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Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

To: <pcmurray2000@xxxxxxxxx>, "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Rich Cooper" <rich@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2013 13:54:21 -0800
Message-id: <14E565DA0AB943569208A869B522280C@Gateway>
Phil - nicely summarized,    (01)

-Rich    (02)

Rich Cooper
Rich AT EnglishLogicKernel DOT com
9 4 9 \ 5 2 5 - 5 7 1 2    (03)

-----Original Message-----
From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On
Behalf Of Phil Murray
Sent: Sunday, February 24, 2013 7:09 AM
To: [ontolog-forum]
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf
Hypothesis    (04)

Speaking as an outsider ... this is an interesting
thread, but many of 
the observations seem to imply restrictive
contexts or are at odds with 
direct observation.    (05)

John S. begins with an excerpt from Chen's paper,
including: "English 
requires speakers to encode a distinction between
present and future 
events ...[snip]"    (06)

No, it doesn't, strictly speaking. You can say,
"It rains tomorrow." and 
be understood perfectly by almost every English
speaker, even if the 
sentence occurs in isolation. But you will
probably be thought of as 
someone who has limited familiarity with
"standard" English.    (07)

JS: "The strong [Sapir-Whorf] hypothesis implies
that a person's native 
language makes
it difficult or impossible to think outside the
constraints of that 
language."    (08)

John notes that this assertion is probably
untenable. One reason, I 
think, is that it assumes or implies some
"perfect" condition of 
unchanging, complete mastery of some unchanging
language.    (09)

It is difficult not to notice that natural
languages strongly influence 
how people think. But when people slow down and
reflect on the 
vocabulary (and, less frequently, the syntax) of
their own natural 
languages, they are often fully aware that the
standard natural language 
is not sufficient to describe what they are
observing or what they want 
to convey. So they produce variations on existing
vocabulary, create new 
terms, or create circumlocutions.    (010)

What's more, we should not confuse lack of
knowledge of specific facts 
with incomplete tools in the language used to
express an idea. Nor with 
insufficient vocabulary.    (011)

JS: "Brain scans show that such study [of music,
mathematics, or any 
branch of science] does indeed make detectable
changes in the brain."    (012)

I suspect that *every* significant novel
experience makes detectable 
changes in the brain, especially when we are
younger. I have nothing to 
prove that, however.    (013)

Jack Park: Quoting the Wikipedia article that Jack
pointed to: "[Loglan] 
was developed beginning in 1955 by Dr James Cooke
Brown with the goal of 
making a language so different from natural
languages that people 
learning it would think in a different way if the
hypothesis were true."    (014)

But isn't the rationale for Loglan virtually
untestable in the real 
world??? Wouldn't you have to isolate a group of
people from birth from 
all influences from the external world? And
maintain that isolation for 
decades???    (015)

Regarding Steven Ericsson-Zenith's interesting
insertion of the topic of 
computer languages: It's very clear that specific
computer languages 
constrain the solutions that programmers produce.
But I doubt that a 
specific language limits what a good programmer
thinks should be 
possible. This is why programmers grumble about
their language they are 
required to use, at times, and why new programming
languages -- and new 
features for older languages -- emerge.    (016)

And don't we simply assume that some computer
languages are better for 
some requirements than others? Don't computer
scientists prefer some 
languages over others, as Rich Cooper notes about
himself? Isn't that a 
case of pre-selection?    (017)

In general, doesn't language evolve to reflect
culture???  Isn't that 
more true than the assertion that any specific
natural language 
intrinsically limits what can be thought by a
speaker of that language?    (018)

Meaning *precedes* language, but they become
intertwined.However, our awareness of that
interdependency is often 
limited ... and often changing. (See also, Rich
Cooper's observation 
that "I can ride a bike, but I couldn't explain to
my kids HOW I ride a 
bike.")    (019)

Just my two cents.    (020)

       Phil Murray    (021)

