Does language shape the way we think? Evaluate theoretical and empirical evidence

Doeslanguage shape the way we think? Evaluate theoretical and empiricalevidence

Doeslanguage shape the way we think? Evaluate theoretical and empiricalevidence

Thequestion on whether language shape how people think has in the pastraised and still triggers a hot debated discussion. In order toaddress this question, this essay will examine whether and to whatextent the relationship between language and thought exists. First,theoretical and empirical evidence on relationship between languageand thought will be evaluated. Thereafter, the paper will discuss theWhorfian hypothesis before embarking on recent studies that haveexamined the impact of language on cognition. Finally, the paper willconclude by giving reason on whether or not an individual’slanguage shape the way he or she thinks.

Languagerefers to a system of symbols and signs utilized in the communicationof ideas among two or more persons. The signs and symbols are notbiologically inherited instead a child learn and acquire them as soonas she or he is born from birth (Levinson, 2003). All speciesincluding human beings, animals, and some plants have the ability tocommunicate nevertheless, human language is broadly flexible andconsists of certain elements of creativity that are absent amongother primates’ languages. Feeney and Heit (2007) acknowledge thatany language must be learnable by children, spoken and understood byadults. In addition, any language should have the capacity to expressideas that people on a normal basis in their society and cultureutilize. According to Levinson (2003), written records of languagedate back to 5,000 years ago however, there is a high possibilitythat it was developed approximately 150,000 to 200,000 years agofollowing larynx dropping to its unusual position paving way forspeech (Feeney et al., 2007). Language incorporates four chiefaspects that include phonology, pragramatics, semantics, and syntax.Semantics refer to the study of how individuals represent variousmeanings of words and sentences pragramatics refer to the way inwhich speakers communicate their intentions depending with thesetting of their society syntax refers to grammatical rules thatoutline and specify proper arrangement of words and other morphemesin order to form acceptable sentences, and phonology refers to thestudy of sounds in a language (January and Kako, 2007).

Humanlanguage constantly witnesses several changes for instance, thereare several words, like microwave, that are used today but wereabsent 70 years ago (Fodor, 1983). Sapir-Whorfian hypothesis, thelinguistic relativity hypothesis, led to the development of bothweaker-linguistic relativity-and stronger-linguisticdeterminism-versions of the hypothesis (Watson &amp Rayner 1920).This theory was formerly written by Wilhelm von Humboldt before Whorfasserted a link between an individual’s language and thought. Whorfmade use of Eskimos to illustrate his description of snow as well asaffirm his theory. He argued that Eskimos had a better understandingof snow than other creatures that lived in a totally differentclimate from them. He strongly argued that everything is learned fromexperience, response, or stimulus (Watson et al., 1920).

Differencesin languages that we speak have for many decades been associated withdifferences in thoughts and experiences that human beings express.According to Penn and Povinelli (20-7), linguistics, psychologists,and anthropologists have for long embraced the view that differentspeakers of certain languages hold certain contradictory view of theworld since different languages hold certain respective world views.In other words, they argue that each and every language embodies aworldview therefore different languages embody quite different views(Pen et al., 2007). As a result, speakers of different languages havea high possibility of thinking about the world in quite differentways. This kind of view strongly concurs with Whorfian hypothesis.Two chief themes can be deduced from Whorf’s and Sapir’s workthese themes include linguistic determinism and linguisticrelativity. Linguistic relativity argue that the language individualsspeak has a high possibility of influencing their perception whereaslinguistic determination argue that languages that individual speakplay a key role in determining their thought processes (Sapir, 1929).

