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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Anti-Whorfian Arguments

The cat’s-bowl-of milk-argument.

Whorf argues that a guy throwing a match into waste water verbalizes the idea of water and thus ignites a fire. But this is not an essentially linguistic problem. A cat could think something is milk that is not milk, without ever verbalizing this.

The gender marking argument in English.

He and she are marked linguistically for gender, but I, we, they, you are not. Does this make a difference? Do we really let this influence our ideas about gender?

The “dis-ease” argument.

Teresa Vilarós once wrote that English speaker conceptualizes disease as dis-ease, or a lack of ease. But I am a native speaker of English and I never thought of this until she pointed it out. Even after I heard this I still don't think of disease as dis-ease. In other words, language might affect thought less than we think.

The SAE argument.

For Whorf, all Western languages are the same: Standard Average European. So differences between Spanish and English do not really show up. Is there some essential "Westerness" in language? Why make a break between occidental and native languages in this way?

The “othering” of the native argument.

Could a “Western language” have a mystique about it like that? Could you have a mystique around being an Anglican in the same way could about Zen buddhism? Why not? Isn't this just rank primitivism?

The universalist argument.

The structure of the human brain / the Kantian a priori. Maybe we all see time the same and just use different ways to get there.

The "broad / narrow argument.

Any actual verifiably Whorfian effects will be very small (i.e. studies of color perception. Yet the Whorfian theory wants to make a much broader metaphysical claim.

The “substratum” argument.

A person could have mental structures from an indigenous culture but speak the same language as a Madrileño or Londoner. Multiple sensibilities are allowed by the same grammatical structures.

The Jaime Gil de Biedma / Borges argument.

Certain writers make their writing sound very Anglophone, but without modifying the grammar of Spanish in the least. You can have the same sensibility with different language, or a different sensibility with the same language.

1 comment:

Professor Zero said...

"English speaker conceptualizes disease as dis-ease..."

Social workers say that to people. Non native speakers take it seriously. But it is not science it is just a 1980s or 1990s pop psych concept that was going around. I remember lots and lots of Spanish professors pontificating about it but it comes from the self-help industry.