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TerzaRima
08-31-2010, 06:15 AM
NYT article from Sunday (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1)

To some of you, this stuff is probably old news but I thought it was pretty fascinating. The part that really got me was the bit about the Queensland tribe whose language includes no egocentric way of describing location (ie right, left). Instead, they use geographic coordinates all the time, even as their location changes and even when directing to objects close by. (I think it would be something like, "Use the fork to the west of you.")

It made me wonder if the neural structures responsible for visual-spatial orientation would develop differently in children trained to use this language. Just daydreaming. Anyway the article is a good read.

Kitty Pryde
08-31-2010, 07:07 AM
It was interesting. And thank goodness they didn't bring up the nonsense about numbers of words for snow X__X

Medievalist
08-31-2010, 07:26 AM
The part that really got me was the bit about the Queensland tribe whose language includes no egocentric way of describing location (ie right, left). Instead, they use geographic coordinates all the time, even as their location changes and even when directing to objects close by. (I think it would be something like, "Use the fork to the west of you.")

Old Irish does this, so does Berber.

Xelebes
08-31-2010, 08:29 AM
It does make sense, especially when much of the tasks are ambidextrous. That is, drinking from a bowl with two hands, eating with two hands, working the spear with two hands, working the hoe with two hands, sowing the field with two hands. Often times nowadays you will hear greenhorns being ordered by the masters to use both hands - too many of the things we do require only one hand but in labour-intensive work, we need two hands to get the job done.

Dawnstorm
08-31-2010, 02:09 PM
1. Whorf again. I have not read (much of) Whorf, but what I read about him, and the excerpts I read from Whorf in secondary sources do not suggest he said what so many people claim he said. It appears to me that many people try to debunk Whorf with things that Whorf himself actually said (and which - inexplicably - they seem to have missed). Whorf did not say that language determines thought, but rather that language and thought develop along with each other and not easy to extricate. There may well be problems with what Whorf has said (aren't there always?), but he wasn't the idiot that popular sources tend to represent him as. I mean, he was working in the tradition of structural anthropology (Franz Boas --> Edward Sapir --> Benjamin Whorf). If he'd actually said what people (including this article) said he claimed he would have simplified rather than expanded on his teachers/predecessors. That's not - usually - what happens. Here's (http://www.nickyee.com/ponder/whorf.html) (as far as I can tell) a pretty good article on what Whorf really said. It's biased, too, but not as badly as the popular perception.

2. Here's another problem I have with the article: After explaining why the language of the Matses tribe in Peru forces a husband to answer a question about the number of wives he has in the past tense if he can't see all of them right now, they say:


Does the need to think constantly about epistemology in such a careful and sophisticated manner inform the speakers’ outlook on life or their sense of truth and causation?"To think constantly about epistemology in such a careful and sophisticated manner"? As opposed to what? Our language? Is the Matses' language more sophisticated and careful when it comes to epistemology than English? How can we tell?

No language is too complicated for the bulk of its speakers. If it were, how would it survive? I doubt native speakers of that language have to be much more careful when speaking than a native speaker of English (though maybe it is). Speaking is the one thing we practice almost all our lives, and almost every day, too. (Writing, too, for many lanuages in modern times.)

We're not aware how intricate our own languages are, simply because we've grown up with them and know them inside out. Our own languages are generally harder to analyse than to speak, as we simply don't see what we take for granted.

So: when they close:


For many years, our mother tongue was claimed to be a “prison house” that constrained our capacity to reason. Once it turned out that there was no evidence for such claims, this was taken as proof that people of all cultures think in fundamentally the same way. But surely it is a mistake to overestimate the importance of abstract reasoning in our lives. After all, how many daily decisions do we make on the basis of deductive logic compared with those guided by gut feeling, intuition, emotions, impulse or practical skills? The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same.they're basically re-discovering structural anthropology, which was the context Whorf arose in. The structural-relativists didn't say language is a "prison-house", and the language-universalists (e.g. Chomsky) didn't say we all think alike. The article's examples are very interesting, but the articles basic structure, I feel, is based on a false dichotomy.

On a side note, if you haven't seen it already, you might find this (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=186846) thread interesting. [Edit: Did you understand what I meant with "if you haven't seen it already"? Do I need to point out that I was commenting on the relevance of the recommendation rather than on a condition under which you might find the recommended thread interesting? (I suspect many may have more trouble understanding my edit than the original sentence. If I'm right, how is that?) Language is frighteningly complex when you try to analyse it, and yet pretty easy to use and understand.]

ColoradoGuy
08-31-2010, 06:37 PM
I think Sapir-Whorf keeps coming up because it's just a darn fascinating notion -- making language a sort of neurotransmitter.

We've had several discussions about this over the years in this forum. Medievalist has a nice summary here (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=978535&postcount=638). (Good Lord -- it was 4 years ago; how time flies when you're having fun.)

Diana Hignutt
09-02-2010, 11:21 PM
Yes.

There are tribes in African jungles that have no words for colors because they live under the dim forest canopy.

There are tribes in South America that have no concept of numbers or math. The adults can not even be taught math. Only the children can learn it, if they start earlier.

Language is the human operating system.

GeorgeK
09-03-2010, 03:12 AM
I think Sapir-Whorf keeps coming up because it's just a darn fascinating notion -- making language a sort of neurotransmitter.

We've had several discussions about this over the years in this forum. Medievalist has a nice summary here (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=978535&postcount=638). (Good Lord -- it was 4 years ago; how time flies when you're having fun.)

I wouldn't say that it's a neurotransmitter, but perhaps serves as the initial template for what synapses go where.

TerzaRima
09-06-2010, 06:58 AM
Right...Wouldn't it be interesting to look at functional MRI in, say, speakers of a geographic language, and look at thalamic activation during a spatial task compared with speakers of English (the thalamus is a bit like the brain's GPS)

Menyanthana
01-07-2011, 08:16 PM
@Kitty Pryde: The Irish have two words for "green". ;)

(At least that's what I think. I'd need to know how commonly those words are used and for which colours to be able to say if they're really words where there is no equivalent in English or German.)

I am quite sure that our language tells a lot about the way we think. And it does shape the way we think, which is why gender-neutral language is so important.
If you only ever talk about the hero of a book, you automatically imagine the hero is male, as opposed to a heroine. (Admittedly, this is one of the few examples where the English language may have this problem. In German, it is always there. The prototypical doctor, lawyer or professor is always male.)

LaceWing
01-09-2011, 06:46 PM
http://fora.tv/2010/10/26/Lera_Boroditsky_How_Language_Shapes_Thought

Many relevant tidbits here.

Prawn
01-15-2011, 07:57 AM
When I was studying Chinese, I realized that Chinese had no word for "privacy." Talk about a different world view.

blacbird
01-24-2011, 12:01 PM
Absolutely.

Anthropologists and psychologists are utterly convinced of this. I think it's beyond doubt that the development of human language, which means the ability to communicate complex ideas and symbolic thought from one to another via sound, and later, visual symbol, hugely influenced human evolution. Brain development in young children is intimately connected to exposure to language, in the earliest days of infancy and beyond. People deprived of language development in early childhood are generally deprived of a huge part of human social interaction for their lifetimes.

