” The authors go on to mention that by comparing the Navajo silent film research with similar research using African-American high school drop-outs in Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania filmmakers, some “universals” and some differences as well came to light in the relationships between film and “linguistic” and cultural variables.
Zhu Zhifang, “Linguistic Relativity and Cultural Communication,” Educational Philosophy and Theory. The author, a Whorf hypothesis believer, goes to some lengths in this piece to establish that due to globalization, philosophy is no longer universally believed to be the “ultimate foundation of cultural communication” (Zhifang 162). And yet, traditionalists still believe that the “merits of a culture” are given value based on how closely that culture adheres to the “objective truth and ideal morality.” And there are two “presuppositions” associated with that view; one is metaphysical (“all cultures share the same worldview”); the second is the “linguistic presupposition that all languages associated with different cultures represent the world in the same way,” Zhifang explains. Which leads him to offer his basic bottom line definition of Benjamin Lee Whorf’s principle of linguistic reality; how a person understands reality and behaves with respect to that reality is influenced by that person’s language.
Through his hands-on research into Hebrew, Aztec, Maya, Hopi, among other languages, Whorf was convinced that language “segments experience” and “cuts up the world in a special way,” Zhifang continues (162). And linguistic relativity suggests to Zhifang that throughout one’s life he or she has been “tricked by the structure of language into a certain way of perceiving reality,” and the implied result is that being aware of this trickery allows one “…to see the world with fresh insight.” Zhifang quotes Whorf at this point in the article as saying (in 1956) that language is not merely a “technique of expression” but rather language is a “classification and arrangement of the stream of sensory experience which results in a certain world order…”
What is the bottom line in this philosophically focused research paper? Three bottom lines are put forward here: one, Zhifang is a humanist and a believer in WH; two, there is no easy way to rationalize the failure of communication between nations and cultures; and three, different languages (whether Hopi, Maya, English or French) are “equally valid” when describing the “observable phenomena” of the cosmic world (164). An addendum to those points is found on page 167, as Zhifang asserts that cultural communication depends on the virtue of “charity” being at play, and that no culture is “superior to others” since any two methods of describing the universe are “equally valid.”
R. Zepp, J. Morin, C.L. Lei, Common Logical Errors in English and Chinese, Educational Studies in Mathematics. The authors make clear at the outset that they are not at all concerned with “…the overall validity of the Whorf hypothesis” (Zepp et al. 1). They quote from J. Fishman who wrote in 1973 that attempts at “proving or disproving” the Whorfian hypothesis should be set aside; instead, the focus should be on “attempt to delimit more sharply the types of language structures…that do or do not show the Whorfian effect as well as the degree and modifiability of this involvement when it does obtain” (Zepp 2).
The point of the article is that students increasingly are studying math and science in a second language, which is of course problematic in many cases and provides the seeds for investigation and understanding. The reasons students learning in a second language have difficulties boils down to the fact that as the WH puts forward, logical reasoning in one’s original language is natural. Therefore, if one buys into WH, which these authors do, then in a second language logical reasoning is “difficult if not impossible,” Zepp asserts.
One of the conclusions of this research is in itself very logical; it is that “…learning ability in the second language is affected by competence in the first language” (Zepp 2).
Emilio a. Lanier, “Teaching English as a Foreign Language to American College Freshmen,” Phylon. The author, Lanier, tries to resist being cryptic and skeptical at the outset of this article because he is a professor of English and many freshmen entering school wind up in his class; it is a “grim if humorous picture of futility” in many cases, he contends. He does appear, however, totally un-skeptical when he embraces the “…comprehensive, objective perspective on human linguistic-logical systems which Benjamin Lee Whorf’s theory affords…” The reason for this paper, Lanier explains on page 362 of this journal, is to suggest ways to improve strategies for teaching and learning English to college beginners. One of Whorf’s propositions that Lanier emphasizes as important in launching a new approach to teaching this level of English is that “…our language does our thinking for us.” In other words, individuals cannot “even perceive…aspects of life and nature” for which English has no words.
The second of Whorf’s ideas that Lanier examines in this paper is a bit more involved, and moreover it has never been carried out in an instructional environment, he asserts. So-called “civilized” European languages carry with them certain “common sense” patterns and “underlying assumptions,” Lanier writes on page 362, that don’t match up with more “primitive” languages. Meanwhile, the speakers of “primitive” languages such as the Hopi (which Whorf researched in great depth) have within their rhetorical, grammatical and logical patterns a kind of “real” and “basic world view” that is missing in European languages. Taking that a step further, the Hopi language approaches “more nearly” the principal assumptions of “modern mathematical physics” than do the “civilized” European languages, according to Lanier.
Where is this leading the reader of this scholarly piece? Lanier asserts that Whorf’s studies led him to “strongly suspect” that those primitive language speakers and “heirs of their concomitant cultures” may indeed lead “more well-balanced, happy lives,” notwithstanding their perceived “backwardness” to date in scientific matters, than do heirs of the European hegemony. So, given that approach, Lanier goes on to suggest that what is needed in colleges is “more emphasis on…the deeper and wider emotional, psychological, and aesthetic range of enjoyment of life.” This enjoyment, after all, is “the birthright of humankind” (Lanier 363). The primitives through their more logical, focused language understand “ultimate reality” – the “nth dimension of awareness” – and the modern student can certainly become more successful in learning, Lanier continues, if they are coaxed into embracing a new approach to English. That new approach would be workable, Lanier concludes as he quotes from Whorf’s book, Language, Thought, and Reality:.”..the crudest savage may unconsciously manipulate with effortless ease a linguistic system so intricate, manifoldly systematized, and intellectually difficult that it requires the lifetime study of our greatest scholars to describe its workings” (Lanier 367).
Bruce I. Kodish, What We do With Language – What it does With Us, a Review of General Semantics. Author Kodish reviews the concept of “linguist relativity” by establishing that he believes in what Whorf put forward; i.e., “language is intertwined with behavior” and language does not exist outside humans’ nervous systems.” People create their own language in an ongoing process through each particular culture, he goes on. And moreover, a large part of “human evaluative processes relates to language behavior or use,” Kodish explains. Hence, we humans learn how to do things with words in a social context.
Kodish alludes to the view of linguistic scholar Steven Pinker, who proposed that the structure of language (i.e. grammar) “…comes primarily by means of what he calls a ‘language instinct’ determined by genes” (Kodish 387). However, to most people who believe that most of language structure “gets determined genetically” – which Whorf did not – there is a notable lack of substance in their explanations, Kodish goes on. Indeed, Pinker is a person who not only tried to dismiss Whorf’s linguistic relativity, Pinker also viciously attacked Whorf’s work with Hopi Indians, according to Kodish. Pinker uses “selective quotes” in order to “prove” that Whorf made “outlandish claims” that the Hopis were “oblivious to time.” In fact, Kodish’s study of Whorf’s work with the Hopis shows that Whorf did not deny that the Hopi language used dating or calendars; but Whorf indeed claimed the Hopi “did not conceptualize ‘space or time as such’ in the reified manner that we do in English.” Kodish’s main point here is that Whorf is open to some criticism, but people like Pinker are taking things out of context.
Jane O. Bright, William Bright, “Semantic Structures in Northwestern California and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, American Anthropologist. This article by two professors from the University of California, Los Angeles alludes to a number of Native American tribes in northwestern California, among them the Yurok, Hupa, Karok, Wiyot…