Academic journal article et Cetera

Sapir-Whorf-Hypothesis Redux

Academic journal article et Cetera

Sapir-Whorf-Hypothesis Redux

Article excerpt

News & Notes directs the reader's attention to the November 30, 2002, issue of the British Magazine New Scientist which features Alison Motlux's article "You Are What You Speak" (sic).

Her report begins provocatively:

Does the language you speak influence the way you think? Does it help define your world view? Anyone who has tried to master a foreign tongue has at least considered the possibility. And those who have ever had cause to remonstrate with a foreign lover may even be convinced.

At first glance, the idea seems perfectly plausible. Conveying even simple messages requires that you make completely different observations depending on your language. Imagine being asked to count some pens on a table. As an English speaker, you only have to count them and give the number - let's say there are 11. But a Russian also has to consider what gender the pens are (neuter), then use the neuter form of the word for 11. And a Japanese speaker has to take into account their shape (long and cylindrical) as well, and use the word for 11 designated for items of that form.

On the other hand, surely pens are just pens, no matter what your language compels you to specify about them? Little linguistic peculiarities, though amusing, don't change the objective world we are describing. …

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