Michael Wolfe
01-25-2011, 01:37 AM
My answer is yes, but the reverse can also be true - the way you think can shape language. My guess would be that that's actually the reason why the Chinese don't have a word for privacy.

Splendad
02-12-2011, 04:01 AM
Absolutely. Learn even one foreign language and you can immediately sense what words would have meant something at least slightly different to you, as used. Even the small things like in French, where a noun must be masculine or feminine... can you image if you had grown up learning English with such a rule? You're entire outlook on words and sex would be vastly different (and that's simply with a word rule, not even a unique pattern of speaking or reading). My 2.

Rachel Udin
02-12-2011, 05:17 AM
@Kitty Pryde: The Irish have two words for "green". ;)

(At least that's what I think. I'd need to know how commonly those words are used and for which colours to be able to say if they're really words where there is no equivalent in English or German.)

I am quite sure that our language tells a lot about the way we think. And it does shape the way we think, which is why gender-neutral language is so important.
If you only ever talk about the hero of a book, you automatically imagine the hero is male, as opposed to a heroine. (Admittedly, this is one of the few examples where the English language may have this problem. In German, it is always there. The prototypical doctor, lawyer or professor is always male.)

Word, depends on how you define word. Is it an agglutinating language? Polysynthetic? We have more than one word for green too. Chartruese. Yellow-green. Green-yellow. Aqua. Shall I continue?


Absolutely.

Anthropologists and psychologists are utterly convinced of this. I think it's beyond doubt that the development of human language, which means the ability to communicate complex ideas and symbolic thought from one to another via sound, and later, visual symbol, hugely influenced human evolution. Brain development in young children is intimately connected to exposure to language, in the earliest days of infancy and beyond. People deprived of language development in early childhood are generally deprived of a huge part of human social interaction for their lifetimes.

My Anthropology teacher wasn't. Language *shapes* some kinds of thought, but not all thought. I refer you to Pinker, the Language Instinct and the ridiculousness we go into with the whole stupid snow bit.

Mostly, the question is chicken or the egg. Is language a reflection of the culture, or the culture shaped by the language. Most Anthropologists will argue that language reflects the culture--and glyphs are not limiting to sounds produced. This suggests that language is shaped by the culture in large part. This is well-documented. (For example, look up the etymology of cliche--it didn't come about until the Industrial Revolution.)

Other things influence human thought, such as spacial relationships, pictures, visual information, etc. Also physical touch, eye contact, etc. If you take a Culture and Communication class, it covers FAR more than words and language.

Beyond that, I could go into super geek uber mode about why this is wrong, further, but I plan to spare you.


When I was studying Chinese, I realized that Chinese had no word for "privacy." Talk about a different world view.
Wrong.

http://www.mandarintools.com/cgi-bin/wordlook.pl?word=privacy&searchtype=english&where=whole&audio=on

That took me two seconds.

And shame on people who believe it outright--research.

And specify the type of Chinese. Qing? Mandarin? Cantonese? That one was Mandarin. I know it exists in Chinese since Japanese took from Chinese and uses kanji for the word. (Japanese took mainly from Qing and Cantonese.)

Let's not make another snow incident.

Ian Isaro
03-16-2011, 06:29 PM
This article seemed interesting and reasonable in general. The issues I have with it I'll choose not to go into here.

While I wouldn't argue that language influences the way we think, I always feel this is slightly overstated. Honest question for people in general: do you feel you think in language? That certainly doesn't feel true for me, unless I am thinking about saying something.

An example is situations where people use two languages interchangeably (English and Swahili in my case). When I think back about something a person said, it is in my mind in an abstract sense. In many cases I don't remember whether they spoke it in English or Swahili - it takes a second of "translation" to come up with the words in either language, neither of which are the way I remember it. That is many times more true for sights, sounds, smells, and especially concepts.

Prawn
03-16-2011, 06:43 PM
Ian, if I may offer what might be a counter example: I speak French and English. When I dream, I can have both people who speak French and people who speak English in the same dream. I will speak English to one person, but French to another. They can not talk to each other because they can't speak the same language, not even in my dreams.

It seems at the very least I have put people into different, inviolable categories, which might be an example of how language shapes thought.

Ink-Stained Wretch
03-16-2011, 08:56 PM
Cracked had a great article on this topic a few months ago (http://www.cracked.com/article_18823_5-insane-ways-words-can-control-your-mind.html). It already mentioned the Australian Aboroginal habit of using absolute geographic positions rather than "right" or "left," but included several other examples -- in European languages where words have gender, people assign "masculine" or "feminine" traits to objects. "Bridge" is masculine in Spanish but feminine in German, so Spanish speakers will talk about bridges with "masculine" traits (strong or sturdy), whereas German speakers will discuss bridges' feminine traits (graceful or elegant).

Russians can see/remember more colors than English speakers because they have more words for colors -- what we'd call light or dark blue are to completely different colors to them. Conversely, English speakers can see/remember more colors than speakers of certain African languages -- the article mentioned one language that lumped pink, red and orange together into one color.

Ian Isaro
03-18-2011, 10:51 AM
Ian, if I may offer what might be a counter example: I speak French and English. When I dream, I can have both people who speak French and people who speak English in the same dream. I will speak English to one person, but French to another. They can not talk to each other because they can't speak the same language, not even in my dreams.

It seems at the very least I have put people into different, inviolable categories, which might be an example of how language shapes thought.
That's interesting. This is something I haven't spoken with many people about, so it could very well be that my experience isn't standard.

However, I wonder if there is a difference in how the languages are used. In my case, many educated people slip between English and Swahili in the same conversation (or even the same sentence). This is because Swahili is a trade language that doesn't have vocabulary for technology or some abstract concepts. However, both French and English are well-established languages and so I can imagine it would be easier for them to be separate.

I don't remember enough of my dreams to be a good example. However, I don't think anyone who only speaks one language has shown up speaking the other.

Hapax Legomenon
03-23-2011, 06:21 AM
I'm calling shenaningans.

Just because a language does not have a term for x or y does not mean that they're not aware of it. It's like saying "fish wouldn't have a word for water." Of course they would, well, if they weren't fish. I mean, humans have words for air, right?

The whole "Russians have more words for colors" and "some languages do not have separate words for blue/green" well, this has been disproven. Example in English -- pink versus red. We, for some reason or another, describe them with different words, and for many intents and purposes, they're treated as entirely different colors. Saying "light red" would be silly, but we still acknowledge that they're very closely related. Places that have the same word for green and blue would ask if its "green/blue like the sky (blue) or green/blue like the sea (green)" if they needed more information, but often they didn't.

Some cultures have dual and trial pronouns and tenses, and in English it's not like we can't tell how many of something there are just because there's more than one. Instead of it being something inherent in grammar, we have words that describe two or three ("a couple," "both", "neither," "a few" etc) when we find that important information to include.

Another example: many languages have politeness built into their grammars. English does not. Does this mean that there's no such thing as politeness in English, that people do not notice when others are in a higher position than they are? No. It just makes speaking politely in English a lot more complicated.

