activity. typical example is the semantics of colour

activity. (Gilmer, 1970). Thus, thinking is the set of cognitive processes that mediate between, stimuli and responses.  Language is the most efficient and developed vehicle for carrying out the process of thinking. It is a system of symbols, and rules for combining them, used to communicate information. 

The social learning view proposes that speech is acquired through a combination of operant conditioning and imitation. But Naom Chomsky (1968) suggested that humans have a partly innate language acquisition device that provides them with an intuitive grasp of grammar. Finally, Slobin (1979) recognized that both learning and an innate ability are equally important. He said children possess operating principles that are already present or develops early in life. The various components of language are; phonemes, syllables, morphemes, words, clauses, and sentences.

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Do we think what we say or say what we think?

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis starts from the premise that everyone has a fundamental need to make sense of the world and language is the principle tool available to us for organising the world.

It states that language limits our capability for voicing our thoughts or emotions. Since languages differ from country to country and dialect, we express our feelings confined within the boundaries of our language.

This theory was influenced by the Theory of Mind (ToM) is a basis for testing the cognitive abilities in autistic children to interpret between a thinker and his thoughts. It tested the theory of true and false belief between children according to the languages they were prominent in.

Peterson and Siegal’s test showed the differences in the perspective of reality of deaf children with deaf parents, and deaf children with hearing parents. Their perception was contrasting while expressing their feelings and thoughts.

Linguistic determinism is a branch of psycholinguistics that tries to prove the connection between language and thought. It puts forward the notion that language determines thought and different languages impose different conceptions of reality. Linguistic relativity is a branch of linguistic determinism that suggests that language influences thought (Whorf, 1956). Hence, people who speak different languages perceive the world in different ways, since their thinking is determined, at least in part, by the words available to them.  For example, Inuits, who have multiple words for snow, may perceive this aspect of the world through a different Slens than English-speaking people, who only have one word. 

A typical example is the semantics of colour words. When we perceive colour with our eyes, we are sensing that portion of electromagnetic   radiation that is visible light. Unlike animals, we have the apparatus for categorising these colours verbally.

 
green

 
gwear

 
 
glaze

blue
blue

 
grey

 
loodge

 
brown

 
rooz

 
red

 
coo

We impose boundaries when, in English, we talk of green, blue, grey, brown and red. It takes little thought to realise that these discriminations are arbitrary – and indeed in other languages the boundaries are different. This can be seen in the comparison of some English language colours with their counterparts in Cornish.

Colours are not objective, naturally determined segments of reality. Language guides us in seeing   the spectrum in terms of the arbitrarily established categories that we call colours. In other words, the colours we see are predetermined by what our language prepares us to see.

There have been multiple studies carried out by psychologists to support this theory. One of them is a study by Jordan Zlatev and Johan Blomberg in 2015. They discuss four interconnected issues that they believe hinder investigations into how language may affect thinking. The first is the claim that it is impossible to disentangle language from thought, making the question concerning “influence” pointless. The second is the argument that it is impossible to disentangle language from culture. The third issue is the objection that methodological and empirical problems defeat all but the most trivial version of the thesis of linguistic influence: that language gives new factual information. The fourth is the assumption that since language can potentially influence thought from “not at all” to “completely,” the possible forms of linguistic influence can be placed on a cline, and competing theories can be seen as debating the actual position on this cline. They analysed these claims and showed that the first three do not constitute in-principle objections against the validity of the project of investigating linguistic influence on thought, and that the last one is not the best way to frame the empirical challenges at hand. Thus, this discussion and the reviewed literature that is part of it show that such influence is clearly possible, and hence in need of further investigations.

They concluded by saying, “As they say, the jury is still out on the more empirical claims concerning the influence of language of thought, and our goal has not been to argue in favour of one or another specific mechanism. Rather the aim has been to show that such influence is possible, in several different forms. Our hope is that this conclusion, and the conceptual clarifications upon which it rests, may contribute to further careful investigations in order to establish which of these is actual.”

Another is an older study, the Japanese-English Cross linguistic study conducted by Imai and her colleagues (Imai and Gentner 1997; Imai and Mazuka 1997; Imai 2000). They first discuss whether Japanese-speaking children and adults project noun meanings differently for objects and substances following ontological principles. It is then reported how Japanese- and English-speaking children and adults construe a range of entities as individuated or no individuated in a non-linguistic context. They compare people’s classification behaviour in linguistic and non-linguistic contexts, and discuss how language might influence speakers’ understanding of entities.

Imai and Gentner (1997) extended Soja, Carey, and Spelke’s (1991) studies cross-linguistically, comparing English speakers and Japanese speakers at various levels of development, including four age groups: early 2-year-olds, late 2-year-olds, 4-year-olds, and adults. Imai and Gentner introduced a novel label in association with an entity children had never seen before.

Monolingual Japanese-speaking and English-speaking 4-year-olds and participated in a no-word classification task. The stimuli and the procedure were the same as in the previous label extension studies, except that no labels were provided. The subject was presented with a standard entity and two alternatives, and was asked to select ”what is the same as” the standard entity.

Hence, it was concluded that their experiment supported the Whorfian hypothesis. “In our view, this itself is direct and strong evidence for the general Whorfian hypothesis—in other words, evidence that language plays a direct and strong role in shaping thought.”

 

 

There are multiple objections that arise. One of them being; what about the pre-linguistic thought of babies? How can babies acquire language without thought?

Another objection to the hypothesis is the fact that it involves the measurement of thought which is next to impossible.

Yet another problem with the hypothesis is that languages and linguistic concepts are highly translatable. Under linguistic determinism, a concept in one language would not be understood in a different language because the speakers and their world views are bound by different sets of rules.

One final problem researchers have found with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is Whorf’s lack of empirical support for his linguistic insights. Whorf uses language nuances to prove vast differences between languages and then expects his reader to infer those differences in thought and behaviour. 

But there are as many claims that support this hypothesis. In 1954, Brown and Lenneberg tested for colour codability and their results showed that the way speakers categorize language changes how they perceive colours.

Most recently, Wassman and Dasen’s Balinese language test (1998) found differences in how the Balinese people orient themselves spatially to that of Westerners. They questioned how language affects the thinking of the Balinese people and found moderate linguistic relativity results.

The application of this theory has been used in music as music too is a communicative device. A study showed that in the same way that language and culture are mutually reflective; music and culture too share this relationship.

 Thus, in my opinion, although it is possible that language can determine and influence thought, there needs to be some flexibility to the hypothesis because it is completely probable that it is thought that influences language and not vice-versa. If only language determined thought how is it that animals are able to understand human emotion without sharing the same mode of communication? How is it possible that deaf people are completely in synch with their surroundings even though they have never heard a single syllable? Hence, it can be said that language is simply one of the multifarious elements that influence thought and can by itself be determined by thought. This is possible because they are both cognitive aspects of the human brain and work in tandem to allow an individual to view and perceive the world in his/her unique way.

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