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Thread: Language and thought

  1. #1
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    Default Language and thought

    Does it make a difference on the way we think if we speak one language or another? what do you think?

    Here's an interesting article about it:

    The question of whether language influences thought has a long history in the Western humanities, dating as far back as classical antiquity. Herodotus, for instance, in his famous
    Historiae, speculated whether the divergent behaviours of Egyptians and Greeks could be explained by the directionality of their scripts: Whereas the former wrote from right to left, the latter wrote from left to right. Herodotus's view on language and thought, however, did not go unchallenged, as other scholars would posit that language is but a tool to talk about reality, and does not influence our experience of it (for historical accounts, see Fishman, 1980; Koerner, 2002). Even though scholarly inquiry into language and thought has come a long way since antiquity, these opposing views are to a large extent still found in current debates on language and thought: On the one side, there is the universalist camp, which holds that human cognitive processes are guided by universal perceptual biases, and on the other side, the relativist camp, according to which human cognition is indeed influenced by language. More specifically, current debates on language and thought tend to concern the significance of the empirical evidence accumulated since the 1990s and whether the documented influence of language on thought is large enough to be considered relevant (see, e.g., Pinker's [2007] view that the documented effects of language on cognition are “trite” and “mundane,” pp. 126, 135, 148) (for further discussion and criticism, see Bylund & Athanasopoulos, 2014a).

    Contemporary experimental research on language and thought is characterised by two main lines of inquiry that differ in their definitions of thought and, consequently, the methodologies they deploy to investigate the effects of language on thought. The first is primarily associated with the legacy of Benjamin Lee Whorf and concerns the influence of language on nonverbal behaviour. According to Whorf's (1956) Principle of Linguistic Relativity, speakers of different languages are pointed by their grammars toward different acts of evaluation of reality and must therefore arrive at somewhat different worldviews. Following Lucy (1992a, 1992b), researchers within this tradition typically operationalise thought along a range of nonverbal cognitive processes including categorisation, sorting, recognition memory, and low-level perception. These processes are nonverbal in the sense that they do not elicit or imply overt speech production or comprehension, but constitute cognitive responses to perceptual stimuli. Hitherto, the effects of language on nonverbal cognition have been documented to different degrees in a variety of perceptual domains, such as colour (e.g., Regier & Kay, 2009; Roberson et al., 2005; Thierry et al., 2009), objects and substances (e.g., Imai & Gentner, 1997; Lucy, 1992a; Saalbach & Imai, 2007), time (e.g., Boroditsky, Fuhrman, & McCormick, 2011; Casasanto, 2008), and motion (e.g., Athanasopoulos & Bylund, 2013a; Gennari et al., 2002; Kersten et al., 2010).

    The results from these studies offer a nuanced picture of the relationship between language and thought, showing that while language does not determine thought (which was never suggested by Whorf), and while thinking is possible without the aid of language (also recognised by Whorf), language may influence certain cognitive processes under certain circumstances. The degree to which language influences thought has been shown to depend on a number of factors, such as the specific characteristics of the perceptual domain and linguistic category under investigation, and the extent to which the experimental task promotes or suppresses strategic use of language (e.g., Athanasopoulos & Bylund, 2013a; Trueswell & Papafragou, 2010; Winawer et al., 2007).

    The second line of inquiry in the study of language and thought is associated with the work of Dan Slobin. As an alternative to Whorf's take on the influence of language on thought, Slobin (1996) formulated the Thinking for Speaking Hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, speakers of different languages think differently while in the process of preparing content for speech. More specifically, Slobin suggests that the speaker attends to and verbalises those aspects of reality that are readily encodable in his/her language. As opposed to the studies within the linguistic relativity paradigm where the focus is on nonverbal behaviour, the Thinking for Speaking framework directs attention to verbal behaviour. The selection and organisation of information for speech, that is, conceptualisation(Levelt, 1989), is thus central to the Thinking for Speaking paradigm. However, the evidence is not limited to only verbal behaviour, as many studies within this framework examine co-verbal behaviour, that is, behaviour concurrent with speech, such as visual attention allocation and gesture. The rationale for focusing on verbal and co-verbal behaviour is that human beings are, most of the time, engaged in preparing, producing, or interpreting verbal messages, and therefore research into language and thought is incomplete without attention to the mental processes that are concurrent with speech production. There is a steadily growing body of evidence demonstrating that speakers of different languages exhibit different patterns in the way they select and organise information in discourse (Berman & Slobin, 1994; Hasselgård, 2002; Strömqvist & Verhoeven, 2004), the concepts they express through gesture (e.g., Gullberg, Hendriks, & Hickmann, 2008; Núñez & Sweetser, 2006), and the entities to which they allocate visual attention when asked to verbally describe them (e.g., Papafragou, Hulbert, & Trueswell, 2008; von Stutterheim et al., 2012).
    Last edited by alfredo.astort; 03-11-2015 at 11:36 AM.

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    Default Re: Language and thought

    Thank you for sharing..

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