It doesn't really change how people think, but it does make people more aware of certain things. If there's a tense in your language for something that happened two days ago, it makes it easier to remember what happened two days ago as opposed to three days ago. It doesn't mean that if your language does not have that that you have difficulty telling if something happened two or three days ago (though you may if you spent your days in a drunken stupor or something.)

Prawn
03-23-2011, 06:56 AM
Wrong.

http://www.mandarintools.com/cgi-bin/wordlook.pl?word=privacy&searchtype=english&where=whole&audio=on

That took me two seconds.

And shame on people who believe it outright--research.



No, you are wrong. Shame on people who look up things for two seconds and call it research.

I lived there for a year and a half and had conversations with numerous people about Chinese not having this word.

Here's an article from a Linguistics journal (http://www.linguist.org.cn/doc/uc200704/uc20070419.pdf) which says "There is no word like “privacy” in traditional Chinese culture and there is no term “privacy” in Chinese Ci Hai (1979 edition), either. Not until 1983 the term “privacy” was collected in Modern Chinese Dictionary (2nd edition)."

This same thing is mentioned numerous places on the web, for example:

http://feelingbrain.blogspot.com/2007/02/response-21407.html

http://www.lotustours.net/info/connect/culture/culture3.shtml

Yes, you can find the word privacy in an online dictionary, but it is a literal translation, not a Chinese word. Just because you can have a translation for it doesn't mean that it has a place in the culture, nor that the word has the same resonance. I bet you can find dim sum in an online English dictionary, but that doesn't mean it has the same place in American culture as in Chinese culture where dim sum have existed for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years as part of the culture of tea houses.

Prawn

jerrywaxler
03-23-2011, 07:04 AM
This is a great question, but how would you know? What experiment could you conduct that would measure "the thinking process" (whatever that is) of a person with one language nuance and a person with a different language nuance?

And what about all the other influences intruding on your experiment? School, gender, birth order, height, hair color, access to television, year of birth, political affiliation of ones parents, position on the Autism Spectrum, traffic noise outside the bedroom window, alcohol consumption, musical tastes of family. Each one of these, and many more, are worthy of the same debate, and just as unlikely to be provable.

Jerry

Medievalist
03-23-2011, 07:44 AM
No, you are wrong. Shame on people who look up things for two seconds and call it research.

I lived there for a year and a half and had conversations with numerous people about Chinese not having this word.

Heh.

I asked a native speaker; no it's not a concept that has an exact match; the word Rachel looked up means alone. In fact many of the words in a number of Chinese languages that embody the ideas of privacy and solitary bear negative connotations. If you think about China's population and history, this is not all that surprising.

The idea of concepts that have a single word, or a common idiom in one language and no direct equivalent in another, is one that linguists and translators often commiserate about with each other in our shared misery.

There are things I know how to say in French, with particular emotional values and associations, that English, with her fabulous vocabulary and flexible syntax can't quite match; the opposite is true as well.

There's also the huge web of connotations that fluency in a language gives one, that is often missed by those who are less fluent.

The fact that Irish has two terms for green is also true; this is a trait shared by the older I.E. languages. One class of green is for things that are organic, whether they are presently living or not; one is for things that were never alive.

There are also languages that have entirely different kin systems, and kin-labels, or very specific terms for kinds of natural patterns, and a great deal of variation in counting systems, color systems, and kinship systems--so much so that these are standard kinds of things you attempt to discover in documenting a "new" language.

Medievalist
03-23-2011, 07:53 AM
I'm calling shenaningans.

Just because a language does not have a term for x or y does not mean that they're not aware of it. It's like saying "fish wouldn't have a word for water." Of course they would, well, if they weren't fish. I mean, humans have words for air, right?

Err . . .hold on there.

English per se didn't have a word for air; we stole it. We stole it in c. the early fourteenth century; the first use we have an attestation for is in 1300; we lifted it from the French, who got it from Greek via Latin (this is partly why English has the largest vocabulary of any known language, living or dead; we take what we don't have).

We didn't need the concept of an invisible but breathable gas before then. We had the word wind, for reference to the movement of air, and it quickly became associated with the need to breathe.

Medievalist
03-23-2011, 08:07 AM
Some cultures have dual and trial pronouns and tenses, and in English it's not like we can't tell how many of something there are just because there's more than one. Instead of it being something inherent in grammar, we have words that describe two or three ("a couple," "both", "neither," "a few" etc) when we find that important information to include.

English used to; the duals gradually disappear in Middle English, along with the other vocabulary.


Another example: many languages have politeness built into their grammars. English does not.

English does; it's just that most people don't realize it.

There's a reason the Quakers retained Thee for the second person singular; Thou is in fact cognate with the French intimate second person singular Tu. There's a reason Shakespeare has people deliberately rudely using thou as a false intimacy. You, now the common form, was the more formal form.

The English word couple, while often nominaliazed, is at it's heart a verb, meaning to join; we stole it from the French via Anglo-Norman, and they got it from Latin.

Prawn
03-23-2011, 04:20 PM
This is a great question, but how would you know? What experiment could you conduct that would measure "the thinking process" (whatever that is) of a person with one language nuance and a person with a different language nuance?


Jerry

This seems easy enough. Researchers do this all the time, as TerzaRima mentioned above. They put people in something that measures brain activity, an MRI for example, and then present them with a stimulus such as an image, picture or sound. Researchers have used this method to map where different concepts are stored in the brain. Show someone an icecream cone, the part of the brain where that concept is stored shows a jump in electrical activity. Presumably an experiment like this could be used to determine how people are thinking about one or another concept. If there is a significant difference in brain activity among people who speak different languages when presented with concepts that differ cross-linguistically or cross culturally, then we can conclude that language influences the way we think.

ColoradoGuy
03-23-2011, 05:29 PM
Err . . .hold on there.

English per se didn't have a word for air; we stole it. We stole it in c. the early fourteenth century; the first use we have an attestation for is in 1300; we lifted it from the French, who got it from Greek via Latin (this is partly why English has the largest vocabulary of any known language, living or dead; we take what we don't have).

We didn't need the concept of an invisible but breathable gas before then. We had the word wind, for reference to the movement of air, and it quickly became associated with the need to breathe.

That's fascinating. It seems to me that the presence or absence in a language of a single word or phrase for a particular concept doesn't really invalidate Sapir-Worf.

It also seems to me that Sapir-Worf need not be an all or nothing concept. It's a guiding theory, not an iron-clad notion. I think it would be enough to show that most kinds of thinking use (or not) language.

Hapax Legomenon
03-23-2011, 09:35 PM
English used to; the duals gradually disappear in Middle English, along with the other vocabulary.



English does; it's just that most people don't realize it.

There's a reason the Quakers retained Thee for the second person singular; Thou is in fact cognate with the French intimate second person singular Tu. There's a reason Shakespeare has people deliberately rudely using thou as a false intimacy. You, now the common form, was the more formal form.

The English word couple, while often nominaliazed, is at it's heart a verb, meaning to join; we stole it from the French via Anglo-Norman, and they got it from Latin.

