Monday, October 31, 2011

It's always the linguists...

A few years ago, David Chess wrote what appears to be a blurb of a science-fiction type story, in which things are going wrong, and it can all be directly blamed on the linguists who taught a culture concepts they had previously had no words for; you can check out the short story/blurb here. What I love about his post is that he explores this notion of whether or not people can think about concepts they have no words for. If a language has no word for yellow, does that mean they can't see the color yellow? If a language has no word for kazoo, does that mean they cannot fathom an instrument that makes noise by humming into it? Then again, since English has no word for bakku-shan, does that mean we can't envision a woman who is only pretty when being looked at from the back? (You can check out this article for other cool words English needs.) How much does our language and its words say about us and the way we think?

If you're interested in this, you might also be interested in the course on Language and Culture in the spring.

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