Linguistic determinism and relativity

In philosophy determinism is a theory of causation where what precedes a situation determines the outcome. While this is a secular theory is related to its religious cousin, predestination.

Linguistic determinism is the theory that a language determines the way you think of the world. There is a weak version termed linguistic relativity where it influences but not determines thought.

I am a fan of linguistic relativity. There are many things which linguistic determinism cannot explain. For example, when one has speaks two languages which one determines the way they think? Is such a person have a split personality? Does this also suggest that you cannot think without language?

To me, language is a tool that helps thinking but is not necessary for thinking. A beautiful sunset can be appreciated without words. But likely we appreciate it better with words. Language probably defines thinking better by giving it a defined limitation. The name (signifier) categorises it, separates it from some other name and therefore some other concept. It also allows us to share it. I am sure animals have a language albeit a crude one with limited meaning that has aided their survival. Being able to say how beautiful the sunset is is probably not something that would help them stay away from predators. Thus temporal affluence affords us this time to not only appreciate sunsets but to also hone our communication.

I cannot see this as being built into the brain (no language acquisition device as such) but more a generalisation of what sounds can be. The ability to vocalise a greater range of sounds allowed for a larger vocabulary. Generalised pattern recognition again allowed for more sophisticated messages to be made and transmitted. For these reasons vocabulary and grammar will vary between languages and within languages. And it can explain language change as well. Universal grammar simply has too many problems and inflexibilities to explain change and difference. Much of this problem has to do with an obsession with The Absolute or eidos.

Author: signature103

Language teacher and researcher. Object Philosopher. Buddhist.

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