Thou, thee, thy, have all fallen out of common usage. Case and point, people persistently using them incorrectly, and the fact that when Mrs. Weasely screamed, "NOT MY DAUGHTER YOU BITCH" nobody thought that she was giving any pretense to politeness to Bellatrix Lestrange. You don't have to talk down to me. I know about the "intimate" pronouns in English. What I'm trying to say, though, is that they don't count.

Chinese spoken language doesn't have different spoken forms for third person pronouns for men and women, so that obviously means that it matters less if one is a man or a woman in China, right?

ColoradoGuy
03-23-2011, 09:47 PM
Chinese spoken language doesn't have different spoken forms for third person pronouns for men and women, so that obviously means that it matters less if one is a man or a woman in China, right?

I don't think that necessarily follows. Languages have quirks that may not mean anything at all. For example, in English our nouns don't have gender, unlike romance languages, German, and a lot of others. Does that mean English-speakers have gender issues?

Prawn
03-23-2011, 09:55 PM
Does that mean English-speakers have gender issues?


Yes! We do have gender issues!

Speakers of romance languages don't have to worry about PC his/her avoidance because grammatical gender makes the lack of acknowledgment of someone's gender impossible. That's why in American English we have abominations like

Everyone touch_ theirself.

We are doing these crazy circumlocutions to avoid the gender of pronouns, and this is a complete non-issue in languages with grammatical gender.

Medievalist
03-23-2011, 10:55 PM
I don't think that necessarily follows. Languages have quirks that may not mean anything at all. For example, in English our nouns don't have gender, unlike romance languages, German, and a lot of others. Does that mean English-speakers have gender issues?

Actually, they do; it's just not reflected in the grammar, for the most part.

If you study Old English, it's still there, and there are remnants in Middle English, especially in the Northern/Midland dialects.

Those gendered nouns have gender in I.E. languages because of internal vowel stem changes. They're divided into classes that many may be familiar with from Latin--o-stems, i-stems, u-stems, and the particular kind of change determines whether they are weak/f neuter/n or strong/m.

Pronouns still show this, and are included in the stem classes.

This is why I keep telling people gender is not a substitute for sex. Or part of it . . .

Medievalist
03-23-2011, 11:00 PM
]
We are doing these crazy circumlocutions to avoid the gender of pronouns, and this is a complete non-issue in languages with grammatical gender.

Except it's not; notice the use of on in French. Notice how as the neuter pronoun fades in use (it's absolutely legit to compare it to "one" in English), French writers and speakers all over the world vary in terms of whether it must agree or not. It's become an issue, as the gender options have changed.

French and English and German all had non-gendered formal and informal pronouns used for humans only, by the way. Mostly they occur in legal documents, and they were never very common.

If you move from the phonological to the practical realm, look at gender politics--which are convoluted but have real world consequences in terms of human dignity and self-worth.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 02:02 AM
Yes! We do have gender issues!

Speakers of romance languages don't have to worry PC his/her avoidance because grammatical gender makes the lack of acknowledgment of someone's gender impossible. That's why in American English we abominations like

Everyone touch_ theirself.

We are doing these crazy circumlocutions to avoid the gender of pronouns, and this is a complete non-issue in languages with grammatical gender.

I'm trying really, really hard to understand that sentence, and it doesn't make any sense.

"Theirself" is not standard American English. It would be either "themselves" or "themself".

It sounds like you're trying to make a command but are using a third-person pronouns, like "everyone" and "theirself", which is very confusing.

And even if you're not trying to make a command, you're using the plural third person verb for a noun which, while plural in number is not pluralized, something which is very British, and yet you're claiming that it comes from American English!

I'm trying to make sense of this sentence. The only things I can come up with is that you meant "everyone, touch yourself" if you're making a command, or "everyone touches themselves" (or alternately, everyone touches themself", but I prefer the former).

And because I am actually a middle-schooler, all of this sounds very dirty.

Also, the use of "themself" and "themselves" become a non-issue once you accept the use of singular they, which English has had, and which has been in common usage, for a long time.

Prawn
03-24-2011, 03:48 AM
""Theirself" is not standard American English. It would be either "themselves" or "themself"."

Maybe not written, but people say it all the time. It is in some dictionaries (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/theirself), and it all over the internet (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/Does%20anyone%20else%20talk%20to%20their%20self%20 like%20they%20are%20being%20interviewed%20or%20are %20in%20a%20documentary?).

I purposefully used that example because it is one of the horrible things that people to do avoid his/her. As a more mainstream example, how about

Everyone get their hat.

To avoid his or her?

Happens all the time in English.

@Midievalist

On is a substitute for Nous, and is construed as plural. It will inflect for gender, as in On est belle. Are you suggesting that inflecting for gender in a case such as this might be a political statement?

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 04:30 AM
""Theirself" is not standard American English. It would be either "themselves" or "themself"."

Maybe not written, but people say it all the time. It is in some dictionaries (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/theirself), and it all over the internet (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/Does%20anyone%20else%20talk%20to%20their%20self%20 like%20they%20are%20being%20interviewed%20or%20are %20in%20a%20documentary?).

I purposefully used that example because it is one of the horrible things that people to do avoid his/her. As a more mainstream example, how about

Everyone get their hat.

To avoid his or her?

Happens all the time in English.

@Midievalist

On is a substitute for Nous, and is construed as plural. It will inflect for gender, as in On est belle. Are you suggesting that inflecting for gender in a case such as this might be a political statement?

Again, the reason why it sounds so terrible is because you're using the wrong verb form. You're speaking as if "everyone" is a plural pronoun, and, while it does mean more than one person, it's used grammatically as singular, at least in American English.

Instead of "everyone get their hat," which sounds atrocious, at least to my ears, because you sound like you're mixing commands with third-person pronouns, which doesn't work. Instead you would have "everyone gets their hat," which sounds much better.

Prawn
03-24-2011, 06:02 AM
I am not saying it sounds good, I am saying that is how many people use language, which makes the point that English speakers do have gender issues.

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 06:11 AM
On is a substitute for Nous, and is construed as plural. It will inflect for gender, as in On est belle. Are you suggesting that inflecting for gender in a case such as this might be a political statement?

1. On is used that way now, but it wasn't always; it isn't in Old French (se the Roman de la Rose) and it isn't used that way even in Rabelais.

2. If you look at a variety of French from right now--From France, Quebec, and French speaking parts of the world where there are former colonies, on is in flux in terms of agreement. The Really Big La Rouss, the multi-volume one that's France's answer to the OED, has an irate usage rant about the issue.

3. I suppose it might be a political statement, but I wasn't specifically suggesting that.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 06:13 AM
I am not saying it sounds good, I am saying that is how many people use language, which makes the point that English speakers do have gender issues.

I really have no idea where you would find such a mix of singular/plural like that. Who do you normally keep for company? The reason why somebody would use some construction is because it sounds fine to their ear (as many find singular 'their' acceptable, like how I just used). Someone may find "everyone touch theirselves" to sound fine, but it's not a part of any vernacular I've ever heard.

Do French people have gender issues? There are some professions like "doctor" (un medecěn) that do not have feminine versions. French people still acknowledge female doctors as female, and their being doctors does not detract from their femaleness.

