What is the Relationship Between Language and Thought

Exam Comments
• Each question worth 4 points. • Extra point given to questions that were especially insightful. • Points removed for lack of clarity, repetitions and misstatements. • Exam given extra point for inclusiveness (bringing language, culture, biology, … • Exam given extra point if interaction, dialectical relationship pointed out.

Exam Questions
• Which came first, the chicken or the egg? • What was the advantage of the two tube vocal tract? • The concept of the natural syllabus – Stephen Krashen.

What Is Linguistic Determinism? • • • • What is determined? What is doing the determinining? What in language is doing the determining? Why is this a structuralist approach? .

an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the pattern of our language. an implicit and unstated one. The agreement is. the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds -.and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. . largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way -. organize it into concepts. • "Science and Linguistics (c. of course. on the contrary. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face.WHORF on English versus Hopi • We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. We cut nature up. BUT ITS TERMS ARE ABSOLUTELY OBLIGATORY: we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees. and ascribe significances as we do. 1940).a.

it powerfully conditions all our thinking about social problems and processes. nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection.Sapir (Whorf’s Teacher) on Linguistic Determinism • Language is a guide to "social reality. The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. Sapir. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds. not merely the same world with different labels attached. Language 1929) ." Though language is not ordinarily thought of as of essential interest to the students of social science. but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. Human beings do not live in the objective world alone.

near the speaker or somewhere else. known by hearsay) or inferred -.Boas (Sapir’s Teacher) on Linguistic Determinism • . number and time are obligatory aspects. heard (i. one or more persons or bulls. we find in another location -. Instead of saying "The man killed the bull. definiteness. The obligatory aspects are expressed by means of grammatical devices (1938:132).. the present or past time are meant.as obligatory aspects. To give an example. .. When we say "The man killed the bull" we understand that a definite single man in the past killed a definite single bull. We cannot express this experience in which a way that we remain in doubt whether a definite or indefinite person or bull. "This man (or men) kill (indefinite tense) as seen by me that bull (or bulls)" (Boas 1938:133).e. We have to choose between aspects and one or the other must be chosen. whether seen.. source of information. When necessary." I should have to say. it determines those aspects of experience that must be expressed.. clarity can be obtained by adding explanatory words. The aspects chosen in different groups of languages vary fundamentally. while for us. "a paucity of obligatory aspects does not by any means imply obscurity of speech..

." • Whorf: We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages.Differences • Boas: “… it determines those aspects of experience that must be expressed…” • Sapir: Language is a guide to "social reality. • Sometimes called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

– SAE .The Whorfian Hypothesis • What is a hypothesis? • Whorf attempted to provide examples of language differences and not simply made the claim. • Whorf actually claimed that some languages may be superior to European languages.

Why. or have it explained to us. Whorf. In this field and in various others.' we European speakers still cling to our lame 'that'. French or Italian seems poor and jejune. If we change the form to 'I hear that is red' or 'I hear that it is new. for the forms of his speech have accustomed him to do so.Hopi V SAE • By comparison with many American languages. for instance. Does the Hopi language show here a higher plane of thinking. before we can see the difference in the relationships expressed by 'that' in the above examples. Language Thought and Reality. like the Hopi. English compared to Hopi is like a bludgeon compared to a rapier. but the Hopi now uses still another relater and makes no distinction between 'red' and 'new' since. the significant presentation to consciousness is that of a verbal report. than our vaunted English? Of course it does. whereas the Hopi discriminates these relationships with effortless ease. as between 'I see that it is red' and 'I see that it is new?' We fuse the two quite different types of relationships into a vague sort of connection expressed by 'that'. and in the second that seeing presents unspecified evidence from which is drawn the inference of newness. German. in either case. We even have to think and boggle over the question for some time. a more rational analysis of situations. use a different way of expressing the relation of channel of sensation (seeing) to result in consciousness. the formal systematization of ideas in English. PP 140 • . and neither a sensation per se nor inferential evidence. whereas the Hopi indicates that in the first case seeing presents a sensation 'red'. do we not.

this "thought world" is the microcosm that each man carries about within himself. i.g.Habitual Thought • By "habitual thought" and "thought world" I mean more than simply language.e. In brief. than the linguistic patterns themselves. wherein is a vast amount that is not linguistic but yet shows the shaping influence of language. . and all the giveand-take between language and the culture as a whole. our "imaginary space and its distant implications).. I include all the analogical and suggestive value of the patterns (e.. by which he measure and understands what he can of the macrocosm.

