Culture and language

Two Guys 

A Guy from Cameroun and a Guy from Finland (in Russia) – getting on very well, photo by the Author

Axinia’s post “The Confusing Easiness of the English Language” inspired me to write some words on languages as well. She has raised the idea that some languages (like German, Russian, Italian, etc.) are called synthetic and some (like English) analytic. Axinia continues that she remembers TOUGH classes when she was taught to make an analytic English sentence from a synthetic Russian one. I believe the article below will develop the topic a little bit and give you some idea why it can be really tough for some people.

Edward Sapir, an authority on the science of linguistics, especially in the area of American Indian languages, believed that each man carries within himself the basic patterns in the organization of his language, and that, in order to understand the patterns, a very thorough knowledge of the cultural environment of the language was necessary.

His student, Benjamin Lee Whorf, also made a very significant contribution to the science of language (though he was just a chemical engineer and did not sought a higher degree in linguistics). Whorf was recognized for his investigations of the Hopi language, including his authorship of a grammar and a dictionary. Even in his early publications, it is clear that he was developing the theory that the very different grammar of Hopi might indicate a different manner of conceiving and perceiving the world on the part of the native speaker of Hopi.

In 1936, he wrote “An American Indian Model of the Universe”, which explored the implications of the Hopi verb system with regard to the Hopi conceptions of space and time.

Whorf is probably best known for his article, “The Relation of habitual Thought and Behavior to Language”, and for the three articles which appeared in 1941 in the Technology Review.

In these articles, he proposed what he called the principle of “linguistic relativity”, which states, at least as a hypothesis, that the grammar of a man’s language influences the manner in which he understands reality and behaves with respect to it. And since Sapir most certainly shared the development of the idea, it became to be called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

In addition to what has been said, modern scientists believe that people who know more than one language never suffer from sclerosis, as when they are speaking different languages different cells of the brain work.

Upon the whole, it proves that a person who knows several languages can see life from a wider perspective than a person operating only one language. It also partially explains why people from different countries even when speaking the same language (for example, English) understand each other only by 50-70 percent.

Thought for the day: “Rational and moral always coincide” (Leo Tolstoy).

One Response to Culture and language

  1. axinia says:

    Great post, Anastasia!

    I can only share my experience that since I live in a German-speaking surrounding and speak German pretty well I noticed that apart form some self-discipline I gained also a good feeling of structure.

    Whatever I do, my mind can easily penetrate to see the structure, a system and to analyze the ways. I never had it before! In fact I used to have difficulties with it.

    It is obviously due to the nature of German – being a static language, it still has more order than Russian😉

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