And either way, I would say that people trying to contort English in an "unnatural" way is not a matter that language shapes thought but thought trying to shape language (and failing miserably, in all the examples you've given).

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 06:14 AM
Everyone get their hat.



That's just someone being daft, probably in a misplaced desire to avoid sexism. It's easily solved, in several ways. For instance:

Everyone gets their hats.

e
Unless you're not using the imperative, but want a declarative:

Everyone

Presumably we're not talking about a group sharing a hat . . .

In general, I am not one to suggest introducing subject-verb disagreement in order to avoid sexist language; there are usually much better options.

And the AHD has nifty Usage notes about this issue:

Usage Note: Every is representative of a large class of English words and expressions that are singular in form but felt to be plural in sense. The class includes, for example, noun phrases introduced by every, any, and certain uses of some. These expressions invariably take a singular verb; we say Every car has (not have) been tested. Anyone is (not are) liable to fall ill. But when a sentence contains a pronoun that refers to a previous noun phrase introduced by every, grammar and sense pull in different directions. The grammar of these expressions requires a singular pronoun, as in Every car must have its brakes tested, but the meaning often leads people to use the plural pronoun, as in Every car must have their brakes tested. The use of plural pronouns in such cases is common in speech, but it is still widely regarded as incorrect in writing. · The effort to adhere to the grammatical rule causes complications, however. The first is grammatical. When a pronoun refers to a phrase containing every or any that falls within a different independent clause, the pronoun cannot be singular. Thus it is not idiomatic to say Every man left; he took his raincoat with him. Nor can one say No one could be seen, could he? Writers unwilling to use plural forms in these examples must find another way of expressing their meaning, either by rephrasing the sentence so as to get the pronoun into the same clause (as in Every man left, taking his raincoat with him) or by substituting another word for every or any (as in All the men left; they took their raincoats with them). · The second complication is political. When a phrase introduced by every or any refers to a group containing both men and women, what should the gender of the singular pronoun be? This matter is discussed in the Usage Notes at he and they.

Usage Note: Traditionally the pronouns he, him, and his have been used as generic or gender-neutral singular pronouns, as in A novelist should write about what he knows best and No one seems to take any pride in his work anymore. Since the early 20th century, however, this usage has come under increasing criticism for reflecting and perpetuating gender stereotyping. · Defenders of the traditional usage have argued that the masculine pronouns he, his, and him can be used generically to refer to men and women. This analysis of the generic use of he is linguistically doubtful. If he were truly a gender-neutral form, we would expect that it could be used to refer to the members of any group containing both men and women. But in fact the English masculine form is an odd choice when it refers to a female member of such a group. There is something plainly disconcerting about sentences such as Each of the stars of As Good As It Gets [i.e., Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt] won an Academy Award for his performance. In this case, the use of his forces the reader to envision a single male who stands as the representative member of the group, a picture that is at odds with the image that comes to mind when we picture the stars of As Good As It Gets. Thus he is not really a gender-neutral pronoun; rather, it refers to a male who is to be taken as the representative member of the group referred to by its antecedent. The traditional usage, then, is not simply a grammatical convention; it also suggests a particular pattern of thought. · It is clear that many people now routinely construct their remarks to avoid generic he, usually using one of two strategies: changing to the plural, so they is used (which is often the easiest solution) or using compound and coordinate forms such as he/she or he or she (which can be cumbersome in sustained use). In some cases, the generic pronoun can simply be dropped or changed to an article with no change in meaning. The sentence A writer who draws on personal experience for material should not be surprised if reviewers seize on that fact is complete as it stands and requires no pronoun before the word material. The sentence Every student handed in his assignment is just as clear when written Every student handed in the assignment. · Not surprisingly, the opinion of the Usage Panel in such matters is mixed. While 37 percent actually prefer the generic his in the sentence A taxpayer who fails to disclose the source of ______ income can be prosecuted under the new law, 46 percent prefer a coordinate form like his or her; 7 percent felt that no pronoun was needed in the sentence; 2 percent preferred an article, usually the; and another 2 percent overturned tradition by advocating the use of generic her, a strategy that brings the politics of language to the reader's notice. Thus a clear majority of the Panel prefers something other than his. The writer who chooses to use generic he and its inflected forms in the face of the strong trend away from that usage may be viewed as deliberately calling attention to traditional gender roles or may simply appear to be insensitive

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 06:16 AM
1. On is used that way now, but it wasn't always; it isn't in Old French (se the Roman de la Rose) and it isn't used that way even in Rabelais.

You continuously cite historical examples to support your opinions. However, considering how much knowledge and usage of language can be lost or gained even in a generation, historical usage isn't relevant. If we're going to suggest that language is an OS (which I'd say it's more like a port, but anyways), it'd be like saying stuff in windows 7 is true because it was true back when you used windows 3.1. It just doesn't work that way.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 06:27 AM
That's just someone being daft, probably in a misplaced desire to avoid sexism. It's easily solved, in several ways. For instance:

Everyone get their hats.

Presumably we're not talking about a group sharing a hat . . .

In general, I am not one to suggest introducing subject-verb disagreement in order to avoid sexist language; there are usually much better options.

Yeah, I'm very confused about what Prawn is suggesting with the subject-verb disagreement. There are certain vernaculars that don't agree with it but he's prefacing all of it by saying "oh noes some people talk like this it's weird!" when well, of course it's weird, you're introducing two or more unusual things to standard English at once -- nonstandard subject-verb agreement AND nonstandard self-referential pronouns AND singular they. While it's not impossible that these three things would come together to make a sentence, it makes the sentence sound very strange, especially out of context of other sentences that use nonstandard subject-verb agreement and nonstandard self-referential pronouns.

I think the massive problem with this is the use of the word "everyone." Everyone always refers to more than one person even though it's singular, and there are no gender referential third person pronouns, so this makes your examples even more nonsensical.

If you're going to do this, you have to use a singular, non-gendered pronoun. The obvious choice would be "someone."

However, if you write out the sentence:

"Someone gets their hat"

that still looks right to me, but that's only because I accept singular they. Again, Prawn is purposefully obfuscating the point. Whether all English-speakers ever have issues with gender cannot be proven with one sentence that doesn't even make sense to the vast majority of English speakers.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 06:43 AM
I think, back to the original post -- is there any written Guugu Yimithirr? Because I'm pretty sure reading would be impossible without a concept (if not a verbalized concept) of egocentric directions.

If we also look at this hypothesis in terms of what it means for English versus Guugu Yimithirr, we know that English uses egocentric positions for things close by and ordinal directions for things that are far away. Like, my book is to the right of me, and California is west of me. This means that English has two distinct classes of distance, while Guugu Yimithirr has one -- meaning that English speakers are better at guaging distances.

Who wants to support that hypothesis?

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 07:04 AM
You continuously cite historical examples to support your opinions.

I'm not citing opinions; those are facts, supported by history.

Historical use is valid; English, in some ways more than other langauges, preserves history; our vocabulary and the reasons the language functions the way it functions are tied to the languages history.

In some ways, I think the best metaphor for language is a virus.

