Possible evidence for the linguistic relativity hypothesis


I’ve been researching–or attempting to research–any academic work that’s been done on semantic representation (i.e. intensions/extensions) AND linguistic relativity.  My search so far has proved unsuccessful.

Oppositely, I’ve found a wealth of information concerning the empirical justification for linguistic relativity.  Undressmerobot.com offers an informative review of the issues concerning linguistic relativity, but mostly from the standpoint of social psychology.

That said, I find this evidence particularly favorable for linguistic relativity:

One of the most telling tests was one that dealt with the duplication of lines on a piece of paper. Gordon drew single and multiple lines on a piece of paper and asked the Pirahã members to copy those lines. For one, two, and three lines, the Pirahã had no difficulty completing the task. As the number of lines increased, the discrepancy between the number of lines and number of copied lines also increased. For instance, many only reproduced three lines when shown four (Holden).

Of course, in order to justify the strongest version of the hypothesis, the researchers (Holden, and I’m not sure who else) would have to show that the task itself was completely non-linguistic.  Surely we think of simple copying tasks as non-linguistic, but the description above is obviously a summary and therefore incomplete.

Nevertheless, interesting evidence.

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2 thoughts on “Possible evidence for the linguistic relativity hypothesis

  1. Hey David, glad you enjoyed the piece. A lot of the good stuff is behind paywalls (as I’m sure you know), but I assume Boston University has institutional access to the big journals. If so, check out this letter and response in Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/sci;307/5716/1721 . Gordon’s reply proves him a very careful speaker, and expounds a little on just how much we can draw from the study.

    Relatedly, that page links to a paper titled “Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left”, which looks very interesting, though I have not read it.

  2. Hey Mr. Sugarman, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I will most certainly check out those links and get back to you on the latter piece specifically. I’ve done some research in visual attention (attentional blink), so it seems fairly relevant.

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