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PSY 369: Psycholinguistics. Language, culture, and cognition. Lanuage and thought. How does language impact thought? E.g., Can two people who speak different languages communicate? The question has been debated for a long time And still is today (well, at least last week)

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psy 369 psycholinguistics

PSY 369: Psycholinguistics

Language, culture, and cognition

lanuage and thought
Lanuage and thought
  • How does language impact thought?
      • E.g., Can two people who speak different languages communicate?
    • The question has been debated for a long time
      • And still is today (well, at least last week)
        • New York Times article
language behavior and our perception of the world
Language, behavior, and our perception of the world
  • Behavior
    • What aspects of an image does my language lead me to attend to?
    • How will the categories of my language affect the way in which I sort objects?
    • How will the categories of my language affect the distinctions I can perceive, e.g., on the color spectrum?
  • The world
    • We often talk about a linguistic system ‘carving up reality’.
      • This implies that languages differ only with respect to the ways in which they describe physical reality.
      • But language is also used to express concepts that humans create—concepts that might only exist within a single speech community.
some history
Some history
  • Plato THINKING = INNER SPEECH

Socrates: And do you accept my description of the process of thinking?

Theaetetus: How do you describe it?

Socrates: As a discourse that the mind carries on with itself about any subject it is considering. … I have a notion that, when the mind is thinking, it is simply talking to itself, asking questions and answering them. … So I should describe thinking as a discourse, … not aloud to someone else, but silently to oneself.

some history5
Some history

Aristotle: SPEECH IS THE SYMBOL OF THOUGHT

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds; but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images.

some history6
Some history
  • Franz Boas, father of American Anthropology
    • “grammatical meaning [can] only be understood in terms of the system of which it is part”
  • Edward Sapir, student of Boas
    • “the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously build up on the language habits of the group.”
  • Benjamin Lee Whorf, student of Sapir (and insurance claims adjustor)
benjamin lee whorf
Benjamin Lee Whorf

“Every language is a vast pattern system, different from others, in which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates, but also analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationships and phenomena, channels his reasoning, and builds the house of his consciousness.”

“We cut up and organize the spread and flow of events as we do largely because, through our mother tongue, we are parties to an agreement to do so, not because nature itself is segmented in exactly that way for all to see.”

“From this fact proceeds what I have called the ‘linguistic relativity principle,’ which means, in informal terms, that users of markedly different grammars are pointed by their grammars toward different types of observations … and hence are not equivalent as observers …”

does language affect thought
Does language affect thought?
  • Sapir-Whorfhypothesis
    • Linguistic determinism
        • Language determines thought.
          • Speakers of different languages see the world in different, incompatible ways, because their languages impose different conceptual structures on their experiences.
      • Whorf posited that cultural thinking differences were the direct result of differences in their languages
    • Linguistic relativity
      • Weak version(s) of the linguistic relativity hypothesis:
        • Language influences thinking & conditions how we think and perceive the world
the sapir whorf hypothesis
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • What evidence led Whorf to this conclusion?
    • The bulk of his evidence was drawn from cross-cultural comparisons
      • He studied several Native American cultures.
    • But he also used examples drawn from his days as an insurance investigator
does language affect thought10
Does language affect thought?
  • Whorf’s famous example
    • “Empty gasoline drums”
  • “Yet the ‘empty’ drums are perhaps more dangerous (in comparison to the full drums), since they contain explosive vapor. …The word ‘empty’ is used in two linguistic patterns: (1) as a virtual synonym for ‘null and void, negative, inert,’ (2) applied in analysis of physical situations without regard to, e.g., vapor, liquid vestiges, in the container. The situation is named in one pattern (2) and the name is then ‘acted out’ in another (1), this being the general formula for the linguistic conditioning of behavior into hazardous forms.” (Whorf, 1956, p. 135)
does language affect thought11

empty

null and void, negative, inert

drum no longer contains gasoline

drum is no longer dangerous; okay to smoke cigarettes

gasoline drum without gasoline

worker smokes cigarettes

Does language affect thought?
  • Whorf’s famous example
    • “Empty gasoline drums”

