Tag Archives: Lera Boroditsky

W is for Whorf’s Hypothesis


English: Graphical representation of Flower & ...

English: Graphical representation of Flower & Hayes’ (1981) model of the cognitive processes involved in writing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2013

Taken from Wikipedia.org:

“The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view, or otherwise influences their cognitive processes. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined as having two versions: (i) the strong version that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories and (ii) the weak version that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour.”

Creation of new languages is often found in science fiction and fantasy. Prison authorities have recently discovered that inmates have resurrected Elizabethan thieves’ cant for use as a code when arranging drug deals.  A number of studies have shown twins developing their own private language.  This phenomenon is known as cryptophasia.  Also worth noting is idioglossia, a private language developed and spoken by one individual.

Consider the possibilities of using Whorf‘s Hypothesis when creating your characters and the language(s) they speak. If language shapes thought and that thought shapes behavior, the introduction of a foreign language or loan-words could potentially alter the cognitive functioning of the indigenous population. Imagine this knowledge in the hands of a linguist who has a reason for tampering with the local population’s ideas about and behavior toward the visiting anthropologists, or perhaps one person in particular. I see the potential for all kinds of trouble, don’t you?  Trouble means conflict, and conflict means stories worth telling.

For more insight into the plot and characterization possibilities, please read  How Language Shapes Thought by Lera Boroditsky.

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