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  • When we talk about language, we often dig down to universal categories like

  • nouns and verbs, consonants and vowels, phrases and sentences.

  • We end up with these cross-language concepts that individual languages are

  • built on

  • almost as if the colorful diversity found in the world's languages is just

  • icing on the strong unity of the linguistic cake

  • and language is grounded in our way of thinking and processing information

  • which is itself universal among humans. So languages and cultures are

  • superficial, but language and cognition run deep.

  • But this isn't the only way to look at language.

  • What if the language we are brought up to speak actually relates to the way we

  • look at reality?

  • From this perspective a language is a particular way of conceptualizing the

  • world, and has close ties to culture.

  • In the 1930's, Benjamin Lee Whorf talked about language this way.

  • He argued that different languages represent different ways of thinking

  • about the world around us.

  • This view has come to be called linguistic relativity.

  • Exploring the grammar of the Hopi language, he concluded that

  • the Hopi have an entirely different concept of the time than European

  • languages do

  • and that the European concepts of "time" and "matter"

  • are actually conditioned by language itself.

  • One practical consequence of

  • linguistic relativity: direct translation between languages isn't always possible.

  • Since Hopi and English aren't simply

  • ways of expressing the same thing in different words,

  • you can't actually preserve thoughts or viewpoints when you translate between them.

  • In its strongest expression, linguistic relativity - the idea that viewpoints vary

  • from language to language - relies on linguistic determinism -

  • the idea that language determines thought.

  • In other words how people think doesn't just vary depending on their language but

  • is actually grounded in - determined by - the specific language of their community.

  • Linguistic relativity

  • has been abandoned and criticized over the decades

  • with critics aiming to show that perception and cognition are universal,

  • not tied to language and culture,

  • but some psychologists and anthropologists continue to argue

  • that differences in a language's structure and words may play a role in determining

  • how we think.

  • Experiments on how speakers of different languages approach

  • non-linguistic tasks continue to spark this debate.

  • Thank you for joining me on this quick tour of linguistic relativity and

  • linguistic determinism.

  • Please subscribe if you'd like to keep on learning with me.

When we talk about language, we often dig down to universal categories like

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