Language has been an integral part of human existence since the dawn of time. Our innate ability to communicate has guided the progress of civilization since its modest beginnings and facilitates our understanding of what it means to be human. The only practical way to thoroughly express one’s identity is through language, whether it be verbal speech or written text. It is only through this medium that we are able to fulfill our roles as a social people, who use discourse to cultivate relationships both on a personal and communal level. Language defines the human notion of self by revealing culture and beliefs, making individuality context-specific, and providing identity markers.
So how does one’s language influence one’s thoughts? This question has been disputed since the Sapir Whorf hypothesis, also known as linguistic relativity hypothesis, implicated that a language’s features determines its speaker’s thoughts. (danza) the idea dated centuries back, but this was the first substantial hypothesis, formed during 1930’s based on the thoughts of two linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf.
Famous American anthropologist and social theorist Clyde Kluckholm , claims in one of his publication that “Every language is also a special way of looking at the world and interpreting experience concealed in the structure of language are a whole set of unconscious assumptions about the world and the life in it”(Writing logically, Thinking critically 7th edition P 35). Based on this theory, we can learn more
Language is shared among all humans, but it is hardly straightforward. As mentioned in our many lectures, Ferdinand de Saussure described language as “…series of differences of sound combined with a series of differences of ideas.” As such, there is a linguistic influence on our thoughts. Language is much more than communicating because it can also be representational on how we think about ourselves and the world that surrounds us. It is because we use language to express our thoughts, feelings, and ideas, that these communications shape the process of how we think and feel. It is something that is continuously evolving over time. Some languages can cease to exist, but new forms can arrive in their place. This is especially so when two different languages make contact. However, it’s not necessarily the languages themselves making contact, but the people who speak those languages.
Whorf acknowledges the difficulty of stepping away from his native language in order to scrutinize a foreign tongue objectively, but insists it is essential to do so. Even if the language is learned, it can be difficult to mentally remove oneself from his/her language’s “wirings”, in other words, not in terms of one’s own language.
Humans are as diverse as they are the same, even in their opinion of such a statement. There are billions of people communicating countless ideas in a multitude of languages the world over, yet somehow common themes and ideas transect the pages of history, excluding none. Here in the digital age, the surrounding environment continues to become more and more visually-infested, nearly keeping pace with the rapid development of communications technology. "In such a world, the problem of how words and pictures connect is a vital one. And no artistic medium seems to me as properly suited to the working out of the connection as the visual narrative is. It is itself the meeting ground of words and pictures" (Dardess 222).
Have you ever had the feeling that speaking another language changes how you think? Could speaking a new language take you to a different perceptual world? Or is language just a set of labels for universal thoughts or ideas? (Shaules, 2015) Many brilliant thinkers have spent their entire lives working on these kinds of topics for over a century. When it comes to linguistic relativity, “The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis”, first proposed by ‘Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf seventy years ago, states that the language we speak does shape the way we see the world and has an important role, it remains the dominant hypothesis in the field of language and thoughts. (Sapir, 1921)
I found this paper to be fascinating. I have always thought that our language shapes how we think; this paper sheds new light on the varying languages spoken throughout the world. The following is an excerpt from Lera Boroditsky’s paper:
Through the Looking Glass focuses on the manner in which culture can shape language. It has a number of historical references, and has some interesting examples of how language is used as a way to address the issue of perception, as in Homer's "wine-dark sea." The work is filled with accessible examples of the domino effect in that culture causes language, but language causes perception or is this the chicken and the egg argument? Essentially, different languages cause people to perceive the world differently, to act upon those perceptions, and sometimes to find themselves in conflict with one another because
“Language is everything and everywhere” (Wallace, 390). The idea of language brings forth thoughts of different words, sounds and meanings. Try to imagine a day where language is not used is nearly impossible. Communication and relationships would cease to exist without any form of language, spoken, written and even body language, are all necessities in our everyday life. David Foster Wallace’s, “Authority and American Usage” and Richard Rodriguez’s, “The Achievement of Desire” communicate the importance that language has on our lives. This conversation regarding language and its importance brings up the questions of what exactly is the impact it has? It is critical to understand that the way a
Does the language affects the way people think or is it the other way around? Our textbook, Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics by Rene Dirven, provides two theories: linguistic relativity and universalism. Researchers who believe linguistic relativity claim that language affects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their world. Benjamin Lee Whorf, representative researcher for linguistic relativity, argues that language determines thought, and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories. Universalism, which is a contrasting concept to the linguistic relativity, assumes that human thought is significantly alike across all cultures and that since language is a reflection of human thought, all languages are similarly related. For instance, every language has equivalent terms for live and death. Universalists use terms semantic primes and universal concepts to explain this phenomenon. In fact, both theories, linguistic relativity and universalism, could be advocated. However, after some strong researches done by universalists, Whorfian view or linguistic relativity theory has been undermined and abandoned in academic society.
Language has traditionally been characterized by Philosophers as a cognitive tool used to freely externalize ones thoughts (Green, 2010 as cited in Kaye, 2010). The relationship between language, thought, culture and reality has occupied the minds of many for centuries. Early theorists argued that language and thought were two separate systems which “enter into an array of interconnected cognitive structures” (Chomsky, 1983). Extreme nativists and constructivists are key proponents of innateness and argued that knowledge and
just as a language has given birth to all who speak it, so all human expression, all alien tongues that ever have been or will be spoken, must be contained in it, at least in the germ . . .There is no trait in any one language which is not at least latent in every other, though it may appear only in dialects, in the vocabularies of trades and callings, or in the chatter of the nursery. The possibility and the function of translating, its can-be, may-be and should-be, are based on this essential oneness of all languages, and on the command springing from that oneness that there shall be communication among all men.
This is the weaker form of the hypothesis and states that different languages encode different categories. Therefore, speakers of different languages view the world in different ways. I see that I need to provide concrete examples of this, and so I have decided to includ evidences for linguistic relativism cited in Introduction to linguistics by Fromkin et. al.