The sweeping statements made in this thread and others about things like gender and linguistic function, or, as Prawn notes, someone equating a dictionary with language experience are in fact often flying in the face of linguistic fact--and they're going to rouse the ire of any member who knows several languages.

In my case, as a philologist with particular expertise in English and Indo-European philology and linguistics, they are often risible.

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 07:10 AM
I think, back to the original post -- is there any written Guugu Yimithirr? Because I'm pretty sure reading would be impossible without a concept (if not a verbalized concept) of egocentric directions.

There are a number of other languages that don't use egocentric positioning. Even Levi-Strauss discusses it.


If we also look at this hypothesis in terms of what it means for English versus Guugu Yimithirr, we know that English uses egocentric positions for things close by and ordinal directions for things that are far away. Like, my book is to the right of me, and California is west of me.

We do not, in fact, "know that" for English. We know some speakers use English that way; there is nothing inherent in the language that requires it.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 07:16 AM
I still say that it's unreasonable to say that all English speakers have knowledge of grammatical politeness because very small populations of English speakers have specifically preserved its usage while the vast majority of English speakers either do not use it and many do not even know how to use it.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 07:26 AM
There are a number of other languages that don't use egocentric positioning. Even Levi-Strauss discusses it.

Yes, but language was not invented with writing in mind. Writing came much, much later, and sometimes languages were only written down when outsiders either came and gave them the idea to write it or people decided to study the language and needed to know how to document it.

If you're writing down a language in even a remotely transportable medium you're going to have to have some egocentric concept of how to read it. You can't read or write from "west" to "east" because as soon as that medium moves, it's not from west to east anymore. You can't even say "up and down" on the paper because that's egocentric to the paper. If you position the paper differently, "up" and "down" are going to be different.

Yes yes, blah blah, not all writing is going to be on paper, but unless these people have decided to make all their records completely immoveable, they're going to have these problems.

Even if there is not a "spoken" concept of egocentric direction, if they're going to be able to read, they at least must have some concept of it, even if it's not a verbal concept.



We do not, in fact, "know that" for English. We know some speakers use English that way; there is nothing inherent in the language that requires it.

Are you saying that the fact that English speakers use a different set of words when talking about two different distances is unimportant to how English speakers think? Even though there might not be anything inherently ungrammatical about California being to my left, I think we've discussed enough about vocabulary and word usage in this thread for it to be relevant.

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 07:30 AM
Yes, but language was not invented with writing in mind.

For some langauges, yes, it was.



If you're writing down a language in even a remotely transportable medium you're going to have to have some egocentric concept of how to read it. You can't read or write from "west" to "east" because as soon as that medium moves, it's not from west to east anymore. You can't even say "up and down" on the paper because that's egocentric to the paper. If you position the paper differently, "up" and "down" are going to be different.

Actually, this is false. Ask anyone who works with cuneiform, or boustrophedonic text, or hieroglypics, or epigraphy, or code breaking.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 07:43 AM
Then explain it to me.

If you're reading, you're going to be reading in some direction or another. Even if it's back and forth, you need to start somewhere. Even if you say, start reading "from here" to "there," that's still a direction. It's a direction that will change if you move whatever you're reading. It's still an egocentric position based on whatever you're reading.

The only possible way I can figure to avoid this is if you completely eschewed lines and instead wrote everything in a spiral. Show me that the default method for Guugu Yimithirr writing is spiral-shaped and prove me wrong.

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 08:13 AM
Then explain it to me.

I'm neither your babysitter nor your professor--and frankly, your arrogance is off-putting in the extreme.

You need to spend a lot more time with undergrad level linguistics and learn at least five or six languages from at least two families to be able to understand, frankly.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 08:27 AM
If you tell me I'm wrong and don't show me why I'm not going to be inclined to believe you.

The fact that you're not going to explain to me because I'm stupid and wrong and cannot possibly understand why that is because I'm stupid and wrong is just going to cause me to continue being stupid and wrong.

Why not try to explain it to me? You obviously know better than me.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 08:45 AM
Perhaps a better question would be whether these people are completely ambitextrous.

Someone claimed that this "made sense" if you were doing work with both hands -- not really. Even if you're doing something that involves both hands, non-ambidextrous people, at least, still lead with one hand versus another. If these people had a similar handedness ratios compared to most of the population, wouldn't they notice this, even if they do not have a word for it or place the same importance on it as we do?

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 08:55 AM
Never mind. I'll just shut up about everything. I obviously know nothing.

jerrywaxler
03-24-2011, 03:40 PM
Since the whole subject is untestable and can only be "proved" by obscure examples and counter-examples, I look at it as a fascinating discussion rather than an attempt to find one right answer. I'm familiar with the phenomenon. In my memoir workshops all I have to do is mention the word "truth" and the sparks fly filling the room with smoke but little light.

Anyway, instead of being contrarian and trying to impugn the whole topic, I will throw my hat in the ring with a lovely example I recently stumbled on. In my exploration of trauma, a topic that comes up frequently in memoir writing, I read a book by a PTSD expert, Jonathan Shay. In the book, “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming” he points to the Greek quality called thumos (also spelled thymos). It's a quality young men have that gets them angry enough to fight to the death. The warrior class in Greece knew this quality intimately and harnessed it to win wars. In our culture, which IMHO has less psychological understanding of young men than of pigeons, there is no word for this quality, and as a result we sit back and cluck our tongues, tsk, tsk while young men turn to gangs and end up in prison. Perhaps if we had a word for this quality, we could figure out what to do with it.

Here's a link to an essay I wrote about how boys become men (http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/boys-to-men/), in case anyone is interested, with a footnote about thymos. By the way, I've googled this concept and there is incredibly little written about it.

Jerry

Prawn
03-24-2011, 08:48 PM
If you tell me I'm wrong and don't show me why I'm not going to be inclined to believe you.

We don't have anything to prove to you. The people on this thread have listed lots of authorities to read about this issue, from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis on down. I listed an article in a linguistics journal. If we cite authorities and you don't believe us, you are welcome to read them yourself and draw your own conclusions. That is the way to really learn things, not just reading a post on a forum such as this.


the whole subject is untestable and can only be "proved" by obscure examples and counter-examples

I beg to differ. There is lots of research about this issue, but it may not be readily accessible to most people. Two people on this thread have suggested how experimental methods could be brought to bear on this question. Psycholinguistics is a branch of linguistics that relies heavily on these brain-related studies.

There are many studies that address this issue.

For example, "Does Language Shape Thought?: Mandarin and English
Speakers’ Conceptions of Time" by Lera Boroditsky Cognitive Psychology 43, 1–22 (2001) which can be found here (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.11.3251&rep=rep1&type=pdf).

or

"Distinguishing language from thought: Experimental evidence that syntax is lexically rather than conceptually represented" Bowers, Vigliocco, Stadthagen-Gonzalez and Vinson, which can be found here (http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Psychology/LanguageGroup/final3.pdf).


The first shows that Chinese speakers perform organizational tasks differently because of the different ways the languages are written.

The second shows that Spanish speakers showed faster gender decisions with words compared to pictures. This is perhaps because Spanish has grammatical gender which gives Spanish speakers another organizational tool to speed their reaction time.

