May 3, 2010

This happened, so then that happened

"Called the Whorfian Principle of linguistics, after Benjamin L. Whorf, who proposed it, the theory (simplified here) contends that the language each of us speaks is a product of the society we live in. Our language, like our culture, to some extent predetermines what we can perceive.

...Thus, Whorf indicates, all cultures are linguistically--therefore perceptually--limited, because no one culture or language encompasses all the possible attitudes in the universe. English, for instance, predisposes its speakers to think and act in linear ways, to assume causality, logic, connectedness, and ordinal sequences, because there is such a preponderance of words in our language having to do with lines, points, edges, sequences, causes, and consequences: "line of sight," "point of view," "on the verge of," "chain of command," "sequence of events," and so forth. English speakers therefore are limited in their capacity to understand nonlinear ideas, such as those in Oriental philosophies.

...the reverse may also be true: the greater the stock, the greater the possibility of perception; the more words and structures available for reference, the better our chance of understanding and (we hope) the less likely we are to be trapped in a limited or jangled construction of reality. Vocabulary may extend the capacity to understand."

From How Language Works.

1 comment:

  1. Mary, check out the following short story from Borges' collection 'Ficciones': "tlon, uqbar, orbus tertius"

    Includes this great line: 'the teachings of this harmonious history have wiped our the harmonious history of my childhood'

    Borges writes a lot on thought, language and their relationship.


Yay for comments! Nothing mean please, and that means you, Anonymous.