The Limits of My Language Mean the Limits of My World

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The limits of my language are the limits of my own world
By Zoe Cunningham
The human language may empower all of it’s users. The Famous Austrian-born philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, once said ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’. A variant translation to this is ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for’. This statement follows the notion of linguistic determinism which is, in its strongest form, the idea that language and its structures limit and determine human knowledge and thought. However, we must emphasise that the absence of a concept in a language does not oblige us to never understand such a concept. When considering the following topic, we must consider the limitations of the English Language. The renowned linguist, Roman Jakobson, points out the limitations of all languages by stating ‘Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey’. This statement basically means: If different languages influence the way we think, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about. We observe this effect by comparing the English language to the Italian language. For example, when saying ‘last night, Jenny wore a dress. It was beautiful’ in English, you would use the same form of past tense for each sentence. But when saying ‘ierisera, Jenny ha vestito un vestito. Lo era bellisima’, you would have to use the ‘part tense’ when saying ‘Jenny wore a dress’ but the ‘imperfect tense’ when saying ‘it was beautiful’. In English, we use one past tense form when referring to events in the past. The past tense in Italian emphasises that the event happened once and it was finished with but the imperfect stresses that the event happened for a long amount of time in the past or the dress was always and will always be beautiful. However, in English we still understand that ‘Jenny wore a dress’...
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