You are welcome to look at these articles if you are interested in experimental data on language and thought. There are hundreds more articles related to this.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 09:03 PM
As I said I obviously know worse than nothing because every single little thing I've been learning in class is absolutely wrong.

I'm thinking of going to cooking school now because of this.

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 09:26 PM
As I said I obviously know worse than nothing because every single little thing I've been learning in class is absolutely wrong.

I'm thinking of going to cooking school now because of this.

Oh, grow up and stop engaging in entitled navel gazing. You're an undergraduate; you've barely dipped your toe in the water.

Stop engaging in histrionics -- and start paying attention.

And drop the snobbery too--if you think you'll have more success in cooking school--and if you think it's easy--then you're really disconnected from reality.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 09:28 PM
I don't think cooking school is easy. I think it's actually very difficult and stressful. However, I think it'd be infinitely more useful.

Maybe nobody else except people with multiple degrees should be allowed to participate in discussion like these. I don't know...

Prawn
03-24-2011, 09:33 PM
As I said I obviously know worse than nothing because every single little thing I've been learning in class is absolutely wrong.

I'm thinking of going to cooking school now because of this.

Haphazard, you are doing yourself a disservice. You can learn from the people on this thread if you wish to. Some things don't have simple answers, and this is one of those things.

If you aren't willing to take the time to figure this out, that is fine, each to her own, but don't be angry at us for it. Years from now when you have graduated cooking school, I won't be mad at you because you know how to cook a souflee and I don't. I will see that as something you took the time to learn properly.

Rail at ignorance if you will, but don't rail at the people who are trying to cure you of it.

Hapax Legomenon
03-24-2011, 09:43 PM
Haphazard, you are doing yourself a disservice. You can learn from the people on this thread if you wish to. Some things don't have simple answers, and this is one of those things.

If you aren't willing to take the time to figure this out, that is fine, each to her own, but don't be angry at us for it. Years from now when you have graduated cooking school, I won't be mad at you because you know how to cook a souflee and I don't. I will see that as something you took the time to learn properly.

Rail at ignorance if you will, but don't rail at the people who are trying to cure you of it.

I hate it when people don't explain why things they're bringing in are relevant. I mean, at least, when someone is telling you how to make a souffle, there's a reason why you need stiff peaks instead of floppy ones. Otherwise your souffle will go kaput.. Why do we not need any concept egocentric directions at all to read something that's not completely bilaterally symmetrical? I would say you can't, but obviously someone in the world knows how you could, but won't take the time to explain.

I'll stop posting now.

Medievalist
03-24-2011, 09:49 PM
'll stop posting now.

I think that's a really good idea.

Go study. Stop moaning about your life and do something about it.

Get off the computer. Take a walk, go to the library.

Go sign up for Old Irish; it will change your brain.

Prawn
03-24-2011, 09:49 PM
I hate it when people don't explain why things they're bringing in are relevant.

If you don't understand why something is relevant, the best way to begin understanding is to ask.

Medievalist
03-25-2011, 04:00 AM
If you don't understand why something is relevant, the best way to begin understanding is to ask.

Or to get arsed enough to actually do a little independent research for yourself, instead of whining and lying (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=5961082&postcount=867).

Medievalist
03-25-2011, 04:04 AM
I hate it when people don't explain why things they're bringing in are relevant. I mean, at least, when someone is telling you how to make a souffle, there's a reason why you need stiff peaks instead of floppy ones. Otherwise your souffle will go kaput.. Why do we not need any concept egocentric directions at all to read something that's not completely bilaterally symmetrical? I would say you can't, but obviously someone in the world knows how you could, but won't take the time to explain.

1. Do go look up the etymology of kaput.

2. Stop using words--like egocentric--when you don't know what they mean.

3. Go do a little Googling all by your very own self; look at cuneiform images. Look into the history of cuneiform. Look up what boustrophedontic means. Look up what aleph means.

4. Ask yourself as a literate English speaker--how do you know which way to hold a book to read? What happens if you turn it around? What does that suggest?

Prawn
03-25-2011, 04:40 AM
Boustrophedontic?

Chinese can be read up to down and right to left. It is my understanding that the cleverest Chinese poetry can be read up to down and L to R, each time with a different meaning. I wonder if there are texts that can be read boustrophedonticly or the modern way, each with a different meaning.

Medievalist
03-25-2011, 04:59 AM
I wonder if there are texts that can be read boustrophedonticly or the modern way, each with a different meaning.

There are. There's a famous court painter who in addition to having the calligraphic text read multiple ways is famous for making "visual puns" -- based on the ideograms of the glyphs.

I'm trying to remember the name--and I can't. I bet it's someone you know. It's one of the masters that calligraphers study and attempt to emulate.

There are early Greek epigraphs meant to be read in a circle, and ogham inscriptions that are in a spiral, created as intellectual puzzles by medieval Irish monastics, that read spiraling in or spiraling out, though they say different things.

Diana Hignutt
03-25-2011, 04:15 PM
Some of the new (and not so new) holographic theories of mind suggest that our brains translate all frequency (or sense data) into Fourier equations...essentially it is the mathematics of language that gives reality and mind, meaning. Exciting stuff, really.

Eumenides
04-01-2011, 02:43 AM
As a Portuguese, all my life people have told me that my language is special because it's the only one that has a word that defines sadness about the absence of a loved one; that's saudade. It's not the same as the English nostalgia, which we also have. It's something else, more nuanced. Yeah, the poor English-speaking folks can only say, "oh, I miss my dead son," as if the dead son were car keys that got misplaced.

Does that mean they can't really feel sadness over the absence of a loved person? Of course not. Of course other people can feel sad about absent loved ones.

That's why I don't think language shapes thought at all. Just because there isn't a word for it, doesn't mean it can't be thought.

If in order to create new ideas, we needed to create the word first, we'd never create new ideas, would we? Since without the word, we wouldn't have way of thinking the idea. It becomes a paradox.

So just because the Chinese until recently didn't have a word for privacy, I very much doubt they were incapable of feeling pissed off whenever someone was watching them taking a dump.

Prawn
04-01-2011, 02:56 AM
So just because the Chinese until recently didn't have a word for privacy, I very much doubt they were incapable of feeling pissed off whenever someone was watching them taking a dump.

You are very wrong. They never cared, to my knowledge.

True story: At an museum on the mainland I went to the bathroom, which was a trough toilet, running the length of the floor. To poop, you squatted with one foot on each side of the trough. I had to go, so I started.


Some guy came in, dropped trou, started pooping too, all the while eyeing me (and my issue) curiously. He had never seen a white man('s) poop before. Another guy came into do the same, and actually bumped me while getting settled. Others were coming in to pee at the urinals.

No privacy, and apparently no concern about it either.

I became very constipated in China.

Medievalist
04-01-2011, 03:01 AM
That's why I don't think language shapes thought at all. Just because there isn't a word for it, doesn't mean it can't be thought.

That isn't what is being argued by Sapir-Whorf.

People in this thread keep referring to Sapir-Whorf thinking that they understand their hypothesis.

