We know that the window for learning speech closes pretty tightly by 15
years of age. I'm a bit surprised that Everett had his own children in
the class but made no mention of having Pirahã children in it. Did
Everett not realize that he, himself, had learned to count as a child? (01)
Perhaps if they started teaching the children now they would have
improved their trading capabilities in 5 years. One of my most
memorable, and enjoyable experiences was haggling with an 8 year old
Mayan boy for a belt. He did it very well. And it involved knowing the
markup price and how to discount it after each offer. (02)
"Finally, I agree that Piraha˜ and English are incommensurate
in several ways and that numbers and counting are one very obvious
manifestation of this incommensurability, but it is not clear that
linguistic determinism provides the explanation we need. The reason
is that the absence of counting is simply one unexpected absence in
Piraha˜ language and culture." -Everett (03)
T: 978-505-9878 (04)
On 8/30/2010 12:12 PM, John F. Sowa wrote:
> Thanks for the reference:
> The author makes some good points, but he's much too harsh
> on Whorf in the opening paragraphs. Whorf actually had quite
> a strong background for his observations, and linguists and
> psychologists drew much finer distinctions about the Whorfian
> hypothesis, which they were analyzing for years.
> Whorf himself never made the very strong claim that it's
> impossible to learn new categories that go beyond what is
> encoded in one's native language. In fact, he explored
> ways of teaching people to think in categories beyond
> the ones encoded in their habitual verbal patterns.
> At the end of this note are some excerpts -- the first two
> are from the beginning of the article, and the last one is
> from the conclusion. The concluding paragraph is very close
> to what Whorf actually said.
> But I would also like to mention the following article
> about the Pirahã language and culture:
> If the "strong Whorfian hypothesis" applies to anybody, the
> Pirahã tribe would be prime candidates. As far as anybody
> has been able to determine, none of the adults of that tribe
> have ever been able to break out of the mind set imposed by
> their language (which is extremely difficult for foreigners
> to master, even for Everett who spent years living with them).
> In any case, Deutscher's article is interesting, but it would
> have been better if he had presented a more balanced view of
> Whorf in the opening paragraphs -- especially since he largely
> agrees with Whorf in the conclusion.
> Does Your Language Shape How You Think?
> By GUY DEUTSCHER
> Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short
> article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the
> 20th century. At first glance, there seemed little about the article to
> augur its subsequent celebrity. Neither the title, “Science and
> Linguistics,” nor the magazine, M.I.T.’s Technology Review, was most
> people’s idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical engineer who worked
> for an insurance company and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at
> Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for international
> superstardom. And yet Benjamin Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea
> about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a
> whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we
> are able to think....
> Eventually, Whorf’s theory crash-landed on hard facts and solid common
> sense, when it transpired that there had never actually been any
> evidence to support his fantastic claims. The reaction was so severe
> that for decades, any attempts to explore the influence of the mother
> tongue on our thoughts were relegated to the loony fringes of disrepute.
> But 70 years on, it is surely time to put the trauma of Whorf behind us.
> And in the last few years, new research has revealed that when we learn
> our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought
> that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways...
> The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy
> shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the
> objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what
> has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked
> impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how
> to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their
> contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first
> step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending
> we all think the same.
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