John F Sowa wrote:
> Folks,
> I'm sorry that I used the subject line
"Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis" because
> it distracted attention from an article (URL +
excerpts below), which
> I hoped that somebody might look at.  It shows
how the issue can be
> analyzed with a testable hypothesis and lots of
empirical data.
> In any case, some comments:
> Jack P
>> The language Loglan
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loglan
>> sprang out of that; Loglan provoked "forks" of
various kind
> I agree that learning Loglan could lead people
to new ways of
> thinking.  But that is true of disciplined study
of any kind.
> People who study music, mathematics, or any
branch of science
> do learn how to think in patterns that are
distinctly different
> from those who don't.
> Brain scans show that such study does indeed
make detectable changes
> in the brain.  Even the study required to become
a taxi driver in
> London makes a detectable increase in the
hippocampus, which is
> involved in storing memories -- e.g., all the
streets in London.
> For more info, google "London taxi drivers
> Steven E-Z
>> I suggested the same is true of engineering
languages, where I
>> claimed anecdotally that the effect is
observable. There is the
>> obvious effect, engineering languages affect
problem solving behavior,
>> but I also claimed that the affect was more
pervasive than that,
>> arriving at the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as a
> I agree.  That's related to studying Loglan,
music, mathematics,
> or the patterns of the London streets.
> Pat H
>> I have, at many times in my life, had to think
and act while my
>> mental linguistic system was not functioning at
all, and found that
>> my thinking was unimpaired by a temporary
(epilepsy-induced) total
>> aphasia. But in any case, this idea that
thought somehow *is* language
>> seems unlikely on a variety of grounds.
> I agree.  And so would Temple Grandin -- an
autistic woman who had a
> severe handicap in learning language, but still
managed to earn a PhD
> in animal husbandry.  She wrote several books
(with editing help
> from coauthors) about the way she thinks in
terms of mental imagery.
> Despite her handicap (or as she would say,
perhaps because of it),
> she became a highly successful consultant in
cattle raising because
> she could imagine how the animals would perceive
and reason about
> their circumstances.  For more info, google
"Temple Grandin".
> Simon S
>> the SEP article on Philosophy of Linguistics,
which does a fairly good
>> job of showing that "the Sapir-Whorf
Hypothesis" isn't even a hypothesis.
> Neither Sapir nor Whorf called what they were
doing a hypothesis.
> But they published observations that are more
insightful than many
> publications about "the Saprir-Whorf
> Rich C
>> It seems normal to have one part of your
linguistic brain listening...
> Various parts of the brain are specialized for
various functions.
> The simultaneous translators at the United
Nations can perform some
> amazing feats after years training.  They
actually use their *right*
> hemisphere to interpret the source language
while simultaneously
> using their *left* hemisphere to generate speech
in the target
> language.  But that is a highly unnatural
specialization that
> requires as much daily practice as Olympic
> Leo
>> I think the Whorf or Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (or
non-hypothesis) suffers
>> greatly. But the [SEP] article does tease out
some of the usual positions.
> The claim that the patterns of language
influence thought seems to be
> well supported.  To avoid endless debate, it's
probably better to avoid
> using the term "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis".
> John
> The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior:
Evidence from Savings
> Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets
> M. Keith Chen
> Yale University, School of Management and Cowles
> Abstract:  Languages differ widely in the ways
they encode time.
> I test the hypothesis that languages that
grammatically associate
> the future and the present foster
future-oriented behavior. This
> prediction arises naturally when well-documented
effects of language
> structure are merged with models of
intertemporal choice. Empirically,
> I find that speakers of such languages save
more, retire with more
> wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are
less obese. This
> holds both across countries and within countries
when comparing
> demographically similar native households. The
evidence does not
> support the most obvious forms of common
causation. I discuss
> implications for theories of intertemporal
> 1 Introduction
> Languages differ in whether or not they require
speakers to
> grammatically mark future events.  For example,
a German speaker
> predicting rain can naturally do so in the
present tense, saying:
> _Morgen regnet es_ which translates to 'It rains
tomorrow'. In
> contrast, English would require the use of a
future marker like
> 'will' or 'is going to', as in: 'It will rain
> In this way, English requires speakers to encode
a distinction
> between present and future events, while German
does not.  Could
> this characteristic of language influence
speakers' intertemporal
> choices? ...
> Specifically, I adopt a criterion which
distinguishes between
> languages which Dahl (2000) calls "futureless",
and those which are
> not. Dahl defines "futureless" languages as
those which do not require
> "the obligatory use [of grammaticalized
future-time reference] in
> (main clause) prediction-based contexts"....
> 6.1.1 Skepticism of the Weak Sapir-Whorf
> While many studies support at least a weak form
of the SWH, there are
> a number of scholars who argue that on balance,
the idea that cognition
> is shaped by language is misguided. Most
prominently, in his seminal
> work _Syntactic Structures_ (1957), Chomsky
argues that humans have
> an innate set of mechanisms for learning
language, and that this
> constrains all human languages to conform with a
"universal grammar".
> Taken in strong form, a universal grammar would
largely eliminate the
> scope for language to affect cognition. In _The
Language Instinct_
> (1994), Pinker argues exactly this: that humans
do not think in the
> language we speak in, but rather in an innate
"mentalese" which
> precedes natural language. He concludes that:
"there is no scientific
> evidence that languages dramatically shape their
speakers' ways of
> thinking". While a rich literature since 1994
has disputed this claim,
> support for the SWH remains an hotly debated
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