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Languages Reflect Societies - Essay Example

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The short version of the first question for this assignment appeared to me like “do you agree with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis”? Agreeing or disagreeing…
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Does language determines thought? I never thought that I will enjoy making this paper – from researching about to the topic to writing about the subject. The short version of the first question for this assignment appeared to me like “do you agree with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis”? Agreeing or disagreeing with a theory in an academic perspective and manner seems a little bit daunting, but I never knew that it could be fun too. To answer the first question, I would like to present first the answer to the second; on what the current literature says about the hypothesis.
Controversial! This word still aptly describes the hypothesis up to these days attracting continued studies about the relationship between language, thought and culture. Its strong version called Linguistic Determinism, posits that “people’s thoughts are determined by categories made available by their language” (Pinker, 1994, p. 57), that “language may determine our thinking patterns” (Liang, 2011, pp. 569-570), or that “one cannot think outside the confines of their language” (He, 2011, p. 562). Linguistic Relativity which is its weaker version, maintains that “differences among languages cause differences in thoughts of their speakers” (Pinker, 1994, p.57).
Among the articles that I have read, I summarized the strengths and weakness of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in Table 1. Pinker (1994) thoroughly debunked the hypothesis in his book The Language Instinct. From the circumstances that contributed to Whorf’s formation of the hypothesis – to the two aspects of the theory, the strong and weak versions, Pinker (1994) questioned them all using anthropological and logical reasoning and results of empirical studies. As Pinker (1994, p. 67) have said, “Linguistic determinism is just a conventional absurdity”.
Liang (2011) also examined the same hypothesis and came up with views similar to the ones maintained by Pinker. The study of Chi-Shing and Altarriba (2008) yielded a result contrary to the theory. Though He (2011) in his study acknowledged the shortcomings of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis due to lack of empirical evidences, he focused on cross-cultural communication which made the hypothesis in one way, promote cultural diversity.
If there are studies that question the authenticity of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, there are studies that support the views of Sapir and Whorf. One such study is that of Kodish (2003). As he penned it, Whorf “did not posit a language isolated from human behavior-in-a-culture as the sole, one-directional, single-valued determinant of some separable entity called thought” (Kodish, 2003, p. 385).
Now why did I not put his arguments in Table 1? I did not do so for the reason that his arguments do not directly tackle the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.
If he presented arguments and evidences which will support the stand that “language determines thought” which is the main concept of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis as a whole, then he would have given strength to the hypothesis. His statement looks like he defended the person, Whorf, rather than the hypothesis known as Sapir-Whorf.
To prove that a statement is true one has argue and present evidences in support to that statement and not just give credit of the source of the statement.
Rather than to what Whorf have said, I agree to what Pinker (1994) mentioned. First, that “our internal representations which are our imaginations which underlie thinking, in many ways cross purposes with the sentences in a language” (p. 81). And ultimately I agree that “mental life goes on independently of particular languages” (p. 82).
Chi-Shing, T & Altarriba, J. (2008). Evidence Against Linguistic Relativity In Chinese And English: A Case Study Of Spatial And Temporal Metaphors. Journal Of Cognition & Culture 8.3(4), 335-357. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.
He, J. (2011). The Validity Of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis--Rethinking The Relationship Among Language, Thought And Culture. US-China Foreign Language 9(9), 560-568. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.
Kodish, B. (2003). "What We Do With Language -- What It Does With Us. ETC: A Review Of General Semantics 60(4), 383-395. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.
Liang, H. (2011). The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis And Foreign Language Teaching And Learning. US-China Foreign Language 9(9), 569-574. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete.
Pinker, S. (1994). The Language Instinct. New York: William Morrow and Company Inc. Read More
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