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A discussion and extension of Davidoff (2001). Language and Perceptual Categorisation. Kelly Sorensen Christopher Thomas November 2, 2004. Outline. Jules Davidoff The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Discussion of “Language and Perceptual Categorisation” Discussion of Linguistic Relativism.

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a discussion and extension of davidoff 2001 language and perceptual categorisation

A discussion and extension of Davidoff (2001). Language and Perceptual Categorisation

Kelly Sorensen

Christopher Thomas

November 2, 2004

outline
Outline
  • Jules Davidoff
  • The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • Discussion of “Language and Perceptual Categorisation”
  • Discussion of Linguistic Relativism
prof jules davidoff
Prof. Jules Davidoff
  • Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • Research:
    • mental representation of objects
    • relationship between the stored (memory) knowledge concerning objects and their recognition, categorisation and nameability
    • effects on the way speakers of a language perceive, categorize and remember colors
outline4
Outline
  • Jules Davidoff
  • The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • Discussion of “Language and Perceptual Categorisation”
  • Discussion of Linguistic Relativism
sapir whorf examples
Sapir-Whorf examples
  • Eskimos have four different words for snow, where English has just one
    • aput for snow on the ground
    • qana for falling snow
    • piqsirpoq for drifting snow
    • qimuqsuq for a snowdrift
whorf s conclusion
Whorf’s conclusion
  • "We have the same word for falling snow, snow on the ground, snow packed hard like ice, slushy snow, wind-driven flying snow -- whatever the situation may be. To an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable; he would say that falling snow, slushy snow, and so on, are sensuously and operationally different, different things to contend with; he uses different words for them and for other kinds of snow."
whorf s conclusion7
Whorf’s conclusion

difference in attitude or perception

difference in vocabulary

introduction to the sapir whorf hypothesis
Introduction to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that there are certain thoughts of an individual in one language that cannot be understood by those who live in another language.
  • The hypothesis states that the way people think is strongly affected by their native languages.
  • It is a controversial theory championed by linguist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf.
historical notes
Historical Notes
  • Whorf was fighting against cultural evolutionary theory saying that Western thought is the highest form of thought
  • “… Sapir and Whorf […] rejected hierarchical, quasi-evolutionary rankings of languages and cultures .in particular the European, especially Humboldtian, obsession with the superior value of inflectional languages for the cultural or mental advancement of a people.” (Lucy 1997)
historical notes10
Historical Notes
  • After vigorous attack from followers of Noam Chomsky in the following decades, the hypothesis is now believed by most linguists only in the weak sense that language can have some small effect on thought.
sapir whorf hypothesis i
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis I
  • Linguistic relativity:
    • Structural differences between languages are paralleled by nonlinguistic cognitive differences (the structure of the language itself effects cognition)
    • The number and the type of the basic colour words of a language determine how a subject sees the rain bow
sapir whorf hypothesis ii
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis II
  • Linguistic determinism = extreme "Weltanschauung“ version of the hypothesis:
    • The structure of a language can strongly influence or determine someone’s World View
    • A World View describes a (hopefully) consistent and integral sense of existence and provides a theoretical framework for generating, sustaining and applying knowledge
    • The Inuit can think more intelligently about snow because their language contains more sophisticated and subtle words distinguishing various forms of it, etc.
sapir whorf hypothesis iii
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis III
  • Arbitrariness
    • The semantic systems of different languages vary without constraint.
    • This hypothesis must be tacitly assumed, because otherwise the claim that Linguistic Relativity makes is rather undramatic.
    • For each decomposition of the spectrum of the rain bow a natural system of colour words is possible
outline14
Outline
  • Jules Davidoff
  • The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • Discussion of “Language and Perceptual Categorisation”
  • Discussion of Linguistic Relativism
why how do we determine category membership
Why/how do we determine category membership?

Davidoff (2001) argues:

that it is linguistic similarity rather than perpetual similarity that is critical for perceptual categorization

against the view that there are underlying, universal, neurophysiological mechanisms which determine how color is categorized

the case for universal color categories
The case for universal color categories:

Is based on knowledge of how wavelength-sensitive neurons function.