"language shapes thought" is a such a reduction (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=978535&postcount=638) of what they actually are suggesting might be happening as to render their hypothesis nonsensical; this is unfair.

rugcat
04-01-2011, 03:45 AM
That's why I don't think language shapes thought at all. Just because there isn't a word for it, doesn't mean it can't be thought.I think it's mote that language can shape perception.

If you say in English, "I see a light flashing in the distance", you are describing a phenomenon, and your language assumes there is an object, the light, and it's performing an action.

A different language (some native American ones, as I remember, though I might be wrong) would describe what's being observed as an indivisable process, "flashing," not one of object and action.

Maybe a subtle difference, but I do think that would affect how one perceives phenomena in the world, and by extension, other things.

jerrywaxler
04-01-2011, 04:26 PM
I just think that whether or not your father beat you, whether your sister was traded for 6 oxen, or whether or not your village believes in a compassionate God are so much more important. Don't get me wrong. I find the evolution and differentiation of language breath-takingly interesting, and wish I could be a fly on the wall (a very long lived fly) watching the evolution unfold. But I really don't wish I could be inside all those minds and try to figure out what the differences in thinking are through eons, across continents, and in individuals. Trying to solve this puzzle seems to me to be an exercise in hubris. But maybe I'm jaded. As soon as my physics courses tried to introduce friction, their seemingly elegant equations all went to hell.

JSSchley
04-03-2011, 09:18 AM
Ooh look a thread on Sapir-Whorf. I just finished writing a reading question for my students that's designed to get them away from thinking about this.

Some of my belated thoughts...

You can't argue singular they from a grammatical standpoint. According to rules of singular/plural, yes, it's wrong, but it's also a change in progress. Prawn is exactly right--singular use of they is growing and can now be found in style guides (The Everyday Writer is one that lists it as an acceptable way around the gender issue.) Most linguists consider "Everyone grab their hats" a perfectly grammatical construction. Or consider, "Your friend called. I told them you weren't home."

You did the same thing in Early Modern English. It used to be used for both plural and for formal singular, with thou being the singular informal. Then the formality collapsed, and along with it, the singular/plural distinction. So you went from being plural to being both plural and singular. The bad linguist joke is, "If you can do it, why can't they?"

Yet...on the question if language shapes thought... One of my colleagues recently conducted an experiment about grammatical gender. The argument is that gender is simply part of the noun--in fact, we don't even call it gender anymore, we call it word class, because there are languages that have upwards of ten of them and "gender" seems to make people want to think "binary." But when you have people try to identify whether a voice reading a single noun ("The cat" "The dog") is male or female, they're much faster at doing it if the voice matches the grammatical gender of the noun. So perhaps there's something to this, after all.

Medievalist
04-03-2011, 10:20 AM
I just think that whether or not your father beat you, whether your sister was traded for 6 oxen, or whether or not your village believes in a compassionate God are so much more important.

Fair enough--but how many languages can you read? How many can you speak? Do you know any dead langauges?

When you start learning a living language, especially via immersion, and when you start learning a dead language, to the point where you can pick up a text at random and make sense of it, your brain changes. The way you think about the people who created the things you are reading, changes.

If you want to move beyond linguistics, and enter neurology, language learning physically changes our brains, much like learning anything, but music and language in particular seem to exploit neuroplasticity.

Prawn
04-03-2011, 07:56 PM
but music and language in particular seem to exploit neuroplasticity.

There was this cool study back in the 70s that showed that even newborn infants could distinguish language sounds such as /p/ and /b/.

Then someone else came along and showed that rodents could do the same thing: "Speech perception by the chinchilla: Voiced-voiceless distinction in alveolar plosive consonants." Kuhl, P. K, Miller, J. D. 1975. Science, 190, 69-72.

The mammalian brain's sensitivity to certain sounds is something that was exploited evolutionarily in the development of language ability.

Medievalist
04-03-2011, 09:46 PM
The mammalian brain's sensitivity to certain sounds is something that was exploited evolutionarily in the development of language ability.

I do think that Burroughs might have been at least partially right; language is a virus.

Diana Hignutt
04-04-2011, 03:21 PM
I do think that Burroughs might have been at least partially right; language is a virus.

William or Edgar Rice?

Medievalist
04-04-2011, 08:56 PM
William or Edgar Rice?

Willie. But Laurie Anderson said it smarter.

Splendad
06-02-2011, 10:54 PM
I'm so sick of interesting topics turning into battles between two or three or four people. Why can't you just disagree without the personal insults? People make mistakes all the time. I could probably disprove half of the stated "facts" on this site if I put the effort in (semi-related: I once came up with a term for a very specific Facebook exchange called "Response Cherry Pickers," [we even shortened it to RCP] which defined those that waited and watched for somebody to write something so they could go Google it and if there were any imperfections or corrections, the RCP would snatch it up and go beat the original poster with it... I see that a lot here, I think--it's not really provable).

Anyway, my whole thing is that I wish we could have civil disagreements. There is room in writing for every single one of us. Some of us say some inflammatory shi7, dumb shi7, and immature shi7, but in my Utopia which I 'spose I'll never see, those would be ignored or, better yet, countered with intelligent arguments that ignore the insults. I'm guilty; if assaulted just the right way, I fight back. I get low. But I don't think I would need to if we all just kept it civil. Ramble complete.

ColoradoGuy
06-04-2011, 02:35 AM
I've been known to engage in the occasional rant myself, but it doesn't appear to me that your post has anything to do with the topic at hand.

Morwen Edhelwen
12-15-2011, 04:30 AM
Probably...

HarryHoskins
12-15-2011, 05:25 AM
Fuck yeah (you understand). :)

Eumenides
12-28-2011, 03:58 AM
I've been curious about Guy Deutscher's book for some months now. I'm a big fan of Steven Pinker, so I doubt Deutscher will persuade me, but I always try to keep an open mind.

Some of his points in the article are interesting. But I fail to see what's so extraordinary about the people who use Cardinal points. They're still using their body as a reference. Saying "To your right" or "To the west of your body" is the same.

I'm not very convinced about the theory that language shapes thought. It may be possible, but perhaps in small, subtle ways. But this has led to many abuses. I find amusing Alfred Korzybski's theory that if we eliminated the verb "to be" from the English language, we'd create a more perfect, peaceful, tolerant, rational language. Then I read somewhere that Russian doesn't have the verb 'To be,' so you can see how these things make me skeptical :)

QuantumIguana
01-19-2012, 07:40 PM
Language affects how we think, but how we think also affects language. There are tribes that have very limited number systems, such as one, two and many. It's not because they are stupid, or just because the language restricts them, it's because they don't need a more complex number system. You need numbers to deal with commodities, with interchangeable items. If I offer someone three cows in trade, they aren't interchangeable. Some of the cows might be younger, healthier, stronger or larger than the others. I might instead offer the cows named Alex, Bessie and Carol in exchange. If I offered Alex, Bessie and Dave instead, the deal would be difference, because the quality of the cows would be different. Similarly, if someone has a flock of 10 sheep, and there are nine sheep, they might not think "one of my sheep is missing", but instead think "Shawn the sheep is missing".