Linguistic Communication as a Feature, Which Distinguishes Human Beings From All Other Species

2021-05-18 13:06:30
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Recently there has appeared an idea of positive thinking, which influences life and helps to change it for better. There are many psychological and pseudo-psychological articles and books which tell how important it is to keep positive on ones mind. Psychologists talk about the importance of positive way of thinking in order to change life, doctors keep repeating their patients about positive attitude to the illness, which helps them recover quicker, successful people rank positive vision as one of the key factors of success. However, the idea of connection between language, thought and life is not new and the life is influenced not only by the way we think, but also by the language in which we do it.

First of all, it is important to mention that language is not a separate issue, but it exists in the constant interconnection with many various spheres of life and society. According to Oxford Dictionaries, language is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way (Oxford Dictionaries 2014). Linguistic communication is a feature, which distinguishes human beings from all other species. Except communication, language is deeply connected with culture, psyche and thought. Thought is seen as an idea or opinion produced by thinking, or occurring suddenly in the mind (Oxford Dictionaries 2014). Starting with the first works on the language, scholars were interested in the relationship between language and thought. For a long time it had been believed that these two notions influence each other, however later, in the 1960s the idea of the common way of thinking among all people and nationalities on the Earth paused the development and studies of language-and-thought-interconnection idea. Active studies continued only in a few decades.

The first person to make some suggestions about the relationship between language and thought was Ancient Greek philosopher Plato. As his main theory was connected with ideas, which are eternal, constituting the world, he stated that language naturally reflects the ideas in a very accurate way. Much later, in the 18th and 19th centuries German philosophers and writers, representatives of classic school and belonging to Romantic movement continued the idea of interconnection between the two concepts. Prominent German scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt compared language with a piece of cloth, fabric, but the one consisting of thought. Humboldt suggested that the worldview (called Weltanschauung by the scholar) of a particular nation depends directly on the language this nation speaks. He studied grammar as the most essential part of the language, believing that the differences in grammar of various languages do not only depend on the differences of thought, but, on the contrary, provoke these differences. He claimed that language is the forming organ of thought," and there is a definite connection between grammatical laws and the way people think - "Thinking is dependent not just on language in general but to a certain extent on each individual language." (Trabant 2000)

Studies of grammar led Humboldt to the idea that certain languages, such as English or German, were faultless because they belong to inflectional morphological type. Due to this factor the nations speaking this kind of languages belonged to superior layer and had the right to dominate over the nations, whose languages were not perfect. Thus, Humboldt produced the idea that the speakers of lesser languages faced intellectual problems as their languages are unable to develop serious and well-organized thoughts and notions.

One more prominent linguist, the founder of Structural linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure suggested that there is certain influence of language on thought and culture (Holdcroft 1991). He was the opinion that every researcher who wants to know the culture has to learn the language of this culture first of all, it will allow him to comprehend the way people speak and, what is more important, think. After understanding the way of thinking culture of a particular country becomes not so complicated. Therefore, language is a key to understanding both thought and culture.

The ideas of Humboldt were partly supported by Otto Jespersen, Danish linguist, who believed that even among perfect languages some may dominate over the other. As an example he provided the comparison between French and English and the latter was considered superior in many spheres. Jespersen described English as methodical, energetic, business-like and sober language, that does not care much for finery and elegance, but does care for logical consistency." Therefore, he clearly saw the connection between the language people speak and the way they think and see the world - "As the language is, so also is the nation." (Deutscher 2011)

The idea of superiority of some languages over the others developed in the 20th century, giving the fertile ground for nationalistic ideas in Germany and Italy. However, one of the first scholars to oppose this thought was an American anthropologist of German origin Franz Boas. He was known for making researches in the north of Canada, where he studied the northern people, in particular Inuit, which led him to the conclusion that all languages are equal, and, as language influences culture and nation, all people were equal as well. The student of Boas, Edward Sapir, continued the studies of relationship between the language people speak and the way they think Human beings...are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. ...The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group (Sapir).

As one of the main ideas of Edward Sapir was that each language represents the world in a way, different from other languages, therefore the speakers of each particular language see the world in their own unique way No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached (Sapir).

Coming to Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it is necessary to introduce one more basic concept which is as important as language and thought. This is the concept of culture under which is understood social behavior, the ideas and customs of a particular people or society (Oxford Dictionaries 2014). The connection between culture and thought has deep roots as the way people think and what they think form all the products of their culture, determining particular aspects of life and society. This is why these three concepts are often interconnected and studied together.

Edward Sapirs student Benjamin Lee Whorf continued his teachers studies. He also believed that language influences thought and stated that:

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscope flux of impressions which has to be organized by our mindsand this means largely by the linguistic systems of our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this wayan agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. (Whorf 2012)

According to what is nowadays known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the way a person sees and perceives the world around highly depends on the language spoken, as it forms the picture of life. The main concepts of the theory are linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity. The scholars claimed that people apprehend the world around them in a certain way, which is encoded into their native language this is linguistic determinism (Linguistic Society of America 2012). Therefore, this is language, its grammar and lexis, which limits thought and the knowledge. Moreover, language influences various thought-connected processes, e.g. perception, memory, ability to categorize. As a result of such influence each particular language creates its own particular way and processes of thinking (Gumperz & Levinson 1991).

The second basic concept of Sapir-Whorf theory is linguistic relativity. It means that each category, which is encoded in a particular language, is unique and cannot be repeated in any other language (Sapir). Taking into account both linguistic relativity and determinism, the authors of the theory claimed that language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas, but is itself a shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual's meaningful activity. One of the examples of such influence is the data which shows that the languages that do not have grammatical forms for expressing future have become extinct. It happens because of structural inability to talk about future events, to make predictions and build plans, which limits humans life and perception of the world. Studies of Piraha people from Brazil serves as one more example of this theory. Having only three words to distinguish numbers one, two and many they were unable to count further. Even after studying for some time in school in Portuguese children of Piraha remained unable to count at least to ten. It proves, that they were limited to a particular way of counting by their mother tongue, which did not let them imagine the existence of other numbers except those ones that had in their native language.

Whorf himself provided the following example to prove his theory. The scholar talked about the language of Hopi and its representing of time. Unlike English, in which time is seen a natural flow of days, months, years and centuries, which is represented in the words, the language of Hopi shows that they see time as linear process which is single. The fact that there are no words which stand for various periods of time, therefore there is no possible division. According to Whorf, it means that it explains the worldview of the people of Hopi, their cultural and behavioral patterns (Whorf 2012).

Guy Deutscher in his book Through the Language Glass. Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages (2011) gives a very detailed and thorough analysis of the color words in different languages and their influence on the way people think and see the world. The scholar provides an example about the can of red paint, in which someone slowly adds blue paint. Certainly, red color changes little by little, becoming purple. There are some words to describe these changes, such as reddish or bluish purple, but there appear more hues while the paint is changing its color hues which the language does not have words to name. Therefore, people can see all these hues, but they are unable to name them neither mentally nor verbally as there are no words defining them. It means that to certain extent language restricts thought. Another example concerns the color blue, which stands for both dark and light blue, unlike Russian which has two words to describe it siniy (dark blue) and goluboj (light blue). There is no doubt, that both English and Russian people can distinguish between them, however for the first it is a shade, while for the second it is a separate color. The same can be said about red and pink, therefore it is language which determines the way we think about these colors and see the world around.

However, not only linguists are interested in the question of language and thought connection. It is the problem of psy...

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