Day forty-three -- about Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
Seemingly, I owe someone an answer about Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. ...
The detail of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis can be found online easily. Thus, I will only make some comments on the issue, including its history. The following are four quotes form Wikipedia.
1. "Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (linguistic relativity) is the idea that the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think and behave differently because of it."
2. "... Universalist theory of language ... effectively arguing that all languages share the same underlying structure. ... also holds the belief that linguistic structures are largely innate and that what are perceived as differences between specific languages (the knowledge acquired by learning a language) are merely surface phenomena and do not affect cognitive processes that are universal to all human beings."
3. "This theory (Universalist theory) became the dominant paradigm in American linguistics from the 1960s through the 1980s and the notion of linguistic relativity fell out of favor and became even the object of ridicule."
4. "Current researchers accept that language influences thought, but in more limited ways than the broadest early claims. ... Current studies of linguistic relativity are neither marked by the naivistic approach to exotic linguistic structures and their often merely presumed effect on thought that marked the early period, nor are they ridiculed and discouraged as in the universalist period."
These four quotes mark a time span of 70 years, from 1940 to now (2009). After a long 70 year studies, no true winner, nor true loser. This is what I am going to comment on.
Their studies centered on the tests of two issues.
1. Vocabulary on color and the cognition on color perception from different languages.
2. Vocabulary on "time" and the cognition on time concept and perception from different languages.
From the test results of the two issues above, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis was discredited first and then vindicated second, and this trip takes 70 years to make a whole circle. In fact, this 70 years can be reduced into months if two questions were asked.
1. Is the difference between vocabulary on color or time representing the essential difference between languages? If not, then all tests and test results have no relevancy for differentiating languages.
2. Is the difference between cognition on color or time perception representing the essential difference on the cognition of world view? If not, then all tests and test results have no relevancy for differentiating the ways of cognition.
If both schools have fully developed theory with predicting power, will both theory predict (or encompass) those test results? If they will, then those tests have no power whatsoever to differentiate the difference between the two theories.
In a future post, I will show a true example of four theories which are fundamentally different; yet, 99% of their predictions are identical. The only way to separate those four theories is by tests which is able to test those different predictions.
Obviously, both schools have no fully developed theory with unique predictions which are definitely different from the opposing school's. Thus, a test result was a damning piece of evidence at one time; yet it becomes a supporting evidence at a different time.
Seemingly, the misunderstanding on "what is hypothesis?" is very wide spread. A hypothesis is an educated guess. But, educated guesses are not always hypothesis. A hypothesis "must" embody a theory. A hypothesis without a theory is not a hypothesis. Again, the misunderstanding on "what is theory?" is also very wide spread. A theory without a precise prediction power is not a theory. Theory is domain bounded. A domain must be defined with definitions and axioms. Both schools use the fuzzy concept of "natural languages" and the fuzzy idea of the cognition of world views as their domains while both domains are not defined with definitions and axioms in their discussions. Thus, they are not theories but notions. There is no scientific way to test notions. The only way to test a notion is to construct a theory based on that notion. Only testing the "predictions" of a theory is a meaningful test for a notion. Any kind of "hypothesis <--> test circles" without a theory and its predictions is pseudo and bogus tests.
I will show one example of "theories" soon. As the PreBabel is a scientific theory, it is very important to use the term "theory" correctly.
PreBabel is the true universal language, it is available at