Indeed, speakers of geographic languages seem to have an almost-superhuman sense of orientation. Sophia Evans for the Observer Guy Deutscher is that rare beast, an academic who talks good sense about linguistics, his chosen field.
So he cannot report it as a certain fact in the present tense.
Do the egocentric directions of left and right, forward and backward, play no role in their thinking? You need to have a compass in your mind that operates all the time, day and night, without lunch breaks or weekends off, since otherwise you would not be able to impart the most basic information or understand what people around you are saying.
We find it useful to use geographic directions when hiking in the open countryside, for example, but the egocentric coordinates completely dominate our speech when we describe small-scale spaces. I try to explain why in the race to ascribe to our genes all the fundamental aspects of language and thought, the immense power of culture and nurture has been grossly underestimated.
For instance, some languages, like Matses in Peru, oblige their speakers, like the finickiest of lawyers, to specify exactly how they came to know about the facts they are reporting. Whenever we would use the egocentric system, the Guugu Yimithirr rely on cardinal directions.
Why do you think this hypothesis of linguistic relativity has proved so attractive outside the field of linguistics—for instance, in many humanities and social-science disciplines literature, sociology, philosophy, etc. This does not mean, of course, that English speakers are unable to understand the differences between evenings spent with male or female neighbors, but it does mean that they do not have to consider the sexes of neighbors, friends, teachers and a host of other persons each time they come up in a conversation, whereas speakers of some languages are obliged to do so.
For centuries, philosophers and psychologists have had us believe that such egocentric concepts of space such as "in front of", "behind", "left" or "right" are the universal building blocks of language and cognition.
What we are not sufficiently aware of is the force of the habits that language can create, through the distinctions that it trains us to make and the types of information that it trains us to be attentive to from an early age.
In the introduction to your book, you point out the many ways the general public overestimates the influence of language on thought and experience. Even more remarkable were the spontaneous hand gestures that accompanied the story.
Why do you think that is? Our current ruminations about the subject would then look pitifully primitive. One example is the gendering of nouns, something which English does not do, but other languages do so extensively. On the other hand, an apple is masculine for Germans but feminine in Spanish, and so are chairs, brooms, butterflies, keys, mountains, stars, tables, wars, rain and garbage.
Re-examining language and thought Fortunately, Deutscher gets beyond the critique of Whorf, and his New York Times article discusses a number of different pockets of research where Whorfian-like thought has again become convincing to scholars.
Again, the point is not that they cannot understand egocentric coordinates. Or can they sometimes think of friends in a more indeterminate way? 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.
Recently, he answered some of my questions about his new book via e-mail. It seems barely comprehensible that this line of argument could ever have achieved such success, given that so much contrary evidence confronts you wherever you look.
How has it been underestimated? The most striking example involves what I call the language of space — how we describe the arrangement of objects around us.Sep 12, · In his book “The Language Instinct,” Steven Pinker takes the same road as Deutscher: dramatically debunking a claim Whorf never made (linguistic determinism) then proceeding to agree with the claim Whorf did make (influence).
Oct 06, · Guy Deutscher provides a statement below, in response to my Oct. 3 column Scholarly Work, Without All the Footnotes. Mr. Brisbane has allowed me to respond to his latest column, which cleared my Magazine article of allegations by another scholar, Lera Boroditsky, but did so only after a trail of tarnishing innuendo and.
Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis After further consideration About Whorf: Whorf Revisited: You Are What You Speak Discussion Questions Presentation by: Heather Hamilton and Vanessa Martin German: Torschlusspanik - the fear.
Judging from how the Times magazine’s excerpt from Guy Deutscher’s new book has been one of the most read pieces in the paper for over a week now, the book is on its way to libating readers ever eager for the seductive idea that people’s languages channel the way they think--that is, that grammar creates cultural outlooks.
Guy Deutscher, ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Clichés’ a New York Times Op-Ed piece from The Google Books site for Prof. Deutscher’s book, The Unfolding of Language. The American Scientist has an interview with Guy Deutscher by Amos Esty.
Looking at the titles of the two books under review — Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Diﬀerent in Diﬀerent Languages, and John McWhorter’s response, The Language Hoax: Why The World Looks the Same in Any Language, — and particularly at the.Download