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Language and-thought


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Language and-thought

  1. 1. By Moazzam Ali To download more lectures Visit
  2. 2. 'He gave man speech, and speech created thought, Which is the measure of the universe' - Prometheus Unbound, Shelley
  3. 3. Language and Thought Perhaps because we typically think in words, language and thought seem completely intertwined. Indeed, scholars in various fields -- psychology, linguistics, anthropology -- as well as laypeople have entertained these questions: Is thought possible without language? Does the structure of our language shape our thinking? Does our perception/cognition shape the structure of language? Are our abilities to learn and use language part of our general intelligence?
  4. 4. Language and Thought  Classical theorists like Plato and Aristotle argued that the categories of thought determine the categories of language. To them, language is only the outward form or expression of thought.  Another view was expressed by the behaviorist J. B. Watson, an American psychologist and the founder of Behaviorism. According to him, thought is language. He believed hat thought is sub-vocal speech, that is , when we “think aloud,” it is called speech; when we “speak covertly,” it is called thinking.  A less radical position is that language determines thought. According to this view, the categories of thought are determined by linguistic categories. Theorists within this group are divided between those who think that language completely determines cognitive categories and those who merely say that language strongly influences cognitive categories.
  5. 5. Language and Thought  A long-standing claim concerning the relationship between language and culture is that the structure of a language determines the way in which the speakers of that language view the world. This view is called Linguistic Determinism  A somewhat weaker version is that the structure doesn’t determine the view but is still extremely influential in predisposing speakers of a language towards adopting a particular world-view. This view is called Linguistic Relativism
  6. 6. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as we know it today can be broken down into two basic principles: linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity Linguistic Determinism  Language determines thought  Different languages impose different conceptions of reality Linguistic Relativity  Language influences thinking  Linguistic differences between cultures are associated with cultural differences in thinking
  7. 7. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Edward Sapir (1884-1939) was a leading figure in twentiethcentury linguistics and anthropology. Educated at Columbia University (B.A. 1904, Ph.D. 1909) and initially a student of Germanic philology, he became attracted to the anthropology program then newly formed by Franz BOAS. Boas's project of studying the languages and cultures of North American Indians in their own right, rather than as evolutionary precursors or deficient versions of Europeans (as in some other approaches then current), became Sapir's own. Yet, his work grew to include linguistic topics worldwide, and his contributions in theory and analysis are among the foundations of modern linguistics.
  8. 8. Benjamin Lee Whorf 1897-1941 Benjamin Whorf was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts on April 24, 1897. Whorf began studying Linguistics at Yale University in 1931 because he was concerned about the conflict between science and religion. Interested in the American Indians, he began to study the Hopi language while at Yale University under the supervision of Edward Sapir. He was a Lecturer in Anthropology from 1937-1938. Benjamin Lee Whorf was a successful business specialist employed by the Hartford Fire Insurance Company. Whorf studied Linguistics in his spare time as a way to create an understanding of how language worked and unfortunately, he died before much of his studies could be proven.
  9. 9. Benjamin Lee Whorf 1897-1941 (2) In the field of Linguistics, Whorf worked in the areas of Linguistic Anthropology, Psychological Linguistics, Mayan and a dictionary of Hopi languages. Whorf argued that " language is shaped by culture and reflects the individual actions of people daily". He felt that language shaped a person's view and influenced thoughts. Today, many linguists agree with Whorf's studies. His studies, though not all were proven, helped future linguists in their studies.
  10. 10. Benjamin Lee Whorf 1897-1941 (3) The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: It is generally accepted by Ethnolinguists that culture influences language but there is far less agreement about the possibility that language influences culture. Edward Sapir and his student, Benjamin Whorf, suggested that language affects how people perceive their reality, that language coerces thought. This is known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Simply stated, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis says that the content of a language is directly related to the content of a culture and the structure of a language is directly related to the structure of a culture.
  11. 11. Sapir, 1929  'Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. 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 and reflection. The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.'
  12. 12. Whorf, 1941  'We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. 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; on the contrary, 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. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, 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.'
  13. 13. 9.5.1 language determines thought  In Chinese, there is only a single term luotuo, in English there is camel. But in Arabic, there are more than 400 words for the animal. The Eskimo language has a large number of words involving snow. For example, apun= “snow on the ground”, qanikca= “hard snow on the ground”, utak= “block of snow”.
  14. 14. Supporting Evidence  Hopi language vs. Western Languages  Looking closely at grammatical structures (tense)  Western languages perceive temporal entities as objects       in space Four days similar to four people/four oranges Hopi perceive temporal entities as ongoing processes Days in Hopi are cyclical “They stayed four days” cannot be said in Hopi Must be “They left after four days” Also tense system is very different for future, present, time
  15. 15. Supporting Evidence  Inuit (Eskimo) People have many more words to  describe snow that other peoples  Pirahã Tribe, from Brazil, only have counting words “one”, “two” and “many”  Navaho only have one word for blue and green  Russian has two separate words for dark blue and sky blue  Italians ride “in” a bicycle and “in” a country
  16. 16. Criticism on Linguistic Determinism  Linguistic Determinism is far too strong a claim and thus false.  “Peoples’ thoughts and perceptions are not determined by the words and structures of their language. We are not prisoners of our linguistic systems” (Fromkin et al. 2007)  May not have the exact word but are able to express their ideas and thoughts using other words or word combinations  The Dani tribe, who have only a 2 colour system, black/dark and white/light, were successfully trained to identify and name different shades of red  Inuit just have a greater need for more vocabulary of types of snow that us – it is arguable whether their perception is affected
  17. 17. Evidence for Linguistic Relativism  More evidence to suggest that Linguistic Relativism is valid       and has influence on thought and perception Language differences Politically Correct Vocabulary “Friendly fire” – the accidental killing of ones own soldiers “Mentally challenged” – as opposed to “mentally retarded” Putting positive meaning on negative ideas/concepts If there were no words that were sexist or racist, would our society become less sexist or racist?
  18. 18. THANK YOU