Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

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Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis by Mind Map: Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

1. Differences between LR and LD

1.1. [2] Emphasises influence rather than determinism

1.2. [2] Two-way process

1.3. [2] Influence is not ascribed to the language per se, but the use of the language

1.4. [2] Underscores the social context of language use e.g. social pressure in some contexts

2. Linguistic relativity (Whorfianism)

2.1. [1] Languages of different cultures comprise distinct systems of representation which are not necessarily equivalent

2.2. [2] Language merely influences your thoughts about the real world

2.2.1. [2] ‘We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages...We cut nature up, organise it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organise it this way - an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language...’ (Whorf, 1940, pp.213-214)

2.3. [3] Culture is a key determinant of the way we view the world

2.3.1. [3] ‘If different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think, but rather what it habitually obliges us to think about’ (Deutscher)

2.4. [5] Concept of codability exemplifies this theory as it shows how one language speaker may be able to perceive a lexical category better than another but that in no way limits another language from being able to perceive the same category

3. Linguistic determinism

3.1. [1] Language not only encodes certain ‘angles on reality’ but also affects the thought processes of its speakers

3.1.1. [1] Language is linked to ‘unconscious habitual thought’ and there is some ‘at least some casual influence from language categories to non-verbal cognition’ (Gumperz and Levinson 1996:22)

3.2. [2] Language determines the way you will interpret the world around you (a more extremist/ ‘hard’ theory)

3.3. [4] ‘We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation’ (Sapir)

4. Experiments

4.1. Designation of plurals in Yucatec Maya vs American English: the former only designates plural forms for animate, discrete entities and hence couldn’t remember items such as bottles and trees in the picture as well as the Americans

4.2. Influence of grammatical gender in languages such as Spanish and German on perception: the Spanish gave traditionally feminine attributes to the key and the German traditionally masculine

4.3. Egocentrism of English: when we give directions, we say ‘left’, ‘right’ etc. with respect to ourselves, but in Guugu Yithimirr, they refer to ‘east’, ‘west’, etc. removing their own presence, and when they point, they are actually pointing to a cardinal point behind them, as though ‘he were thin air, and his own existence were irrelevant’

4.4. Perception of natural phenomena: in English, blue and green are different colours but in other languages (like Chinese!) they can be represented as/ considered the same

4.5. Designation of plurals in SAE vs Hopi: in Standard Average European (SAE) languages, we conceptualise time by designating imaginary plurals to it ‘10 days’ but in Hopi, there is no such pluralisation of units of time (its on a continuum, as time truly is)

4.6. Brain’s interpretation of languages (Linda Rogers): left hemisphere was used more when it was English (noun-centred language) and right hemisphere when it was Navaho (verb-centred language); interpretation also differed

4.7. Passive constructions in English and Japanese: Japanese has two passive constructions that were excluded when translated to English and included when translated from English

4.7.1. The two passive constructions, when combined, changes the meaning such that responsibility is shifted from the subject to a third-party: it’s inclusion when the Japanese were asked to interpret interpersonal conflict (‘to attribute responsibility for the negative outcome to others’) was a reflection of Japanese culture

5. Assumptions

5.1. [2] Translation between one language to another is problematic (hence, ‘lost in translation’): ‘impossible to mean the same thing in two (or more) different ways’ (Fish, 1980, pp.32)

6. Critique

6.1. [2] Can we trust our living experience if everything is linked to language?: ‘ finds oneself in the egocentric quandary, unable to make assertions about reality because of doubting one’s own ability to correctly describe reality’ (Penn, 1972, p.33)

6.2. [2]/[4] How untranslatable are languages and linguistic concepts?: most languages/ concepts are in fact translatable except certain domains where content is heavily nuanced

6.3. [2] Lack of empirical support?

6.4. [5] How can language influence thought or vice versa if there is no distinction between these two events?: ‘linguistic and non-linguistic events must be separately observed and described before they can be correlated’ (Carroll, 1956:28)

6.5. [5] Theory of Universals imply that all cultures are related and share, fundamentally, similarities in their language system: the theory, commonly attributed to Chomsky and generative grammar is the claim that there are deep structures common to all languages (Fishmann, 1976:13)