheory,Situation Semantics)andpragmatictheories(RelevanceTheory,Griceantheories), alongwithresearchinsociolinguisticsandlinguisticanthropology.In
 
158Slobin
thischapter,Ibeginwiththefactthathumanbeingsspendalargepor- tionoftheirtimeengaginginlinguisticbehaviorofonesortoranother; thatis,wearecreaturesthatarealmostconstantlyinvolvedinpreparing, producing,andinterpretingverbalmessages.Accordingly,researchon linguisticrelativityisincompletewithoutattentiontothecognitivepro- cessesthatarebroughttobear,
online,
inthecourseofusinglanguage. 7.2ThinkingforSpeakingInresearchonnarrativeproductionsacrosslanguages,ithasbecome cleartomethat"weencounterthecontentsofthemindinaspecialway whentheyarebeingaccessedforuse"(Slobin1987,435).Thatis,there isaprocessof"thinkingforspeaking"inwhichcognitionplaysady- namicrolewithintheframeworkoflinguisticexpression: Theactivityofthinkingtakesonaparticularqualitywhenitisemployedinthe activityofspeaking.Intheevanescenttimeframeofconstructingutterancesin discourse,onefitsone'sthoughtsintoavailablelinguisticforms.
A
particularutteranceisneveradirectreflectionof"objective"orperceivedrealityorofan inevitableanduniversalmentalrepresentationofasituation.Thisisevident withinanygivenlanguage,becausethesamesituationcanbedescribedindiffer- entways;anditisevidentacrosslanguages,becauseeachlanguageprovidesa limitedsetofoptionsforthegrammaticalencodingofcharacteristicsofobjects andevents."Thinkingforspeaking"involvespickingthosecharacteristicsthat (a)fitsomeconceptualizationoftheevent,and(b)arereadilyencodableinthe language.(Slobin1987,435) Theonlineeffectsoflanguageonthoughtprocesseshavebeennoticed bypsychologists,althoughnotseenascentrallyimportanttotheclassical issuesoflanguageandcognition.Forexample,Pinker(1994,58)writes that"thereisnoscientificevidencethatlanguagesdramaticallyshape theirspeakers'waysofthinking"andthattheSapir-Whorfhypothesisis "wrong,allwrong"(p.57).Buthehasalsonoted: Whorfwassurelywrongwhenhesaidthatone'slanguagedetermineshowone conceptualizesrealityingeneral.Buthewasprobablycorrectinamuchweaker sense:one'slanguagedoesdeterminehowonemustconceptualizerealitywhen onehastotalkaboutit.(Pinker1989,
360)
InLevelt's(1989)productionmodel,the"Conceptualizer"sendsa "preverbalmessage"tothe"Formulator."Leveltconsiderssemanticdif- ferencesbetweenlanguagesinthismodel:
LanguageandThoughtOnline159
A
finalissuetoberaisediswhethermessagesmust,tosomedegree,be
tuned
to,thetargetlanguage.WillamessageforanEnglishFormulatorhavetodifferfrom onethatisfedintoaDutchFormulator,merelybecauseoflanguage-specific requirements?Theanswer...ispositive:Usingaparticularlanguagerequiresthe speakertothinkofparticularconceptualfeatures.(Levelt1989,71) Pinker,Levelt,andothers,however,stressthatonlinethinkingwhile speakingisanencapsulatedprocess,withnoconsequencesbeyondspeech time.ComparingparticularEnglishandDutchverbconstructions,Pinker concludesthat"itseemsunlikelythattheDutchconceiveof[theunder- lyingmeanings]differentlyfromus,exceptatthemomentthattheyhave toexpresstheminwords"(1989,358).AndLevelt,comparingdeictic termsacrosslanguages,concludes,"Itishighlyunlikely...thatEnglish andDutchspeakers
perceive
distancetoegodifferentlythanSpanishand Japanesespeakers.Butwhentheypreparedistanceinformationforex- pression,EnglishandDutchspeakersmustrepresentthatinformation intheirmessagesinabipartiteway,whereasSpanishandJapanese speakersmustuseatripartitecode"(1989,103-104).Inbrief,thinking- for-speakingeffectsareweak,notdramatic,andhavenofurtherimpli- cationsforperceptionorconceptualizationofobjectsandevents. Itis,ofcourse,exceptionallydifficulttodeterminehowpeople"really" representsituationstothemselves;furthermore,"weak,undramatic" effectsarenotwithoutscientificinterest.Iwishtoarguethatserious studyof
languageinuse
pointstopervasiveeffectsoflanguageonselec- tiveattentionandmemoryforparticulareventcharacteristics.AsI've arguedingreaterdetailelsewhere(Slobin1996a,2000),whatevereffects languagemayhavewhenpeoplearenotspeakingorlistening,themental activitythatgoesonwhileformulatingandinterpretingutterancesisnot trivialorobvious,anditdeservesourattention. Utterancesarenotverbalfilmclipsofevents.Aneventcannotbefully representedinlanguage:linguisticexpressionrequiresschematizationof somesort.Everyutterancerepresentsaselectionofcharacteristics,leav- ingittothereceivertofillindetailsonthebasisofongoingcontextand backgroundknowledge.Partofthebackgroundisaknowledgeofwhat isobligatoryortypicalofthelanguagebeingused.IfItellyouaboutmy "friend"inEnglish,youwillexpectthatsoonerorlateryouwilldiscover thesexofthefriend,becauseyouknowthatthird-personpronounsin Englishindicategender.IfIgoonandontoreferonlyto"myfriend"or
 
