L17 Language and Cognition
Saphir-Whorf Hypothesis: different languages yield different patterns of thought.
- language effects your word view, language is your world view, and you perceive the
world through the language you cognitively process in
- certain ways of thinking wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t had exposure to them through
- for example: some languages have 50 words for snow depending on it’s consistency
Linguistic Determinism: that if a word doesn’t exist in your language it doesn’t exist in
Linguistic Relativity: softer version, you might lack concepts or not have your attention
drawn to certain concepts if the term doesn’t exist in your language.
1984 (Book): Orwellian Newspeak
- if you change the meaning of words then you change an entire society
if you eliminate the word “freedom” then people will not have a concept of it
Research in Linguistic Determinism/Relativity
i. Colours: perception of colours differs dramatically between languages. All
languages have black, white, and red. The next most common colours are green and
blue, then purple, pink, orange, grey. The blue distinction occurs in Russian, Greek,
and Turkish where they have dramatically different words (basically they are not
even the same colour) for what English speakers would perceive to be simply
different shades of blue. They are therefor more likely to perceive these differences
and make the distinction faster than if you are an anglophone. You are quicker to
notice colour differences if they exist in your language.
ii. The Piraha tribe in the Amazon lacks number words. They can therefor not
conceptualize groups larger than three. Individuals know that one rock is different
from a pile of three rocks but will not be able to say if there is a difference between a
pile of four rocks and a pile of six rocks. Children cannot get this either until they
get number words.
iii. Children in verb dominant languages will understand means-end relations earlier
because verbs make connections between the beginning and the end.
iv. Gendered languages inﬂuence how people interpret objects. If word is feminine in
french then when asked to act out the object, the child will act it out as a woman. If
the object is masculine they will act out the object as tougher and with a deeper
v. Space and Object Contingencies: english doesn’t make the distinction of loose or
tight containment of objects, we would just say on/in/whatever. In Korean they make
this distinction. We would say than an object went into another object, where they
would make the distinction between if it was a tight or loose ﬁt. However, they do not
make the on/in distinction like we would, they stick to identifying it as loose or tight
support. If our language doesn’t identify it, we wouldn’t identify it. English speakers
stick to on/in and don’t pay attention to ﬁt
vi. Cardinal Directions: North American english speakers have a preferences for
saying LFRB (left, front, right, back) when giving directions and usually think of this in
our everyday lives. The location of objects is relative to ourselves. In native Australian they consistently use NESW (north, east, south, west) to describe
location. Possibly because they are outside more and view things relative to the sun
rather than to themselves. Differences in this when looking at rural (use NESW) vs.
urban (NESW) Tamil speakers.
vii.Shape vs. Substance: English children encode and describe objects by their shape,
Japanese children do this through substance. In english, if something is not easily
quantiﬁable we drop the the (I played in sand rather than I played in the sand), this
doesn’t exist in Japanese.
viii.Path Languages: Spanish and Turkish, Manner Languages: English and
- verbs with path included are learned and conceptualized earlier
- in English we are more likely to talk about someone running, jogging, sauntering —
rather than their direction
- the only non-descript word for direction in english is exit which we got from latin
- path languages are much more likely to describe where the person is going
- children learn both, but are more likely to describe (ﬁgure 1) what is going on in a
picture through path or manner based on which one has emphasis placed on it