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Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Related: linguistics - political correctness


In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (SWH) states that there are certain thoughts of an individual in one language that cannot be understood by those who use another language. SWH states that the way people think is strongly affected by their native languages. It is a controversial hypothesis championed by linguist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf.

First discussed by Sapir in 1929, this idea became popular in the 1950s following posthumous publication of Whorf's writings on the subject. In 1955, Dr. James Cooke Brown created the Loglan language (which led to an offshoot Lojban) in order to test the hypothesis. After vigorous attack from followers of Noam Chomsky in the following decades, the hypothesis is now believed by most linguists only in the weak sense that language can have effect on thought, which is referred to as linguistic relativity. For a Chomskian rebuttal, see, for example, Steven Pinker's book The Language Instinct.

Central to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the idea of linguistic relativity—that distinctions of meaning between related terms in a language are often arbitrary and particular to that language. Sapir and Whorf took this one step further by arguing that a person's world view is largely determined by the vocabulary and syntax available in his or her language (linguistic determinism). Whorf in fact called his version of the theory the Principle of Linguistic Relativity. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir-Whorf_Hypothesis [Jul 2004]

Political Correctness [...]

Some have attempted to turn the hypothesis into a political tool. So-called politically correct language stems from the belief that using (for example) sexist language tends to make one think in a sexist manner. In its strongest form, belief that constraints on language can actually achieve political goals may be a form of magical thinking. Politically constrained language may however be effective at creating new rules of etiquette, labelling certain disapproved usages as breaches of social custom. It is unclear, however, that political etiquette changes perceptions. The philosopher Steven Pinker coined the phrase the euphemism treadmill to describe the process in which euphemistic neologisms acquire all the negative associations of the words they were coined to replace. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir-Whorf_Hypothesis [Jul 2004]

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) Metamodel

The metamodel in Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a model of (primarily) linguistic models that people have.

The metamodel is especially concerned with eliminating the flaws of those models. In the initial formulation of the metamodel, the flaws are categorized into the following general groups:

Because people's linguistic models of reality guide their behavior (see: the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis), such flaws can have devastating effects in real life. The metamodel contains a set of questions to eliminate the three categories of flaws.

The metamodel was initially developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in 1975 and has since been extended and revised e.g. by L. Michael Hall. Its roots can be traced back to the work of Alfred Korzybski and even further to the nominalistic tradition of William of Ockham.

An effort unrelated by origin but going in the same direction of improving clarity of communication is the constructed language Loglan (and it's close cousin, Lojban). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metamodel [Jul 2004]

George Orwell Newspeak

Another widely known work of Orwell is his classic essay "Politics and the English Language", in which he decries the effects of political propaganda, official language, and superficial thinking on literary styles, vocabulary, and ultimately on thought itself. Orwell's concern over the declining power of language to capture and express reality with honesty is also reflected in his invention of "Newspeak", the language of the imaginary country of Oceania in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a variant of English in which vocabulary is strictly limited by government fiat. The goal is to make it increasingly difficult to express ideas that contradict the official line - and, in time, even to conceive such ideas. (cf. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Orwell [Jul 2004]

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