We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Last week I posted on Does Language Shape Our Thoughts? The subject provoked some discussion. It is true that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis turns out to have little empirical support, but I'll stand by my experience that a new word or phrase, and the concept in them, certainly effect the ways I think and can even give me a new tool to think in a new way. Heck, that is called "education." (a quote on the topic below the fold)
I think one problem might be taking the implications of a theory too far, too globally. This brings me to the notion of "social construction," popularized by Berger and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality.After I read it, I asked my professor whether social constructionism might be a social construct.
Berger and Luckmann's claims were stimulating and I am certain that they have limited application despite being unreinforced by data. (I don't know how one gets data on such types of epistemologic theorizing.) However they were welcomed by radicals and deconstruction postmodernists who took them to extremes, sometimes to psychotic levels of subjectivity, because they appeared to support the ideas of the infinite malleability of the human mind and heart, and the impossibility of objectivity.
"Whorf, we now know, made many mistakes. The most serious one was to assume that our mother tongue constrains our minds and prevents us from being able to think certain thoughts. The general structure of his arguments was to claim that if a language has no word for a certain concept, then its speakers would not be able to understand this concept. . . .
"For many years, our mother tongue was claimed to be a 'prison house' that constrained our capacity to reason. Once it turned out that there was no evidence for such claims, this was taken as proof that people of all cultures think in fundamentally the same way. But surely it is a mistake to overestimate the importance of abstract reasoning in our lives. After all, how many daily decisions do we make on the basis of deductive logic compared with those guided by gut feeling, intuition, emotions, impulse or practical skills? 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. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same."
(Guy Deutscher, "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?" The New York Times Magazine, August 26, 2010)
My milk language was German. I learned English when I got away from my parents into the neighbourhood, about age 5. They pounded some more German into me at saturday German school until I was 14. My schools pounded some French into me in Canadian style bilingual schools until I was 16. I was forced into, and quickly enjoyed, Latin in High School.
A man with only one language sees in black and white, and poorly at that.
I'm in Amsterdam right now, and I understand how and why the English "bollards" translates to 'slagbomen' in Dutch, Schlag Bauemen in German and back to war trees in English.
And all this sitting at a kneipe/pub/bar at the magere brug, skinny bridge drinking enough to post senseless comments.
The Lefties who criticize the existing "oppressive" framework of language/culture/values don't hesitate to manipulate language and meaning to subvert that culture, and to impose their own value framework - and are far more politicized, one-sided, and heavy-handed, about it than in any naturally evolved culture and language.
Thus we find ourselves mau-maued into talking about "courageous single parent families" instead of the shame of birth out of wedlock. No doubt any number of PC examples are now popping into most reader's minds.
My favourite linguistics professor in university used to say:
"The problem with studying language is that you have use language to do it."
He has been gone for some time now. As I knew him, he was a gritty fifty-year old Polish academic who had had to exit communist Poland in the middle of the night to avoid a spell in prison for his views.
When I hear the high-pitched whining from modern university campuses about oppression, alt-right, this, that, blah, blah, blah, I always think about what it must have been like for my Polish prof to deal with real and quite palpably menacing oppression in Sixties Poznan.