"language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is the shaper of ideas... We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages." (B. Whorf)
Discuss the extent to which language affects the way we see things
Language is a modern tool developed to more easily convey the meanings, expression, and feelings people feel to others. Much communication, however, is done without the aid of language, such as sight, sounds, and body language, which can be perceived by thinking alone. "Language helps form the limits of our reality."-Dale Spender. There is already a limited foundation of thoughts and ideas in our reality which language expands and builds upon. By looking at examples of how language and ideas fail and succeed, and how language is a prerequisite for accomplishing a modern society, I will look at how language determines the ways in which we think and view the world and vice versa.
We attach words to things and concepts to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings and experiences. However, words need to have a preexisting source of knowledge; (a justified, true belief) perhaps such as seeing something. If you ask someone to describe what a piece of paper is, they will be lost without having the necessary words to label the attributes of a piece of paper. The ability to think would not exist if there were no means of transferring those thoughts to the real world. When we are presented with a white, oblong, and thin material, we consider it a piece of paper. However, without those essential labels, the piece of paper would be described no different than a car or cup would. A person is unable to think of a piece of paper without knowing it is a piece of paper, it is oblong, thin, and white. Hence, the object's labels are directly connected to our thinking.
Language is one of the factors which distinguish humans from the closely related apes. Language makes it easier for humans to communicate together and think together, expressing and building up ideas collectively through the use of language and passing it down to other people. The fact that apes do not have language in their arsenal means they have a harder time working together and sharing individual intellect.
Language can be ambiguous in its meanings, for example, the phrase, "he was driven from his house by his wife," has the dual meanings of:
- He was physically driven by car away from his house
- He was mentally driven away from his house by his frustrating wife
The idea of the context of the phrase is essential as it is not inherent in the words. Therefore, to understand the sentence, more than the language itself is needed.
Newton discovered the mathematical language of calculus because he needed tools to express his ideas. His ideas were unsubstantiated since he did not have the necessary means to express them. Newton used language to write down and arrange the concept he perceived, thereby developing a new method of viewing a branch of mathematics. By discovering a new form of language he changed the way we see and think about a division of our world.
Language clearly influences thought. Do you know people who constantly use vulgar and profane words in everyday speech? Often they just have developed the habit of taking the lazy way out. It takes effort and practice to pick a useful word that really fits the thought we want to convey. . So in other words the more fluent you are in any language thoughts simply flow!
People who use profanity and nonsensical words such as "like" in their everyday speech are accustomed to do so because it requires much less thought to carry out. People with a more varied and complex vocabulary can think on a much clearer and broader spectrum as they can define their ideas more precisely. They will view the world in a different way as they can assess situations more carefully since they have enhanced their primitive instincts and ideas with a more complex thought process using more appropriate words when necessary.
Two people with different ethnic backgrounds but similar vocabularies will think very similarly despite being acquainted with different types of thinking and methods of using their vocabulary. For example, if you were to replace the vocabulary of physicist with that of a coal-miner, they probably would not be able to understand the theory of Relativity as their knowledge of the subject was rooted within their lexis. The physicist's vocabulary has been modified to suit a profession which hinders their ability to express their intellect and knowledge. Therefore, the physicist can no longer view the world as broadly as in-depth as with his suitable vocabulary.
The dictionary gets thicker every year with more words. This implies that humanity is evolving; becoming more intelligent and able to conceive the world around us. The Inuit language, for example, has a greater number of words for "snow" than English. Since their language contains more words for "snow" than English, they should be able to describe, break down, and recognize different types of snow more easily. The increasing number of words in the total vocabulary hypothetically means we are seeing the world in a more complete sense and way.
The way in which a language is used and spoken can often reveal the identity of the speaker. A stereotype arises when negative labels are attached to a specific identity. If someone with a rough dialect and an urban accent, who uses lots of profanity and slang words, speaks to you, it is likely that you will classify this person as an unintelligent gangster without respect for you or society. Such stereotypes are most often incorrect and will mislead many who will not allow the person a chance to disprove this assumption. Frequently, an alternate perspective of the individual is established prematurely because of a specific use of language which affects the way we judge the person.
Language is often used to manipulate reality and thoughts. For instance, in modern war, when the press reports on an incident they will often sugar-coat or intensify the true events according to the desired meaning to be used. The press will try to gain the support of the public for the nation while aggravating them towards the enemy. Since the majority of the public have no experience of the war they can not conjure thoughts of their own; so they resort to relying on the language on vocabulary produced by the press. For example, when a news-organization reports plans to "liberate" an area, it will often mean to "invade" the area. To the public, a good thing is about to transpire, whereas in reality, it is an assault on various rights. Language limits reality as people are manipulated to remain oblivious to the truth
To conclude, language is much more useful than most people realize. It is used for good and evil purposes. It seems that the only boundaries keeping knowledge limited is our incomplete collection of vocabulary. Language aids us when it comes to structuring our thoughts, but it seems overblown to say that it determines our thinking. Ambiguity suggests the ability to think is needed to understand a sentence in the right context. Language is a necessity when it comes to interpreting the world we see and putting things into perspective, yet it can be used to attach negative stereotypes to someone and affect the way we judge them!--Content ends here!-->