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Does Language Shape the Way We See the World?

Home Free essays Philosophy Does Language Shape the Way We See the World?

At any attempt to understand the relationship between culture and cognitive processes, one must first consider the language and the worldview issues. Language is not the only means through which people get most of the information about the culture and cognitive processes, but it is also the main factor determining people’s cogitativeness. The first idea is obvious. Almost all data on cross-cultural differences in cognitive processes are obtained by verbal reports or other verbal responses. The second calls for a detailed discussion. It is not only obvious, but in some way even contradicts the common sense. Most people believe that language is a means with the help of which a person expresses his/her feelings and thoughts, and it does not matter where a person was born. The issue to be considered is whether language influences the worldview of the particular nation and whether this process is mutual.

First, one should know the meaning of the terms ‘language’, ‘worldview’ and ‘shape’ in order to understand the issue better. Language is a certain code, a system of symbols and rules for their use. This system includes units of different levels: phonetic, morphological, lexical, and syntactic. It is believed that language is a form of consciousness, reflecting the human worldview.

Worldview, in its turn, is extremely generic, ordered system of a person’s views on the world, the phenomena of nature, society, and a person themselves. It is a system of the most common ideas about the world and human place in it, as well as a set of beliefs, attitudes, judgments, ideals, rules governing the relationship of a person to the world, acting as reference points and controlling his/her behavior. One may say that language is a shape of expression and perception of the world by a human.

Talking about languages, it is evident that each language has its unique phonetic subsystem which is more or less different from other languages. Phonetic subsystem involves a limited number of phonemes. Phonemes determine the parts of the articulation organs being active during the communication process. Other parts of the articulation organs may not practically work in a specific language. The point that a person begins to tire of unusual stress when trying to reproduce the sounds of a foreign language, experiencing unpleasant feelings in the cheeks and even the larynx, can confirm this fact. Thus, speakers of different languages develop different articular organs.

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A person develops in a continuous and close relation to the language. With the help of a language, a person cognizes the world; language names objects, unites them in abstract groups of different levels of generalization. Thus, all the layers of the language cannot but influence the formation of personality and further perception of the environment throughout the life. Based on the sound similarity associations of varying degrees of stability are formed. They are different in every language. For example, homonymy affects the association between objects; it makes them belong to the same class. Synonymy leads to an expansion of the concept to a more comprehensive sense of it. It is clear that the phenomenon of homonyms and synonyms in different languages manifests itself in different ways, and, hence, these processes occur in a different way in unlike languages. It, to some extent, unites speakers of one language and disunites them with speakers of other languages. Furthermore, the external form of the word, i.e. its sound framing and writing, to my mind, influences the emerging concept of extra-linguistic reality in language speakers. That is motivation of words; the word from which another word arises partially overlaps with the emerging system of the above-mentioned associations. As for grammar, there I also see a very serious impact. These is basic word-formation process of the language defining the average value of everyday vocabulary and the number of verb tenses, which leads to giving greater or lesser importance of time-sharing activities.

In case definite language has no separate words to express certain phenomena, it may mean that speakers of the language are not able to allocate these phenomena among others. Collection and informational content are the essential properties of the sign which underlie its most important function along with communication – the cumulative function. Language serves as a linkage between the generations; it is the “repository” and means transmission of extra-linguistic collective experience. The cumulative function is clearly manifested in the vocabulary, as it is directly linked to the objects and phenomena of reality. Lexical system is determined by the phenomena of the material world, social factors in a greater extent. Consequently, due to Steven Pinker’s theory, a native language is very strongly influenced by the way in which people see the world around them (2007). Language shapes virtually all powers of perception – space, time, direction of causality, music, morality, etc. Probably, these features are reflected in national politics, religion, and ethics.

For example, the Russians, who have special terms to dark blue (truly blue) and light blue (cyan), are able to differentiate between the shades of color better. In addition, it is generally known that in some Australian Aboriginal languages there are no words designating notions “left” and “right.” To indicate the direction they use a compass – south, north, east and west, which develops their excellent spatial orientation. Even in unfamiliar terrain, speakers of these languages subconsciously watching their orientation in space, demonstrating the wonders of navigation which Americans and Europeans could not dream of. In other words, one can develop the ability to navigate flawlessly in space only by means of language. Thus, they conceive a world in a different way than we do, therefore, the theory by Guy Deutscher, due to which language influences human worldview, is true (2010). Another example is a South American tribe, in whose language many familiar words are missing. For example, they do not have cardinal numbers, preferring the word “little” and “a lot,” thus, the South American natives are unable to determine the exact amount of a substance. The situation is similar with the reason: the English usually say, “John broke the vase,” even if it was an accident. The native people in Spain and Japan have a preference to use the passive voice “the vase was broken.” Such linguistic difference has a significant impact on how people who communicate with the help of different languages conceive the event, memorize it, and whom they tend to blame for the fact that has happened. The main conclusion is that in case one artificially changes the primary language of a person, at the same time unconsciously the worldview of a person is changed.

To draw the conclusion, is should be said that language and the worldview of a particular nation mutually change. I can agree neither with Guy Deutscher, nor with Steven Pinker. The researchers, to my mind, discuss the same process but from different perspectives. One cannot flatly state that the language changes the worldview of the specific nation or vice versa. This process originates gradually due to the changes that take place at the particular stage of the human development.

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