160
Slobin
"they,"youwillbegintosuspectthatIhavereasontoconcealtheper- son'sgender.However,ifwehavethesameconversationinalanguage thathasnogenderedpronouns,suchasTurkishorChineseorHungar- ian,youprobablywillnothavesuchsuspicions.WhenspeakingEnglish, mythinkingforspeaking-myConceptualizer-istunedtogenderand itscommunicativesignificance,andyour"listeningforthinking"issimi- larlytuned.Wearenotconcernedwithreal-worldcognitionhere,but withtheongoingconstructionofmentalrepresentations.Ourbasiccog- nitionofgenderdoesnotchangewhenweswitchlanguages,asfarasI know,althoughoursocialandculturalcognitionmaywellchange. Communicationisembeddedinculture,andmuchofcultureiscarried- indeed,constructed-bylanguage.Therefore,thedefinitionofcognition shouldnotberestrictedtophenomenaofthephysicalworldalone. Imagine,forexample,thatthepoliticalbalanceintheUnitedStates shifts,andSpanishbecomestheofficiallanguage.Americansnowwould havetoknow-ineveryencounter-whois
tu
andwhois
Usted.
Thatis,thelanguagewouldforceourattentiontofinepointsofstatusandinti- macythatwehavenothadtoresolveinusingtheuniversalEnglish
you.
(Ileaveittothereadertodecideifsuchademonstrationoflinguistic relativitywouldcountas"dramatic."However,considerthewaysin whichthelanguageofpersonalpronouns,honorifics,anddiscourse markersshapessocialcognitionandinteractionacrosshumansocieties.) Theseare,ofcourse,thoughtexperiments.Andonecanarguethatitis triviallyobviousthataspeakerorlistenerhastoattendtothosesemantic featuresthatareencodedinthegrammaticalandlexicalelementsofa particularlanguageinordertolearnandusethatlanguage.Ipropose thatmorerigorousdemonstrationsarepossible,showingwidespread "rippleeffects"ofhabitualattentiontolinguisticallyencodedevent characteristics.Severalcriteriaarerequiredforthinking-for-speaking research.I'llusethelabel
thinkingforspeaking,
buttheframework embracesallformsoflinguisticproduction(speaking,writing,signing) andreception(listening,reading,viewing),aswellasarangeofmental processes(understanding,imaging,remembering,etc.).Thus,therewill alsobeexamplesof"thinkingfortranslating,""listeningforunder- standing,""readingforimaging,"andsoforth.Thinking-for-speaking researchhasthefollowingcharacteristics:
LanguageandThoughtOnline
161
1.Theresearchaddressesa
selectionoflanguages
anda
semanticdo- main
thatisencodedwithsomefrequencyinallofthelanguages. 2.Thesemanticdomainisencodedby
specialgrammaticalconstruc- tionsorobligatorylexicalselections
inatleastsomeofthelanguages undercomparison. 3.Thedomainisrelatively
morecodable
insomeofthelanguagestobe compared. 4.Theresearchaddressesaselectionof
discoursesituations
inwhichthe semanticdomainisregularlyaccessed. Point2ensuresthatthedomainisonethatis
habitually
encodedinsome ofthelanguages.However,itallowsforhabitualencodingeitherby grammaticalmeans(morphologicalelements,constructiontypes)orby obligatorylexemes,suchasthecompass-pointtermsorlandmarkterms usedforspatialorientationinmanylanguages(Levinson1996a,b,in press;Pedersonetat.1998)."Obligatory"istakentomeanthatthedi- mensioninquestioncannotberegularlyreferredtowithouttheexpres- sioninquestion.Point3isconcernedwithrelative"codability"ofthe domain-thatis,easeofexpressionoftherelevantcategories.Amore codableexpressionismore
accessible
inpsycholinguisticterms;thatis, itisshort,and/orhighfrequency,andgenerallypartofasmallsetof optionsinaparadigmorsmallsetofitems.Thus,aconceptexpressedby asingleverbismorecodablethanaphraseorclause(e.g.,
run
vs.
whilerunning);
aconceptexpressedbyoneofasmallsetoftermsinaclosed set(suchas
uphill,downhill,across)
ismorecodablethanoneexpressed bychoicesfromalargerandmoreopenset(suchas
toyourleft,tomy left,towardtown,infrontofthetree,
etc.).Notealsothatgrammatical constructions(Goldberg1995)canprovidecodablemeansofexpression, suchastheEnglishcaused-motionconstruction. 7.3DescriptionsofMotionEvents My"paradecase"ofthinkingforspeakingistheencodingofmotion events."Thisisasemanticdomainthatisimportantinalllanguages,and itisonethatexhibitsdistinctivetypesoflexicalizationpatternscross- linguistically.Theessenceofamotioneventischangeoflocation-in

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