Saturday, October 14, 2006

On Language and Thought

Mixing Memory has a repost on cognitive science's return to linguistic relativity.

Over the last decade or so, however, cognitive scientists have been revisiting linguistic relativity (linguistic determinism is probably gone for good). They've discovered that language does in fact constrain the way we perceive and conceptualize a wide variety of things, including time, space, number, events, and perhaps even color (see this article for a short and accessible summary of some of the research, along with a nice reference section). In 2003, a collection of essays describing much of the research on linguistic relativity was published under the title Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought. It's an excellent book (and it includes a chapter by Michael Tomasello, for those of you who are in the reading group), presenting many interesting ideas and experiments. I highly recommend it for people who are interested in the topic. To give you a taste, I thought I'd post on one chapter ["Sex, Syntax, and Semantics"], which I chose both because I find it very interesting, and because the chapter is available, in its entirety, online.

The full post provides a summary of Lera Boroditsky, Lauren Schmidt, and Webb Phillips' "Sex, Syntax, and Semantics," which is linked to above.

As I've stated many times before, much of Ong's own work is rooted in an understanding that language use can give us insights into cognition, dating back to his dissertation work. As he explains it, while working in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris, he came across Rudolph Bultmann's reference to the idea that knowing was located in terms of hearing and sound for the ancient Hebrews and in terms of seeing and vision for the ancient Greeks.

Cross posted to Machina Memorialis.


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