NoamChomsky-a linguistic- further contributed to the passing of thelinguistic relativity hypothesis. According to Chomsky (2000), humanbeings could only learn natural languages through the help andguidance of good deal on innate linguistic equipment. He useddifferent ways to characterize this equipment. Chomsky and othernativists further argued that human beings need to be programmed in abiological manner in order to gain knowledge. He argues that humanbeing posses a language Acquisition Device (LAD) thus, children areable to comprehend the rules associated with any language that theyare exposed to. Chomsky (2000) acknowledges that LAD consists ofgrammatical rules’ knowledge common to all languages. Spelke &ampNewport (1998) further posit that a person’s thoughts and speechhave different origins. During the pre-intellectual stage, wordsstand for properties and not for words for the objects they denote.Spelke et al (1998) further insist that person only internalizethoughts, which are completely independent of speech before a childattains the age of three years. After a child attain the age of threeyears, he or she is able to internalize his or her monologue to innerspeech as well as verbalize his or her thoughts. This study concludedthat a child is able to construct knowledge. Which lead to thedevelopment that is interdependent of the social context. This is aclear indication that language is vital in mental development ofhuman beings it transmits the higher mental functions. Sloman (1996)insists that learning incorporates external experience that isconverted and transmitted into an internal process through the helpof a person’s language. However, Sampson (1999) strongly opposedChomsky results since they could not be proved empirically and theywere not falsifiable thus, not scientific.

Thehypothesis that language influence thought commenced during the eraof behaviorists paradigm. This hypothesis can be based on the Turkishform of conveying message and information the syntax of theirlanguage requires them to state whether they were present whenrelaying a particular story (January et al., 2007). On the otherhand, English speakers have the freedom of either including oromitting such aforementioned information. This is a clear indicationthat a speaker of a certain language has different mental conceptsfrom a speaker of another language. Despite this Sapir-Whorfhypothesis was in the long run discredited since it had severalcontradictory evidence. For instance, Mandarin Chinese lack formalgrammatical categories for present, past, and future tense and stillChinese speakers do conceptualize the present, past, and future(Sloman, 1996).

Januaryet al (2007) findings support the hypothesis that language influencethoughts. Boroditsky carried out a study in Australia among membersof Kuuk Thaavorre tribe. In this study, all participants werepresented with images and pictures that incorporated an element oftemporal progression. For instance, the pictures presentedindividuals peeling off and eating bananas. Then the participantswere required to arrange the images in the correct order. Afterwards,the participants were tested either when facing the south in whichthe cards left to right or when facing east in which the cards cametowards their body. The experimented aimed at verifying that membersof the Kuuk tribe’s perspective of time are associated with thecardinal points on a compass. On the contrary, English speakers wouldarrange the pictures from left to right since they use horizontalmetaphors to view time.

Similarly,a study conducted on Setswana, English, and Russian speakers showeddifferences in the basic classification of the languages’ colorterms (Kay and McDaniel, 1978). During this study, participants wererequired to sort out 65 different colors into various groups norestrictions were placed on the number of categories. The results ofthis study showed a similarity in how the participants choosedifferent categories of colors this was inconsistent with linguisticrelativity Nevertheless, the results portrayed several differencesamong the participants. Setswana speakers classified green and bluecolors together since they have a single basic theme for thesecolors, whereas both English and Russian speakers classified blue andgreen colors separately (Kay et al., 1978).

Margolisand Laurence (1999) acknowledge a study carried out by Brown andLenneber on language and cognition with an aim of testing thehypothesis that stated that the accuracy of the memory has a closeconnection to the color lexicon. Test recognition and recall wastested using a set of color chips. First, the participants were givensome color chips which were then recollected and the participantsasked to find them in an array of 120 Munsell chips mounted on a card(Margolis et al., 1999). The results showed that the English speakerseasily recognized those colors that existed in their vocabulary.Nevertheless, Pearl (2009) argued that an individual ease ofrecalling the color chips was subject to the accuracy of naming it.Despite this, the stability of the relationship between codabilityand accuracy did not last for long.

