Saturday, 28 August 2010

Neo-Whorfians in the NY Times

Does your language shape the way you think?

An article by Guy Deutscher, adapted from his book "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages", describes the difference between the old whorfian concept that a language constrains the way you think, with the idea that the information that a speaker is obliged to convey in a language necessarily has an effect. He draws a parallel with the intuition and habit born of other social influences.

The article mentions the inconsistency of grammatical gender across different languages, highlights Roman Jakobsen's maxim that "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey."

Includes examples of evidentiality in Matses, and of exclusively non-egocentric geographic coordinates in Guugu Yimithirr and other languages, along with the difficulty that egocentrically oriented people can have in dealing with such a system.

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