Ming the Mechanic:

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 One-two-many2004-08-29 22:38
by Flemming Funch

New Scientist:
Language may shape human thought – suggests a counting study in a Brazilian tribe whose language does not define numbers above two.

Hunter-gatherers from the Pirahã tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration, revealed the study.

Experts agree that the startling result provides the strongest support yet for the controversial hypothesis that the language available to humans defines our thoughts. So-called "linguistic determinism" was first proposed in 1950 but has been hotly debated ever since.
I don't know why it needs to be so hotly debated. Seems pretty obvious that the patterns we're used to think in, and the words we have or don't have for things, is shaping what we can perceive and discern. Japanese or Korean speakers often habitually confuse L and R sounds in English, because they're considered the same sound in their language. Or use singular and plural in the "wrong" way, because their distinctions are different. Interesting, but not very strange. Maybe we should all try to develop new kinds of distinctions, so we can see and talk about things we never paid much attention to before.

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30 Aug 2004 @ 16:01 by Blade McCool @ : Modify English
Maybe we could modify the English language. I propose the addition of a new letter to the langauge. I call it "Nmer" and it fits in between the letter m and n in the alphabet. Then we can make up new words that use the new letter :)  

31 Aug 2004 @ 22:39 by Quirkeboy @ : Language..
I agree with you on this one... but I would probably say that its our thoughts that defines the language... so.. I would suggest we change the way we think.. then our language will change.. not vice versa... of course.. maybe thats what you were saying?
Its funny that you can find what a culture values by its words.. we have one word for snow in the English language.. where the Eskimos had (uhhhmm) a dozen??
Look at our music distinctions.. punk, alternative, club, hip-hop, R&B, blues, Chicago blues, jazz, latin jazz, acid jazz, rap, hard core, heavy metal, rag time, techno, industrial, classical, opera, etc. etc.
Now.. imagine if our culture loses interest in music.. and a hundred years from now.. all of a sudden these words become synonyms..
And another question is.. have we lost something if they did? Or is it that this culture has just grown in a different direction.. with new distinctions? If we expect this future culture to keep our distinctions.. isnt that akin to asking a guy from Puerto Rico to learn the 15 words for snow??  

3 Sep 2004 @ 12:39 by ming : Language and Thinking
Yeah, the language is just one outward manifestation of our thoughts. But it goes both ways, I'd say. That the available words, and the ways we have of combining them, will shape how we think. Will tend to make our thoughts travel in certain grooves. Since most western languages divide things into subject-verb-object kinds of sentences, we tend to think as if things really are separate that way. Which is both good and bad. And it isn't a one-to-one relation. We can break out of it. But it is so much harder if the language we have to communicate in is locked into the grooves that don't serve us.

And of course it evolves, somewhat in accordance with our needs. If we don't see much snow, we really don't need a few dozen words for the distinctions between different kinds of snow, and learning them might be a waste of time.

One way or another, more flexibility in thinking is a good thing.  

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