Onthe other hand, theory of universalism strongly opposes the thesisthat language plays a key role in influencing people’s thoughts.This theory argues that culture is a mere reflection of how peoplethink, which is influenced by their interaction with the surroundings(Nisbett, Peng, Choi, and Norenzayan, 2008). It further argues thatan individual’s thoughts reflect of his or her innateness. Nisbettet al (2008) further oppose the view that naming of a category leadsinto unconscious habit. Likewise, he argues that vantage theoryreplicates the process through which an individual construct acategory he insists that no matter how innate a construction mayseem to be it is still adaptable. This, in turn, creates a provisionfor people to categorize regardless of any internal or externalfactors. This further lead to the development of inherent structuresand native techniques leaving little or no room for neithermorphological nor grammatical categories to influence or enforce anyparticular way of thought (Matthews and Demopoulos, 1989). Heconcluded by arguing that the aforementioned categories are inimprovisation of the thought processes of an individual.

Manycognitive psychologists were inspired by Chomsky claims and theyargued that distinct modules make up the human mind these modulesplay a key role in processing various kinds of information (Chiangand Wynn, 2000). In general, many people believe that that theclassic account of a module is extremely strong nevertheless, manycognitive scientists still believe that relatively independentmodules make up the human mind. These modules include those utilizedin detecting cheaters, acquiring the syntax of an individual’snative language, and for recognizing human faces (Chiang et al.,2000). Therefore, existence of such cognitive modules has a highlikelihood of creating an argument on some of the empirical issueswith regard to linguistic relativity. According to Chaiken and Trope(1999), such an argument would arise on how various modules caninfluence one another. Additionally, many opponents of modulesbelieve that cognitive capacities are innate this is contrary to therelativity hypothesis. Despite this, claims on specific cognitivemodules are hard to verify some of these claims are merely based onvarious stories of evolutionary psychologists. However, manyindividuals who are skeptical of modules in general still agree withthe existence of some language modules (Swoyer, 2002). This is aclear indication that some versions of linguistic nativism are moreplausible nowadays than they were many years ago.

Malotki(1983) findings show that testing of relativity hypothesis posesseveral challenges since many things involving cognition and languagecome about due to various multifarious causal influences. Thesecausal influences widely interact with one another in both non-linearand delicate manners. Therefore, even if good models existed thatdemonstrated how certain linguistic variables affect cognitivevariables when other things are held constant confounded variableswould still cause some interference (Majid, Bowerman, Kita, Haun, andLevinson, 2004).

Carmichael,Hogan, and Walter (1932) based their study on some work that wascarried out by JJ Gibson. Gibson had earlier on concluded thatperception on a certain reproduction immensely influenced any changemade on it (Daniels, 2005). Carmichael et al (1932) carried out thisstudy with an aim of investigation on whether or not presenting apicture would have any impact on the recalling of the picture. Boththe presentation of a picture and speaking a word would be donesimultaneously. The experiment incorporated participants that weredivided into three groups: two experimental and one controlledgroups. Each group was presented with 12 pictures and 7 blanksegments. Upon being shown the blank segment each and everyparticipant would hear some words (‘the next figure look like…).Results of this experiment showed that the controlled group heard noverbal ques whereas the experimental one did. Nevertheless, thecontrolled group reproduced the pictures they had seen whereas theexperimental one reproduced pictures that looked more like the wordthat they had heard instead of the picture (Carmichael et al., 1932).Carmichael et al (1932) concluded that the representation of anydrawing is widely altered by its reproduction from the memory allthis depends on the verbal context by which the drawing is perceived.

Undeniably,language plays a key role to people’s experiences of being human.Any language that individual speak profoundly influence the way theythink. Therefore, people should appreciate the role of language inshaping their mental lives this helps them understand the nature ofhumanity in a deeper manner. Nevertheless, it is of enormoussignificance that researchers embrace and employ various methods andapproaches, like those that focus on bilinguals in addition tostudies of more languages and variables in order to understand therelationship of an individual language and thought. The skills thatthe scholar of ancient languages, the field linguist, andexperimental psychologist cannot be discarded since it are stillrelevant. Biological psychology, cognitive anthropology,cross-cultural psychology, neuropsychology can further play aprominent role in helping scholars understand on the aforementionedrelationship in a clear and deeper manner.


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