  • Based on the opponent-process mechanism of neurons, it has been argued that there are two elemental achromatic categories
    • Black
    • White
  • and four elemental color categories
    • Red
    • Green
    • Yellow
    • Blue
the case for universal color categories cont
The case for universal color categories cont.:
  • There are two wavelengths for which opponent-process neurons R-G give no output.
  • There is also a wavelength for which the opponent-process neurons Y-B give no output.
problems with the case for universal color categories
Problems with the case for universal color categories:
  • Wavelengths chosen to represent the colors blue, yellow, and green are not consistent with what is expected based on neurophysiology
  • Conclusions about neurons are weakened by individual’s previous exposure to the concept of blue, yellow, or green
problems with the case for universal color categories19
Problems with the case for universal color categories:
  • Neurophysiology data show that neurons can respond selectively to particular wavelengths or combinations of wavelengths and brightness; no evidence, however, that neurons respond categorically.

Davidoff thus concludes that perceptual categories cannot be based strictly upon observation.

the philosophical argument
The philosophical argument

The ‘Sorites paradox”

  • Take a series of colors of decreasing wavelength with the change below the threshold for the human visual system
  • Agree that a patch at one end can be called ‘red”
  • If red is the observational or perceptual category, then the next patch must also be called red, and so on.
  • Continuing with the logic we come to the illogical conclusion that all colors in the series are red, even the ‘blues” at the other end of the series
the neuropsycological evidence
The neuropsycological evidence

Patients with language impairments caused by brain damage often behave as if the Sorites paradox is a reality, sorting by perceptual similarity without regard for categorical boundaries.

cross cultural theories
Cross-cultural theories
  • Whorfian view-”We dissect nature along the lines laid down by our language.”
  • Rosch- argued for a universal rather than language based color categories due to cognitive similarities between languages with few color terms and English.
rosch s universal theory
Rosch’s universal theory
  • Based upon studies of the Dani who
    • have only two basic color terms but remembered colors in ways very similar to the English speakers
    • Showed superior learning and memory for focal colors for which they had no linguistic terms
  • Results were widely accepted as proof of universal color categories
problems with rosch s universal theory
Problems with Rosch’s universal theory

Davidoff argues that there are potentially serious flaws in both the design and interpretation of Rosch’s studies

  • Conflicting results found for the first study on two measures based on the multi-dimensional scaling of the same data
    • Graphical demonstration showed support for universalist view
    • Statistical results did not
problems with rosch s universal theory cont
Problems with Rosch’s universal theory cont.
  • No explanation is given for conflicting results
  • Dani speakers perform poorly on the statistical measures for subsequent studies as well
  • Researchers unable to replicate findings with Berinmo population from New Guinea
categorical perception
Categorical perception
  • Stimuli from the center of perceptual categories are classified faster than those at the edges, consequently discrimination of stimuli is better across than within categories
  • In studies with Berinmo and English speakers, classification was consistently more closely aligned with the linguistic categories than with the underlying perceptual universals
empirical support for whorfian view theory of linguistic similarity
Empirical support for Whorfian view (theory of linguistic similarity)
  • 1st experiment
  • When making judgements of similarity between a group of three stimuli, participants judged two stimuli from the same linguistic category to be more similar, even thought the perceptual distance between each pair of stimuli were held equal
  • No reliable tendencies were observed for those belonging to groups which make no linguistic distinctions between the categories used
empirical support for whorfian view theory of linguistic similarity cont
Empirical support for Whorfian view (theory of linguistic similarity) cont.
  • 2nd experiment

English speakers

    • found the division between green and blue easier to learn than the arbitrary division of green
    • found the division between yellow and green easier to learn than the division between the Berinmo color categories of nol and wor
empirical support for whorfian view theory of linguistic similarity cont33
Empirical support for Whorfian view (theory of linguistic similarity) cont.

Berinmo speakers

  • Demonstrated no difference in difficulty for learning the green-blue division and the arbitraty green division
  • Found the nol-wor division significantly easier to learn than the yellow-green division
empirical support for whorfian view theory of linguistic similarity cont34
Empirical support for Whorfian view (theory of linguistic similarity) cont.
  • 3rd experiment
    • Demonstrated an effect of linguistic category in recognition memory
      • English speakers showed significantly superior recognition for targets from cross-category pairs than for those from within-category pairs for the green blue boundary, but not for the nol-wor boundary

