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Re: [ontolog-forum] Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "doug foxvog" <doug@xxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2013 13:37:12 -0500
Message-id: <cd93864796e3c5775836ebae1b751a87.squirrel@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
On Sun, February 24, 2013 10:08, Phil Murray wrote:
> ...
> John S. begins with an excerpt from Chen's paper, including: "English
> requires speakers to encode a distinction between present and future
> events ...[snip]"    (01)

> 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.    (02)

This is understandable, but understood to be "wrong".  Parents have to
be able to understand their children as they learn the language and become
more proficient.  However, unless they have standards and "correct" the
child as it is learning the language, the language will horribly diverge. 
has not had no idea what a child is saying, but has found that the parent
understands?    (03)

Most "proper" English does require a distinction between present and future
events ... and between them and past events (but not quite as strongly --
note that a number of very basic English verbs, e.g. "set", have the same
present and past tense).    (04)

Chinese does not require indication of tense in every sentence.    (05)

> 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."    (06)

> 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.    (07)

> 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.    (08)

Sure.  This means that communication of such ideas is more cumbersome
and thus more difficult.    (09)

> ...
> 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.    (010)

We move here from "programmer" to "good programmer".   Different
programming languages provide easy and obvious ways to do certain
things, while other programming languages are provide easy and
obvious ways to do other things or to do the same things in different
ways.  So, the languages learned do affect the ways that programmers
think to solve a problem.    (011)

Some may think that a "good programmer" is one who can tweak the
maximum efficiency out of code by using esoteric features of a
language or by using them in non-standard ways.  [At least, some
programmers who think that they are wizards in some specific
language act that way.]  When code needs to be modified sometime
later, such "coding excellence" can be a problem (especially when
it is not thoroughly documented in code).    (012)

> 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.    (013)

> And don't we simply assume that some computer languages
> are better for some requirements than others?    (014)

I suggest that this is the result of learning and analysis.    (015)

> Don't computer scientists prefer some languages over others,
> as Rich Cooper notes about himself? Isn't that a
> case of pre-selection?    (016)

Not necessarily.    (017)

> In general, doesn't language evolve to reflect culture???    (018)

Of course.    (019)

> 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?    (020)

I suggest that the principle is in the other direction.  Certain
languages encourage or mandate certain kinds of thinking,
while they are optional in other languages.    (021)

A language which requires gender-specific personal pronouns
requires people to be aware of gender differences, while users
of one that doesn't may more commonly ignore such differences.    (022)

A language which dictates that the way two people speak to
each other depends upon their relative social status enforces
awareness of social status, while speakers of other languages
care far less about social status and don't commonly compare
their status with others.    (023)

A language that requires family relations to be spelled out in
detail (older or younger brother or sister of mother or father)
forces one to be aware of the more specific relationship than
one that doesn't (aunt or uncle).    (024)

A language which describes devices by the way they are intended
to be used not only makes people more intrinsically aware of such
use, but may also enable some speakers to be less conscious of
other possible uses.    (025)

> Meaning *precedes* language, but they become intricately
> 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.")    (026)

Note that language can also add meaning.   In 1989, protesters calling
for reform in China found support from the General Secretary, Zhao
Ziyang, who was somewhat supported by paramount leader Deng
Xiaoping over more hard-line leaders.  In order to encourage Deng
in his acceptance of reforms and tolerance of the protests, small
bottles were set out in public places all over China.  After the TienAnMen
Square crackdown, these bottles were broken and additional small
bottles were broken all around the country.   What was the meaning of
the small bottles?  It comes from language.  "Xiao" means "small" in
Mandarin; and "ping" means "bottle".    (027)

> Just my two cents.    (028)

In a bottle?  8)#    (029)

-- doug foxvog    (030)

>        Phil Murray
> ...
> The Semantic Advantage
> Turning Information into Assets
> phil.murray@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> 401-247-7899
> Blog: http://semanticadvantage.wordpress.com
> Web site: http://www.semanticadvantage.com    (031)

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