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Related: philosophy - Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis - linguistics

Linguistic determinism

Among the most frequently cited examples of linguistic determinism is Whorf's study of the language of the Inuit, who have multiple words for snow. He argues that this modifies the world view of the Inuit, creating a different mode of existence for them than, for instance, a speaker of English. The notion that Arctic people have so many words for snow has been called an "urban legend" by philosopher Steven Pinker. More to the point would be its triviality. The fact that wine fanciers have a rich vocabulary to speak about the tastes they find in wines is not thought of as evidence that their minds work differently; only that they know more than the average person about wine. English speaking skiers may have a snow vocabulary whose richness approaches that of the Inuit.

These ideas have met with some resistance in the linguistic community. Numerous studies in color perception across various cultures have resulted in differing viewpoints. (Berlin & Kay, 1969; Heider, 1972; Heider & Oliver, 1973; Miller & Johnson-Laird, 1976; Rosch, 1974)

Recently, however, there has been a resurgence in the idea of linguistic determinism, largely due to a study by Peter Gordon of Columbia University which examines the language of the Piraha tribe of Brazil. According to Gordon, the language used by this tribe only contains three counting words: one, two and many. Gordon shows through a series of experiments that the people of the Piraha tribe have difficulty recounting numbers higher than three. (Gordon, 2004) However, the causality relationship of these events is not clear. Critics have argued that if they are for some other reason unable to count numbers higher than three (perhaps because they are nomadic hunter/gatherers with nothing to count and hence no need to practice doing so) then one should not expect their language to have words for such numbers. That is, it is the lack of need which explains both the lack of counting ability and the lack of corresponding vocabulary.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir-Whorf_Hypothesis#Linguistic_determinism [Sept 2004]

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