Social Question

PhiNotPi's avatar

Do you believe in the sapir-wholf hypothesis?

Asked by PhiNotPi (12677points) March 31st, 2011

The sapir-wholf hypothesis is the theory that the language that you speak deeply affects the way you think. Here is an article that states some evidence for this theory. As a more dramatic example, the Piraha language, the simplest known language, has no number words. People who speak that language are extremely terrible at math, and even after several months of classes, the members of Piraha tribe could not count to ten or add 1+1. (look up Piraha if you want to know more about it)

The Sapir-Wholf hypothesis is still highly debated, due to the difficulty of testing the theory.

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11 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Hmm, zat must be why we Germanz are ze smartest people in the world!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Yes, I do. I happen to speak both English and Japanese, and I know for a fact that I process information differently when I’m using one language exclusively. The only way I know how to describe it off hand is that when I’m using Japanese, I think about my relationship to the person I’m having the conversation with. I attribute this to Japanese verbs and how they change depending on my social standing with the other person.

@ragingloli : I would surmise that Germans are at least the smartest at making exceedingly long nouns. :)

syz's avatar

It makes sense to me that language patterns would affect brain modeling. Children raised in isolation or without language have a difficult time developing effective communication skills after a certain age. It seems a logical leap to hypothesize that individual languages would have differing effects on the brain.

morphail's avatar

we’ve discussed this before.

I think there is evidence that language nudges thought (in certain circumstances). But I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say that the Pirahã language prevents its speakers from thinking about numbers. As I said in the other thread, if the Pirahã felt the need to talk about numbers, there’s no reason to suppose they couldn’t do it.

PhiNotPi's avatar

@morphail According to what I have read, the Piraha (I can’t figure out how to make the accent above the a) wanted to learn numbers because they felt like they were being cheated in trades. I also didn’t know that we had discussed it before, because no other question references the hypothesis in the actual question.

filmfann's avatar

@ragingloli Smartist? How long since you won a fucking war?

morphail's avatar

@PhiNotPi I didn’t know that about the Pirahã, but if true it does suggest that their ignorance of numbers is cultural rather than linguistic.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Imagine that when we are born, the brain is a large, fertile patch of land. As we grow, certain areas are nourished and flourish. The unnourished areas become patches of desert. No matter how hard someone attempts to grow something in one of these desert spots, it rarely succeeds, despite the amount of effort put into it.

snowberry's avatar

Then there’s the well known “use it or lose it” phenomena regarding memory retention and so on. The idea is if you don’t keep doing it, you lose that function. Do a search and see for yourself.

Strauss's avatar

@morphail cultural rather than linguistic.

Where does one draw the line between cultural influences and linguistic influences?

morphail's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Good question. I think there is a difference. A language has a structure which can be studied without reference to the culture the language is spoken in.

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