Whorf’s Questions • Are our concepts of time. synthetic and isolating. and linguistic ones like inflected. . or are they in part conditioned by the structure of particular languages? • Ans: This is the Whorfian Hypothesis • Are there traceable affinities between cultural and behavioral norms and large scale linguistic patterns? • Ans: “I [Whorf] would be the last to pretend that there is anything so definite as a correlation between culture and language and especially between ethnological rubrics such as agricultural. hunting etc. space and matter given in substantially the same form by experience to all men [sic].

Examples of Language Difference tl'imsm-ya boil 'is ita 'itl go for ma he-does ed eat ers .

Example 1: Shawnee S ______|______ | | VP | | | | NP | | | | | | __VP___ | | | | | | | | V V N V NP | | | | | tl'imsm-ya 'is ita 'itl ma boil ed eat ers go for he-does .

Apache • • • • • • ga 'be white (clear. enters' to 'water' goh_ 'place' goh_ga 'clearing [goh + ga] no_ga to goh_ga 'a dripping spring . uncolored)' no 'downward motion.

What language is this? 1. 2. 3. 5. 4. • • singular item exists in the present indefinite quantity small spheroidal quantities ongoing action to erupt suddenly IT'S A DRIPP-ING SPRING 1 2 3 4 5 English .

noon. and we say "at sunset or in winter" just as we say "at a corner" or "in an orchard. and have little formal linguistic difference from other nouns.Objectified Time Words in SAE • Such terms as "summer. morning. of the consciousness of "becoming later and later"-simply a cyclic phase similar to an earlier phase in that ever-laterbecoming duration. Our thought about the referents of such words hence becomes' objectified." They are pluralized and numerated like nouns of physical objects.e. as we have seen. it would be a subjective experience of real time. Without objectification. They can be subjects or objects. i. . September. sunset" are with us nouns.. winter.

" • These "temporals" are not used as subjects or objects.. verbs." It contains no morpheme like one of "in the house" or "at the tree." etc. And so there is no basis here for a formless item answering to our "time.Non Objectified Time Temporals in Hopi • In Hopi. morning. summer is only WHEN conditions are hot. One does not say "THIS summer." Such a word is not a case form or a locative pattern." There is no objectification. like "des Abends" or "in the morning." It means "when it is morning" or "while morning-phase is occurring." but "summer now" or "summer recently. WHEN heat occurs. One does not say ''it's a hot” or ''summer is hot''. like "summer. however. They are a formal part of speech by themselves. to use the nearest SAB analogy. or at all like nouns. of the subjective duration-feeling. all phase terms. as a region. summer is not hot. an extent. Nothing is suggested about time except the perpetual "getting later" of it. distinct from nouns. are not nouns but a kind of adverb. . a quantity. and even other Hopi "adverbs.

– 2. 1st... Hopi treat time as a subjective experience as a continuum a. Subjective Experience (the experience of non discrete entities (time) 2. b. 3. 4.. 2. 2nd. Objective (the experience of discrete entities) a. – 1. Note use of cardinal numbers – 3. Use of ordinal numbers He left after the 5th day. 3. Note use of time words as nouns and adverbials. Objectification the patterning of subjective experience along objective lines. Monday. 3rd. . SAE treat time as objective experience. 4.Whorf's Time Example 1. U of time words as adverbs and not nouns. 4th. He left after 3 days.. Tomorrow SAE is the one that has departed from reality. That is it has been objectified. c. Cardinal numbers v ordinal numbers: 1. • • • • ..

Chinese versus English 1. How tall is he? 4..e. . Ta ai. Ta ai buai. He is short or not? i. Statement 2 rarely given as statement unless in response to 3. 1. 2. da L large gau M high syau LH small gau M tall di M low chang H long ai LH short dwan LH short M LH 2. He is short M LH LH bu 'not' 3. Adjectives (actually stative verbs).

