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.
Sorry - I put "sexy" in there to grab your attention and to make a point about words. If you studied cognitive psychology or good old-fashioned linguistics in college, you learned this famous theory about how language determines thought. If you didn't, it's your loss. Their theory is partly wrong, because humans can think without using words, but it is also partly right, because words do effect and shape our thoughts.
But Sapir-Whorf went beyond that. They theorized that language shapes and structures our perceptions of the world - both our output and our input.
Indeed, words and their concepts seem to do that. Goethe said "Man sees what he knows." A birder sees a Parula Warbler, a non-birder sees just a "bird," or doesn't even notice it at all. The universal metaphor of blindness for ignorance is no accident.
Sapir-Whorf is almost an "In the beginning was the word" theory. However right or wrong their theory was, it has been a useful and productive and intriguing one, which is the only true measure of a theory in science.
I refer to Sapir-Whorf because we had two posts a while ago which were, ultimately, about words and how they are used. One about "values," one about "progress." In both cases, these words and their connotations slipped into regular usage and began shaping our thoughts, sometimes without our awareness. After all, "thinking" happens somewhere in the shadowy darkness between awareness and un-awareness.
Cognitive Daily reviews the history of the hypothesis, and recent research on this dusty but still fascinating topic.
The confusion arises partly because we assign nouns to things important and specific to a culture and verbs to changes important and specific to a culture, but, in fact, we are labeling delimited things and actions within our heads, which may or may not have correlates in the "real world," whatever that might turn out to be.
Plato's allegory of the cave taught us that.
It's a miracle that we humans can communicate with any effect. In fact, it's a miracle that we humans have survived at all.
There have been recent experiments that suggest there might be some weak effect similar to what Sapir and Whorf proposed. But it's pretty much rejected entirely in its strong form, because all its claims evaporated on closer examination. The Hopi don't really understand quantum mechanics better than others because of their cool way of doing verbs, for example.
It's an idea that would be really neat if it were true, but it isn't. I loved it as a linguistics student in the 70's (when it was still taught as gospel). But it hasn't held up, except at the edges.
Assistant VIllage Idiot
Well, out of fashion perhaps but not wrong. Consider the Druidic aphorism, "In words there is power."
Our thinking, even spatial abstract thinking, still formulates by means of "words". We can say, "The force of impact is the product of mass and acceleration." or simply "F=ma". Words are words no matter how they present.
Here is an exercise for those who still do not appreciate the Sapir/Whorf insight: Describe a Sunset, to an individual who is fully color blind. No fair using Angstroms.
We are all paintings made, in large part, by our experiences and words are the paint which colors our canvass.