Linguistic form

Container no longer contains intended contents

Linguistic meanings

Mental interpretations

Nonlinguistic observables

the sapir whorf hypothesis12
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • Qanuk ‘snowflake’
  • Qanir ’to snow’
  • Qanunge ‘to snow’
  • Qanugglir ‘to snow’
  • Kaneq ‘frost’
  • Some of the evidence:
    • Hopi Indians have only one word to describe everything that can fly but which is not a bird.
    • Whorf claimed Inuit have several terms for snow
  • Kaner ‘be frosty’
  • Kanevvluk ‘fine snow’
  • Natquik ‘drifting snow’
  • Natquigte ‘for snow to drift along the ground’
  • And more
the sapir whorf hypothesis13
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • However, there are many different Inuit languages and not all posses the same number of terms.
  • Boas (1911) reported one group with four root terms.
    • This number is probably matched or surpassed by skiers regardless of their language.
    • See Pullum’s Great Eskimo Hoax (1991)
  • Some of the evidence:
    • Hopi Indians have only one word to describe everything that can fly but which is not a bird.
    • Whorf claimed Inuit have several terms for snow
the sapir whorf hypothesis14
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • Specialization based on experience
    • Different groups within a culture vary in terms of the number of words they use for things
      • Consider memory
        • Most people are aware of two kinds of memory, short term and long term.
        • As we discovered previously cognitive psychologists have many terms: Sensory registers, Iconic and echoic, short-term or working or primary memory, long-term, verbal and imagistic, declarative, procedural, and episodic.
        • It would be fair to say that the layman and the cognitive psychologist think differently about memory.
testing the theory
Testing the theory
  • Two major approaches have been employed to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
    • Test the strong view – language determines thought by seeing if the cognitive system can make distinctions that are not linguistically represented
    • Test a weaker view – that language influences thought.
cultural variations
Cultural Variations
  • Much of the initial research focused on an aspect of language which varies widely across cultures
    • Color Terms
      • There are a few languages which have only two color terms, and some with three.
      • Most languages draw their color names from 11 specific colors.
color terms
Color Terms
  • Berlin and Kay (1969): Color hierarchy
    • In 2 color term languages the terms correspond to Black & White
    • In 3 color term languages they correspond to Black, White & Red
    • Languages with additional terms items are added as follows: yellow,green,bluethen brown, then purple,pink,orange,and gray.
    • This data runs contrary to Whorf’s hypotheses
      • They suggest a universal physiological basis for color naming
color terms18
Color Terms
  • So do naming practices influence our ability to distinguish or remember colors?
    • Brown & Lenneberg, 1954
      • If something in a culture is named frequently it may be labeled with a brief name, less frequently with a longer name, and infrequently with a phrase rather than a single word
      • The process of naming in this manner is known as codability.
        • Codability = how easily a concept can be described in a language, related to the length of the word.
      • Asked people to name 24 colors (8 central, 16 others). Those with longer names were named with hesitations and less consistency
color terms19
Color Terms
  • Hieder (1972) (Rosch, 1973[same person])
    • Dani tribe of New Guinea use only two color names
    • They had no difficulty in recognizing color chips that were from an initial presentation from among distractors even though they had no names for the colors.
    • Additionally, they were better at recognizing focal colors (e.g., the best example of blue) than non-focal colors (just as we English speakers are)
  • This data does not support the strong view of Whorf’s hypothesis.

Check out: ISU’s Mind Project Virtual Anthropology Lab

color terms20
Color Terms
  • Comparative judgments among colors are affected by color naming practices
    • Kay & Kempton, (1984)
      • Investigated English and Tarahumara
      • In Tarahumara there are no separate terms for blue and green
      • The task was see 3 chips pick the one least similar in color
        • Some trials had chips English speakers would call C1 green, C2 blue and C3 was a focal example of green but farther away in light spectrum from C1 than was the case for C1 vs. C2
color terms21
Color Terms
  • Comparative judgments among colors are affected by color naming practices
    • Kay & Kempton, (1984)
      • Investigated English and Tarahumara
      • In Tarahumara there are no separate terms for blue and green
      • The task was see 3 chips pick the one least similar in color
  • Predictions:
    • Visual stimuli as only basis pick C3 as odd
    • Naming practices influence pick C2 as odd
  • Results:
    • Tarahumara speakers pick C3
    • English speakers tended to pick the chip they would label blue (C2) even though in the spectrum it was closer to C1 than was C3
  • Support for a weak version of the Whorfian hypothesis
color terms22
Color Terms
  • Winawer, Boroditsky and others (2007)
    • English and Russian divide up blues differently
      • Russian makes an obligatory distinction between lighter blues (”goluboy”) and darker blues (”siniy”).
    • Results
      • Russian speakers were faster to discriminate two colors when they fell into different linguistic categories (one siniy and the other goluboy) than when they were from the same linguistic category (both siniy or both goluboy).
      • English speakers tested on the identical stimuli did not show a category advantage in any of the conditions.
    • Support for a weak version of the Whorfian hypothesis, categories in language affect performance on simple perceptual color tasks
higher cognitive processes
Higher Cognitive Processes
  • Color naming is not a very complex cognitive process:
    • What about more complex mental processes?
      • Counting and other Arithmetic processes
counting arithmetic
Counting & Arithmetic
  • Greenberg (1978) has identified some cultures where the only number terms correspond to one, two, many.
    • Piraha tribe; Gordon (2004) (in conjunction with ISU’s Dan Everett)
      • Hoi (falling tone = one), hoi (rising tone = two), aibai (= many)
      • Matching tasks - show an array of objects, they have to put objects down to match the array
  • Results - relatively good matching up to 2 or 3, but performance was considerably poorer beyond that up to 8 to 10 items
  • Different languages terms for numbers also has effects on arithmetic
counting arithmetic26
Counting & Arithmetic
  • The greater regularity of number names in Chinese, Japanese and Korean as compared to English or French facilitates the learning of counting behavior beyond 10 in those languages.
  • Another advantage is earlier mastery of ‘place value’ (understanding that in # 23 there are 2 tens and 3 ones)

Miller & Stigler (1987)

conclusions
Conclusions
  • At this point it is apparent that the strong view of Whorf’s hypothesis is not supported.
  • Steven Pinker (The Language Instinct, 1994)
    • • “The famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic determinism … is wrong, all wrong. … There is no scientific evidence that languages dramatically shape their speakers’ ways of thinking.”
    • • “Most of the experiments have tested banal “weak” versions of the Whorfian hypothesis, namely that words can have some effect on memory or categorization. Some of these experiments have actually worked, but that is hardly surprising.”
conclusions29
Conclusions
  • However, there is continued support for the weaker version(s) of the hypothesis
    • The data from areas of investigation concerning color naming, counting & arithmetic, reasoning, visual memory, and other areas (e.g., social inference) indicate that the use of certain specific terms can influence how we think
      • The question that remains is how much of the differences are because of the language and how much due to the culture?
        • Problems
          • Language cannot be randomly assigned
          • Therefore we cannot rule out some third variables such as culture.
  • At this point it is apparent that the strong view of Whorf’s hypothesis is not supported.