this table as compared to that one long L M M LM LH M L L 8. but always more or less relatively to others.the negative modifier bu L 'not' or some indication like hen LH 'quite.. and specifies one side of that scale as positive. adjective] invariably also has modifiers .. moderation in all things [including moderation?] .5. never in an absolute way. Hockett p 120 6.the Chinese "philosophy of life" emphasizes a "doctrine of the mean": never get too happy. dzwei HL 'very' or jen L 'really'.e. "We may say that a pair of Chinese adjectives establishes a scale. or you may also become too sad. . Jeijang jwodz bi neijang chang.. Jeijang jwodz bi neijang chang santswen This table as compared to that one long three-inches 9. L M M LH L H M 7. The normal adjectival predicate then serves to locate the subject somewhere on that scale. Now we may ask whether there is any attribute of Chinese culture with which this habitual relativism correlates. "In making de novo statements a predicate which includes a stative verb [i.

rather than vice versa. for if there is indeed a determinable correlation..Question of Direction 10. then it would impress the writer that the direction of causality in the matter is in all probability form "philosophy of life" to language. 11. Does this example provide support for the Whorfian Hypothesis? . This suggestion is put foreword with great hesitation..

Ownership from the standpoint of the owned object wa.Goodenough Language And Property In Truk 1. citosa my car wuuf-ey.g.my my vehicle/canoe) wuuf-ey clothes-my my clothes uniw-ey land. seec my shirt winim-ey ni my coconut drink 4. Simple Ownership wa. provisional title and residual title. Types of property ownership in Truk Full ownership versus divided ownership e. gifts as opposed to loans 5. Two types of ownership marked linguistically 2.my my land sam-ey father.my my father 3. Does this example provide support for the Whorfian Hypothesis? .ey vehicle.ey.

speakers took longer to classify borderline colors than usual colors. • Question. . does this affect peoples perception of color? • Codability: regardless of language.Brown and Lenneberg (1958) devised a “Color-Codability” • Different languages classify colors differently. • Also when speakers were asked to recall the color. they tended to classify borderline colors closer to the prototypic color.

leaf). than say color.Carroll and Cassagrande’s Color and Shape Saliency Experiments • Navajo has noun prefixes based on spacial features: – long and flat (paper. – long and rigid (stick. rope. – long and flexible (snake. • Question: Since sensitivity to shape is necessary would Navajo-speaking children be more sensitive to shape. than English-speaking children?N . hose). pole).

The test. . • Ask the child which two went together. • Persent the child with three pictures. The hypothesis is that the Navajo speaking children would choose shape over color. • The child had the choice of choosing shape or color. two pictures would share a common color and two would share a common shape.

this difference had all but disappeared. • However. when this experiment was repeated in other groups of English speakers they found that one group of middle class children responded like the Navaho speakers and that another group of poverty class children responded more like the English-speaking Navahos. but that by age 7 years. .The results • They found that shape was more salient in young Navaho speakers ages 3-5 than their English-speaking counterparts.

Problems with the hypothesis • The Hypothesis had a number of problems: • Lack of empirical support • In the strong form. how would you learn a second language? • Although the hypothesis never received any strong empirical support. Why then did it fall from favor? . it was never given a stunning defeat. how would it account for change? • In the strong form.

it represented a marked escalation over the earlier position of Sapir. The hypothesis was enthusiastically received up through the 50's (after all it did suggest an explanation for cultural variation) 3. When the Whorfian hypothesis was introduced in the early 30s. Currently it is still accepted in some corners.Where Whorf Went Wrong • The Events: 1. 2. When it gradually declined in popularity. .

5.The Answer: 1. Chomsky (1960's) reestablished within linguistics the validity of the independent role of the mind in developing knowledge and understanding. 1933) from the Behavioristic branch of psychology (Watson). the role of the mind as an independent entity was considered to be virtually nonexistent. knowledge could only result from experience. As a result. These events suggest that the Whorfian hypothesis is part of a larger picture and that I suggest is the period of strong empiricism. Thus the Whorfian hypothesis was logically consistent with the empiricist tradition. 3. 2. the Whorfian hypothesis could no longer be viewed as a logical consequence of the more general perspective (now rationalism). This period which had parallels in many other sciences was received in Linguistics (Bloomfield. incoming information could not be viewed as the sole source of knowledge and consequently language differences could not automatically be held responsible for conceptual differences. 4. It followed logically that different incoming information (including language) would influence knowledge and understanding differently. Given this position. For this reason. As long as empiricism prevailed. . including information gained through language.

What’s going on here? • Evidence has not been found to support the Whorfian hypothesis. • Does this mean that language plays no role in determining the way we think? • What are other possibilities? – Hint: Whorf was looking at structure (grammar). language is a guide to social reality. . what about looking at discourse? – Hint: Sapir.

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