Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Warum Sagen Sie das Fraulein?

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Warum Sagen Sie das Fraulein?

Article excerpt

ONE ASPECT OF general semantics and language studies that I find particularly significant is the Whorf Hypothesis. Benjamin Lee Whorf studied several American Indian languages and noted that they were structurally quite unlike English and other Indo-European languages. He suggested that we unwittingly incorporate certain basic assumptions imbedded in the language we use into our belief systems, and assume these accidents of language reflect the real world.

One major assumption in English and similar languages is the noun/verb distinction: that nouns represent relatively unchanging "things" and verbs show movement, action, and feeling. A few issues back I wrote an analysis of the song "What Is This Thing Called Love?" in which I tried to show that by looking at "love" as a "thing" we make it appear to be more subject to individual manipulation than it "really" would seem.

There are other important and often unrecognized assumptions buried in our language. We cannot use a verb without specifying whether it is past, present, or future, whereas the Hopi language is not much concerned with time but does require you to state the authenticity of what you say -- whether you saw it yourself or you're repeating what someone else saw. English requires us to specify whether the number of any object is singular (one) or plural (two or more), whereas some non-Indo-European languages use the same word whether we're talking about one or about more. One language has three forms for its nouns: for one, for two, and for three or more. …

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