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Ibrooker's avatar

Does language influence thought?

Asked by Ibrooker (60points) September 22nd, 2008

I’m just wondering if people have any insight into the old Sapir-Whorff hypothesis. Can you think of any interesting anecdotal evidence in order to convincingly argue one way or the other?

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11 Answers

Nimis's avatar

I think some languages are better equipped to entertain certain kinds of thinking.

nina's avatar

Very much so. An individual language is like a set of lenses crafted by the culture using the language. An individual language user sees the world through these lenses.

An example: Russian language does not have a word for ‘fun’, and the words ‘opportunity’ and ‘aggressive’ have a horrible connotation there. Some set of lenses…

Zaku's avatar

Seems obviously true, to me, that language influences thought, since at least many thoughts are in language, and language is an artificial invention which differs in form and structure and assumptions and lexicon and syntax from language to language. Any time someone explains an argument in language, it’s an example, and language can hold a much more complex argument than can be held in one’s head at once without using language.

It also seems true to me, though less obviously so, that there are also thoughts without language, and that even most thoughts of people with language are based on language, even if many are. Examples that come to mind include the ability to visualize entire scenes and situations in great visual detail, also in dreams which take very little time to experience in real time.

Celeste00's avatar

Most definitely, each language, with their set vocabulary and grammatical restraints, allow you to express yourself in different ways. Many times I find myself trying to express a thought in one language, with a word from a different language, because I can’t find one in that language that fits. A clear indication is borrowed words, like wanderlust, that express something in a way the borrowing language cannot. This means, if you don’t have access to the vocabularies of other languages, your thoughts have to be formed differently, for you to express them in your own language.

arnbev959's avatar

In addition to always sounding angry, most of the Germans I’ve come in contact with are usually angry.

Celeste00's avatar

@petethepothead maybe they’re angry at you cause you don’t get their language :P

wundayatta's avatar

English is nearly half derived from German. Does the anger carry over?

Harp's avatar

I see the influence of language on thought as being less direct than Sapir-Whorf would suggest.

The fact that cognition can occur in the absence of language is a strong argument for current theories that we possess an innate “language of thought (LOT)”, a sort of “proto-language” integrated into the structure of the brain itself. According to LOT theories, the brain represents the world symbolically and manipulates those symbols according to a syntax common to the human brain. This mental language, which some call “mentalese”, is already in the brain prior to the acquisition of verbal language.

To LOT theorists, the role of verbal language is not to act as the medium of thought and so to give direction and shape to thought. If this were the case, then language would have a direct and powerful influence on thought. But this shaping and directing of thought is not the function of verbal language; it’s the function of mentalese. The role of verbal communication is to communicate thoughts to others.

Supporting this idea is the nature of language acquisition itself. If verbal language were fundamental to thought, then how would a child ever be able to learn its first word? The child must already be able to form a symbolic representation of a phenomenon before he can connect that mentalese symbol to a word. We’re able to acquire words and grammar, then, because those words have a counterpart in the symbols of mentalese, and the grammar of language roughly conforms to the seemingly universal syntax of mentalese. The coining of new words for new phenomena also argues for the primacy of mental symbolic representation over words.

Stiil, I agree that language does influence thought to a degree, insomuch as a particular language is a record of the experience, values and priorities of a particular culture. If a translation for a particular word doesn’t exist in a given language, it’s likely because the concept associated with that word has little relevance to that cultural group. That doesn’t mean that it would be impossible to convey that concept, but it would require a more circuitous route connecting several other concepts. So languages tend to most easily express the concepts which are the most important to their associated cultures. The experiences, values and priorities are thus encoded into, and reinforced by, the language.

But that’s considerable different from saying , as Sapir-Worf implies, that the language is the medium of thought.

Nimis's avatar

I think that was my favourite Harp answer yet.

pathfinder's avatar

If we are talking about english so.On the public is posible to hit on expresion from english in 10 countryes atleast.People may like the way of pronanciation or particly is the resolt of movies and presure from high west civilizationes.

jo_with_no_space's avatar

Without a doubt.

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