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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, but worldview also influences language Show more Show less

Research on Pirahã and comparisons of the evolutionary trees of several hundred languages have shown worldview shapes languages. Theories such as linguistic relativity have also shown that languages influence our worldview. Therefore, worldview and language reciprocally influence each other.
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Worldview shaped languages

Research of the Pirahã people and comparisons of the evolutionary trees of several hundred languages have shown that languages are shaped in culture-specific instead of universal ways.

The Argument

The question of how languages are formed has generally been avoided. This may because it is difficult to test. It may also be because it is a chicken and egg question: does language influence worldview or did a people’s worldview influence their language? Another factor is that theories such as Noam Chomsky’s universal grammar discouraged this inquiry by claiming that language is “a complex system that arose fully formed in the brain”.[1] Some research such as that done by linguist Daniel Everett or the study by psychologist Russell Gray has led to the conclusion that it is a worldview (or culture) that shaped languages. Everett spent time with and conducted research on the Pirahã people. He concluded that Pirahã lacks recursion (when one phrase is inserted inside another phrase of the same type) which was thought to be a part of all languages. Everett’s research has resulted in new ideas about the formation of language. Brent Berlin a cognitive anthropologist, claims that the Pirahã may be an example of what languages look like in an earlier stage of syntactic development. Everett claims that this shows that culture can shape core grammar.[1] Psychologist Russel Gray and his colleagues have also come to this conclusion. They compared the evolutionary trees of several hundred languages and found that each linguistic family evolved its own rules. They also were able to show that even traits that were shared came about in different ways. They concluded that languages have been shaped in culture-specific ways instead of universal ways.[2]

Counter arguments

Noam Chomsky hypothesized that children are able to pick up languages quickly and create sentences with grammatical rules that they have never heard before because people are born with a capacity for language. He identified organizing principles that are shared by all languages, a universal grammar.[1] If languages were formed by worldview then they would not share a universal grammar.

Proponents

Premises

[P1] Linguist Daniel Everett's research into the Pirahã shows that culture can shape core grammar. [P2] Psychologist Russel Gray and his colleagues compared the evolutionary trees of several hundred languages and found that the languages in each linguistic family had been shaped in culture-specific ways instead of universal ways.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1 and P2] Noam Chomsky's theory of a universal grammar that is shared by all languages means that a specific worldview cannot be responsible for the formation of languages.

References

  1. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/04/16/the-interpreter-2
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/news.2011.231

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This page was last edited on Sunday, 23 Aug 2020 at 22:20 UTC

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