Q: Contrast English with one other language with respect to TWO particular points of grammar or vocabulary. With reference to that point of grammar/vocabulary, state how native speakers of these languages would be predicted to differ in their thinking or perception if we accept the linguistic relativity hypothesis. How might you test this prediction experimentally?
This essay will discuss the linguistic relativity hypothesis contrasting the English language with the most common Chinese dialect, Mandarin. The question of whether or not the language we speak shapes how we view the world has interested the fields of anthropology, psychology and linguistics for many years. Using two aspects of vocabulary, which I have chosen to be that of ‘space’ and ‘time’, I will attempt to predict how native Mandarin and English speakers may differ in their conceptions of the sequential order of time. Following these predictions I will outline a proposed method as to test the predictions experimentally. A definition and brief history of how the linguistic relativity hypothesis developed into what it is today is the necessary starting platform for this essay.
Today and indeed spanning back through this century, Benjamin Lee Whorf is most commonly associated with the hypothesis of linguistic relativity. (Slobin, 1996, p.70). However it is due to the arguments and advancing hypotheses of Hamann, Herder, Humboldt, Boas and Sapir that brought about today’s view of linguistic relativism (Gumperz & Levinson, 1996, p.2). Hamann was the first German philosopher to bring light and discussion to the relationship of language and cognitive thinking. In 1762 Hamann recorded many ideas with attribute to linguistic relativism in his work ‘Kreuzzüge des Philologen’. Here Hamann states how “Language did not originate from thought, but its origin had been prior to thought, for thought presupposes a language in which it might manifest itself” (Beek, 2005, p.7). Herder was Hamann’s student and it is visible in his work that he was influenced by the teachings of Hamann. The progression of this discussion began as Herder believed that language was a result of psychological, historical and natural forces, (McAfee, 2004, p.28), and had no divine origin as thought by Hamann. Whorf also shared this belief among others with Herder. Whorf put such beliefs into his studies, the prevalent shared theory being that “external features of a particular language could provide clues to its inner character” (McAfee, 2004, p.28). The 19th century paved way for the German philosopher and language theorist, Humboldt. Whorf drew many of his theories from those of Humboldt’s. Humboldt strongly believed that language and thought were one and that with the absence of language, cognition could not be articulated clearly, (McAfee 2004, p.28). Humboldt is the first mentioned in this essay to seek a substantial amount of evidence in order to prove or further predict his thoughts on linguistic relativity. Due to lack of concrete information present in the linguistic comparative research field, Humboldt backed up his claims by using evidence from non-western languages (Beek 2005, p.8). One of his studies examined the different amount of words for the animal ‘elephant’, in the English and Sanskrit languages. He found that in comparison to the English word ‘elephant’ which carries only one meaning, there were several words for elephant in the Sanskrit language denoting many meanings. His concluding thoughts on this were that because of the differences in their vocabulary, the English and the Sanskrit would perceive the animal differently. This led Humboldt to further believe that each culture had its own world view, a theory known and adapted by Whorf as ‘Weltanschauung’ (McAfee, 2004, p.29)
Humboldt’s theory ‘Weltanschauung’ was brought to America by the founder of the American School of Anthropology, Boas. This was due to the fact that Boas shared Humboldt’s view that each...
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