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Does language influence worldview? Show more Show less
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Over the years, linguists have observed that some languages have a differing vocabulary for colors, numbers, directions, and more, not to mention variations in structure. Researchers wonder whether or not these differences affect how speakers of these languages view the world.

Yes, language influences worldview Show more Show less

The structure and lexicon of a person's language affects their worldview.
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Language dictates worldview

The language a person speaks directly determines their cognition and perception of the world. This can be seen by people not being able to count or learn math because their language lacks words for numbers. This view is also known as linguistic determinism.

Context

This view is widely known as the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, posited by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf in the 20th century. "Strong" here refers to the high level of influence that language has over cognition as argued by these researchers.

The Argument

Both the grammar and vocabulary of a language determine how a person views the world. Because language is so prevalent, it is the main governing factor in how each person thinks and may even dictate how the culture around each language is organized.[1] There are many examples of differences between languages demonstrating differences in their speakers' cognition. For instance, there are languages like Pirahã, an indigenous language spoken in northwest Brazil, that have no numbers. In Pirahã, there are only three words for quantifying objects, which roughly translate to "a small number," "some," and "many."[2] Research on Pirahã has shown that because this language has no counting system, its speakers have trouble learning to count in other languages, learn basic mathematics, or remembering the quantity of items exceeding three.[2]

Counter arguments

The weakness of the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is that it is simply too strong. There is a host of evidence beginning in the mid-late 20th century demonstrating that at most, the language a person speaks merely influences how they view the world. Linguistic determinism also presumes that language is the only factor governing a person's cognition and perception, and this is false, too.[3] Finally, if each language has its own distinct worldview, as the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states, then it should be extremely difficult to translate, or at least convey, concepts from one language to another or to learn a second language--but this isn't the case at all.[1] In short, there is a reason that the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is no longer prevalent in linguistic inquiry. Its claims are too strong and lack nuance, and as a result, it has been largely disproved by subsequent research.

Proponents

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/sapir.cfm
  2. https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/10/piraha-cognitive-anumeracy-in-a-language-without-numbers.html
  3. https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-thought

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 13 Aug 2020 at 21:46 UTC

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