Presentation on theme: "Linguistic Relativity BCS 261 4/26/04. Issues The main question in this research is “Does language influence our perception and modes of thinking about."— Presentation transcript:
Linguistic Relativity BCS 261 4/26/04
Issues The main question in this research is “Does language influence our perception and modes of thinking about the world?” Why is this an important question?
Sapir - Whorf “Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression… the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.” -Sapir as quoted by Whorf 1941/1956 What is strong and weak relativism?
Whorf and Apache Whorf argued that Apache doesn’t cut up events into distinct objects or actions: The boat is grounded on the beach. “It is on the beach pointwise as an event of canoe motion.” Pinker (1984) points out that a translation of English could be strange: He walks. “As solitary masculinity, leggedness proceeds.”
Relativity Myths Hopi have not concept of time (false) Eskimos have 20 different words for snow (maybe, but so does English e.g. slush, powder, hardpack, dusting, etc..) Speakers of African languages with no color words don’t perceive color (false) Chinese can’t understand the counterfactual (false).
Relativity and Culture We assume that language plays a strong role in determining thought.. Orwell’s 1984 Euphemisms: collateral damage - civilian casualties downsizing - firing workers death tax - inheritance tax Do we think in English? Is language thought? How could we test for it?
Strong vs. Weak Relativism The strong version of linguistic relativity is out….but is the weak version right? If language doesn’t determine modes of thought, can it influence it?
Li & Gleitman They investigate egocentric vs allocentric language preferences. Languages such as tenejapa are allocentric (e.g. uphill vs downhill) English is egocentric (left vs. right).
Animals in a row test What are the predictions? Why is it important to use a non-linguistic task?
Brown & Levinson
Explanations What alternate explanation does Li and Gleitman posit? How do they investigate the question?
Li & Gleitman Results
Other Evidence Landmark tabletop cue experiment What does the data from rat maze experiments and infant experiments suggest? If a difference in language doesn’t account for differences between English and Tenejapan speakers, what does? To disprove relativism for location descriptors, is it enough to show that English speakers can sometimes act like Tenejapans? What are some of the difficulties with any linguistic relativity experiment?
Interpretation under ambiguity English distinguishes between object and substance categories, but Japanese doesn’t. Both groups of speakers can categorize the two types of objects (e.g. dog and water) However, with ambiguous objects, English speakers prefer object categorization and Japanese speakers prefer substance. Li and Gleitman argue that this may be due too past experiences rather than language. How might this reasoning apply to the animals in a row test?
Boroditsky Boroditsky argues for linguistic relativity…what examples does she use? Space Time Shapes & Substances Object Gender Li &Gleitman argue that the context of the experiment must be controlled between languages. Could the same point be made with these experiments?
Issues What implications does linguistic relativity have for issues of modularity? There’s a chicken and the egg problem in linguistic relativity research. How do we know that differences in perception or behavior are a result of differences in culture or differences in language? Do non-linguistic aspects of cognition affect language in interesting ways? Are some things really untranslatable?