2. Berinmo speakers showed the opposite effect

english and berinmo color categories
English and Berinmo Color Categories

Berinmo color categories

English color categories

comparison

davidoff s conclusions from these 3 experiments
Davidoff’s conclusions from these 3 experiments
  • Categorical perception shows the influence of language on perception
  • The structure of linguistic categories distorts perception by stretching perceptual distances at category boundaries
interference studies
Interference studies
  • Has examined whether categorical perception can be disrupted with verbal interference
  • Verbal interference removed the cross-category advantage for speakers whose languages classifies the colors as belonging to different categories
  • It appears that verbal coding (representation of information verbal) facilitates recall (information is likely encoded both visually as well as verbally)
constraints on whorfian view
Constraints on Whorfian view
  • The argument for color categories being a product of language does not mean that categorization is unrelated to properties of the visual system
    • Similar items (as defined by perceptual discrimination) are universally grouped together (e.g. would not have yellow and blue together without also having green between)
    • Even perceptual categorization tasks can sometimes be solved simply by perceptual similarity or common association
overall conclusions of the author
Overall conclusions of the author
  • Perceptual categorization is determined by linguistic relativity
  • Being able to attend to color is different from understanding color categories
overall conclusions of the author40
Overall conclusions of the author
  • Cross-lingual evidence supports the Whorfian hypothesis in the number domain, in space, in time, and in speech perception
  • Language and cognition interact; children generalize abstract terms only if they have learned a label for the concrete-learning situation
questions for future research
Questions for future research
  • Can human-primates form perceptual categories?
  • There is evidence that neonates show color categorization. Does this reflect categorization of a different type?
  • Are there capacity constraints on perceptual categorization?
questions for future research42
Questions for future research
  • Verbal interference affects categorization in memory tasks. Is the same true for perceptual tasks?
  • Which brain areas are involved in perceptual-categorization?
outline43
Outline
  • Jules Davidoff
  • The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • Discussion of “Language and Perceptual Categorisation”
  • Discussion of Linguistic Relativism
more evidence in favor of linguistic relativism
More Evidence in favor of linguistic relativism
  • Chinese children count earlier than American children
    • (In part) because Chinese numbers are more systematic
more evidence in favor of linguistic relativism45
More Evidence in favor of linguistic relativism

Mayans’ similarity judgments are more influenced by material (as appropriate for mass nouns), rather than shape (as appropriate for count nouns)

but then
But then …
  • What does this evidence really say about the influence of language on thought?
  • Especially in the case of colors, is it more a matter of what we’ve learned?
    • Painters can name more colors.
    • We can look at colors from different points of view
      • Warm or cold colors
      • Pastel or vivid colors
pinker against sapir whorf
Pinker against Sapir-Whorf
  • Supposed limitations on expression in various languages are based on faulty linguistic understanding.
    • Hopi does have words for time, etc.
    • Translation between languages is possible (even if difficult to do elegantly).

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Spring_2002/ling001/thought.html

pinker against sapir whorf48
Pinker against Sapir-Whorf
  • Thought is possible without language.
    • Adults who have grown up without language.
    • Babies before they learn language.
    • Primates and other animals that never learn language.
    • Adults who reason and create in visual or other modes.

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Spring_2002/ling001/thought.html

pinker against sapir whorf49
Pinker against Sapir-Whorf
  • Language is an inadequate medium for the direct encoding of thought.
    • We often can't think of the right word to express ourselves.
    • Language contains ambiguity, homophony, etc.
    • Manipulation of visual images is done directly.
    •  Pinker suggests a nonverbal language which he calls Mentalese

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Spring_2002/ling001/thought.html

questions
Questions
  • Do euphemisms make us think differently about a fact?
    • negative growth, collateral damage, peace force
    • retarded, mentally disabled, mentally challenged
  • Does the convention of using the male form support patriarchic views or is it just an indication?
questions51
Questions
  • Can we think about categorization without language?
    • For visually similar items
    • For abstract categorizations
the common denominator
The common denominator
  • In an experiment similar to Davidoff’s, Kay and Kempton came to the following conclusions:
    • The extreme ("Weltanschauung") version of this idea, that all thought is constrained by language, has been disproved
    • The opposite extreme – that language does not influence thought at all – is also widely considered to be false
synthesis
Synthesis?
  • Looking at Pinker’s objections, is there something underlying language that is more influential?
  • Is it the language that influences our perception or rather the culture we live in?
  • Lakoff suggests that cultures have deeply rooted conceptual metaphors that
    • find their expressions in the language
    • guide our perception
references
References
  • Paul Kay, Willett Kempton: What is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis? American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 86, No.1, March 1984, 65-79
  • http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Spring_2002/ling001/thought.html
  • Jules Davidoff: Language and Perceptual Categorisation. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.5 No.9 September 2001, 382-387
  • George Lakoff & Mark Johnson. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • John A. Lucy. Linguistic Relativity. Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 1997. 26:291-312