Different manifestations of the idea of linguistic relativity
“The world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which have to be organized largely by the linguistic systems in our minds.”
“We cut up nature—organize it into concepts—and ascribe significances as we do, largely because of absolutely obligatory patterns of our own language.”
(Please note that in most of his writings, Whorf actually argues for a position that is much more sophisticated and subtle than the one expressed in these popular quotes)
"Manner languages (e.g.,English, German, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese) typically code manner in the verb(cf. English skip, run, hop, jog), and path in a variety of other devices such as particles (out), adpositions (into the room), verb prefixes (e.g.,German raus- ‘out’; cf. raus-rennen ‘run out’), etc. Path languages(e.g.,Modern Greek, Romance, Turkish, Japanese, and Hebrew) typically code path in the verb (cf. Greek vjeno ‘exit’, beno ‘enter’, ftano ‘arrive/reach’,aneveno ‘ascend’, diashizo ‘cross’), and manner in adverbials(trehontas‘running’, me ta podia ‘on foot’, grigora ‘quickly’)." (Papafragou & Selimis 2010: 227)
However, studies by Anna Papafragou and others suggest that although, say, English and Spanish speakers talk differently about the same motion event, the still remember it similarly:
"both manner and path seem to be available to an equal extent to speakers of different languages for purposes of (non-linguistic) categorisation and memory, regardless of whether these components are prominently and systematically encoded in the language." (Papafragou & Selimis 2010: 229)
These results and other experiments suggesting that in some respects 'thought and language' are less well aligned than 'thought and world' of course pose a serious problem for linguistic determinism.
Other Ways Language Might Have an Effect on Thought
Wolff & Holmes use 5 different metaphors to classify the ways this can happen.
- Thinking for speaking: Language influences thinking when we think about how to express something in language immediately prior to speaking
- Language as meddler: linguistic representations/language and non-linguistic representations/thought can conflict and compete with each other
- Language as augmenter: Language enables or extends certain kinds of thought
- Language as spotlight: Language directs attention to /makes certain aspects very salient in thinking
- Language as inducer: Language can be seen as a primining mechanisms that induces certain ways of thinking about something
In my next post, I’ll elaborate on these 5 subclasses of how language might affect thought.
[Cross posted at Replicated Typo]
Dirven, René, Hans-Georg Wolf and Frank Polzenhagen (2007): "Cognitive Linguistics and Cultural Studies." In: Dirk Geeraerts und Hubert Cuyckens (Hrsg.): The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1203-1221.
Papafragou, Anna and Stathis Selimis (2010): "Event categorisation and language: A cross-linguistic study of motion." In: Language and Cognitive Processes 25: 224-260.
Wolff, P., & Holmes, K. (2011). Linguistic relativity Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 2 (3), 253-265