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Saturday, February 2, 2008



Summary in Chinese missing?

The empirical research discussed in previous sections (partly stimulated by Whorf’s own imaginative ideas) indicate that the cig native processes studied so far largely independent from peculiarities of any natural language and, in fact, that cognition can develop to a certain extend even in the absence of knowledge of any language. The reverse does not hold true; the growth and development of language does appear to require a certain minimum state of maturity and specificity of cognition. Could it be that some languages require “less mature cognition” than others, perhaps because they are still more primitive? In recent years this notion has been thoroughly discredited by virtually all student of language. It is obvious that on surface every language has its own peculiarities but it is possible, in fact assumed throughout this monograph, that languages are different patterns produced by identical basic principles(much the way sentences are different patterns─infinitely so─produced by identical principles). The crucial question, therefore, is where we are dealing with a universal and unique process that generates a unique type of pattern. From the discussions of Chapter Seven we may assume that this is so, and Chomsky, in the Appendix, also argues eloquently to this effect. In syntax we seem to be dealing always with the same formal type of rule and in the realm of semantics we have proposed that the type of relationship between word and object is quite invariant across all users of words. It is due to this uniformity that any human may learn any natural language within certain age limits.

When language learning is at its biological optimum, namely in childhood, the degree of relatedness between first and second language is quite irrelevant to the ease of learning that second language. Apparently, the differences in surface structure are ignored and the similarity of the generative principles is maximally explored at this age. Until rigorous proof is submitted to the contrary, it is more reasonable to assume that all natural language are of equal complexity and versatility and the choice of this assumption detracts much from the so-called relativity theory.

Since the use of words is a creative process, the static reference relationships, such as are apparent through approach A or as they are recorded in a dictionary, are of no great consequence for the actual use of words. However, the differences between languages that impressed Whorf so much are entirely restricted to these static aspects and have little effect upon the creative process itself. The diagram of Fog. 8.11 may illustrate the point. Common to all mankind are the general biological characteristics of the species (outer circle) among which is a peculiar mode and capacity for conceptualization or categorization. Languages tag some selective cognitive modes but they differ in the selection. This selectivity does not cripple or bind the speaker because he can make this language, or his vocabulary, or his power of word-creation, or his freedom in idiosyncratic usages of words do any duty that he chooses, and he may do this to a large extent without danger of rendering himself unintelligible because his fellow men have similar capacities and freedoms which also extend to understanding.

FIG. 8.11. The relationship of natural languages to the human capacity for they conceptualization.


Words are not labels attached to objects by conditioning ;strictly associative bonds between a visual stimulus and an auditory stimulus are difficult to demonstrate in language. It is usually through the relative inhibition in the formation f such bonds that the labeling of open, abstract categories cam take places, which is the hall-mark of the human semantic. The meaning-bearing elements f language do not, generally, stand for specific objects (proper names are a special case), and strictly speaking, not even for invariant classes of objects. Apparently they stand for a cognitive process, that is, the act of categorization or the formation of concepts. Operationally, such a process may be characterized as the ability to make a similar response to different stimulus situations within given limits, * which rests on the individual’s capacity to recognize common denominators or similarities among ranges of physical phenomena. Even though there may be a large overlap among species in their capacity for seeing certain similarities, one also encounters species-specificities. No other creature but man seems to have just that constellation of capacities that makes naming possible such as is found any natural language.

Natural language differ in the particular conceptualization process that are reflected in their vocabulary. However, since speakers use words freely to label their own conceptualization processes, the static dictionary meaning of words does not appear to restrict speakers in their cognitive activities; thus it is not appropriate to use the vocabulary meaning as the basis for an estimation of cognitive capacities.

The process of concept formation must be regulated to some extent by biological determinants; therefore, naming in all languages should have fairly similar formal properties. The basis for metaphorizing in all languages is usually transparent to everyone; it never seems totally arbitrary or unnatural. Also, we have excellent intuitions about what might be namable in a foreign language once one knows something about that community’s culture, technology, or religion. Even the demarcation lines of semantic classes are more frequently “obvious” to foreign speaker than a matter of complete surprise. When we learn new words in a foreign language we do not have to determine laboriously the extent of the naming class for every word we learn; there will be only a few instances where demarcation are not obvious. The incongruences between languages become marked only in certain types of grammatical classifications such as animate- inanimate, male-female, plural-singular, to’ness-from’ness, etc. but, curiously enough, on this level of abstraction, where the semantics of the form-class often does take on an entirely arbitrary character, cognitive processes seem least affected. There is no evidence that gender in German or the declinational systems or the noun-classification systems in the Bantu languages affect though processes differentially.

Because of methodological obstacles, the relationship between language and cognition cannot be investigated experimentally except for a very restricted realm of the lexicon, namely the words for sensory experience. Three approaches were described that revel (1) the dictionary meanings of sensory words; (2) the use speaker make of the dictionary meanings in a given situation; (3) the efficiency of communication in a given situation. Granted complete freedom of expression. The first approach is the most faithful representation of the reference relationships that are peculiar to a given natural language, and the other two approaches are progressively less so; the third approach is the most faithful representation of the communicative freedom enjoyed by speakers of any language, whereas the other two approaches fail to reflect this aspect.

Semantic aspect of words may aid memory functions under certain special conditions, but the bias thus introduced by properties of a natural language are slight and they are minimized or eliminated by other, more potent factors (that have nothing to do with the semantic structure of a language) in most situations. The development of basic cognitive functions gives no evidence of impairment in congenitally deaf children at the time they begin instruction in school and before they have acquired a natural language.


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Summary in Chinese missing?

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