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The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis To what extent, if at all, does our language govern our thought processes?

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Presentation on theme: "The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis To what extent, if at all, does our language govern our thought processes?"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis To what extent, if at all, does our language govern our thought processes?

2 Grammar “In substance, grammar is one and the same in all languages, but it may vary accidentally.” Roger Bacon Chomsky – the propensity to receive grammar is innate. Backed up by studies conducted by Kegl in Nicaragua into deaf children who independently developed what became known an Nicaraguan sign. Consider some corresponding KIs after you’ve compared languages around your table

3 Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis 1) Strong : Language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories. (What we CAN and CAN NOT think) 2) Weak : Linguistic categories and usage influences thought and certain kinds of non- linguistic behaviour. (Influences how we THINK about things)

4 The ‘Strong’ Version Research Case 1: Peterson and Siegal Research Case 2: Numerical Differentiation – Piraha tribe In Brazilian Amizon “One, Two, Many” First noted by Peter Gordon How language influences the way in which we CAN THINK …

5 The ‘Weak’ Version Research Case 1: Spatial Orientation - Australian aboriginals - Guugu Yimithirr How language influences the way in which we THINK … Research Case 2: Colour Differentiation – Russian vs. Research Case 3: Perception of things (Bridge) – German/Spanish - El puente vs. die Brücke

6 Back to our definition of knowledge “Language is the dress of thought” Samuel Johnson Quechua Incas Particles are attached to nouns to signify: Personal knowledge: “I know it for a fact” Hearsay knowledge: “or so I’ve heard.” What difference would this make if knowledge claims were this distinction to be adopted in English?

7 The Piraha Revisited – An extreme Empirical Model What follows is the thesis of Dan Everett who had spent far more time with the Piraha than Gordon and was the first to decode their languge Piraha embodies a living-in-the-present ethos so powerful that it has affected every aspect of the people’s lives do not think, or speak, in abstractions do not use color terms, quantifiers, numbers, or myths E.g. xibipío “When someone walks around a bend in the river, the Pirahã say that the person has not simply gone away but xibipío—‘gone out of experience,’ Dan Everett, the Pirahã’s unswerving dedication to empirical reality ct_colapinto#ixzz27g0BOyJV

8 Experiment – you need to think in the language for this to work (assuming it will work at all!) Pictorial language: 妖 妄 Non Pictorial Language: Ghost Presumptuous

9 Here’s what you might have come up with if the pictorial element of the language governs: “ 娱 ”[amusement], “ 耍 ”[playful], “ 婪 ”[greedy], “ 嫉 ”[envy], “ 妒 ”[envy], “ 嫌 ”[dislike], “ 佞 ”[to flatter], “ 妄 ”[presumptuous], “ 妖 ”[evil], “ 奴 ”[slave], “ 妓 ”[prostitute], “ 娼 ”[prostitute], “ 奸 ”[rape], “ 姘 ”[have an affair], “ 婊 ”[prostitute] and “ 嫖 ”[prostitute]


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