Friday, October 19, 2007

Sapir-whorf

10th August, 2006
What are we to understand from the Sapir-Whorf debate on how a language affects culture, and in turn the individual? I find it quite an interesting discussion, as both sides to the debate give intriguing alternatives...
According to end of the lecture on ‘primitive languages’ (from linguistic voices on campus podcast) the linguist makes a point at the end that a weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis makes some sense in terms of sexist language (the so called generic ‘he’) as somewhat a warning to be careful of the language we use, as it may influence the way we think. Using ‘he’ or not using ‘he’ can determine how we think about something. When we choose to teach (or not) something in a particular way are we influencing the way our students think, by the language we use? Is Political Correctness a form of ‘linguistic determinism’? How about the movement against euphemisms, that some consider ‘bad language’? How about the elimination of racist terminology in songs (Eminem)? Can we shape society by shaping the language it uses? This taken to the extreme is the use of the so-called ‘Newspeak’ in George Orwell's classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, to shape society (Wikipedia -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir-Whorf_hypothesis).
Also the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis assumes that people are limited by the language they speak and they cannot think outside ‘the proverbial box’. In that case, how can anyone be creative?
Does language have an impact on the way we think?

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