To What Extent Does Language Influence Thought? Essay

2740 Words Oct 28th, 2012 11 Pages
“Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.” – Benjamin Lee Whorf

Introduction
The idea that language affects the way we remember things and the way we perceive the world was first introduced by the influential linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf (Harley, 2008). The central idea of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, today more commonly known as the linguistic relativity hypothesis, holds that “each language embodies a worldview, with quite different languages embodying quite different views, so that speakers of different languages think about the world in quite different ways” (Swoyer, 2003). In the late 1990s, Cameron claimed that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was regarded as “that which must be refuted
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Previous research by Malotki (1983) indicated that this finding was never approved as reliable data. This dilemma will be analyzed later on in reference to a contemporary study consisting of English and Mandarin native speakers and their ensuing concepts of time.

The Concept of Time in English and Mandarin
Research by Lera Boroditsky (2001) posed many interesting questions regarding linguistic diversity and the resultant interplay between language and thought: whether linguistic diversity stimulates different ways of thinking, whether learning new languages changes the way one thinks, whether bilingual and multilingual people think differently when speaking different languages. Clark (2003) maintains that although language does not indicate a complete map of consciousness or thought, it is at least a “representational map” that varies across languages.
Spatial metaphors are used to specify these different aspects of time in our experience with the world (Boroditsky, 2000). Examples of spatial metaphors for time include looking forward to something, falling behind schedule, or planning ahead. Results from Boroditsky’s study indicated that there were indeed differences in spatial metaphors employed between English and Mandarin; while in English front/back terms are predominantly used to conceptualize time, Mandarin speakers also use vertical metaphors as well as front/back terms to
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