The ability to think limits language (not the other way around)

The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ world view or cognition. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined to include two versions. The strong version says that language determines thought, and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories, whereas the weak version says that linguistic categories and usage only influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behavior.

I am not convinced.

I take a simple, uncomplicated view. I think I often think without the confines of language or its structure. Sometimes I dream in a particular language and sometimes not. I don’t need a language to wake up in a good mood or in a foul one. Thought (cognitive ability) therefore comes first and is what is hard-wired by our genes together with our physical attributes which gives us our senses. Language only comes as a consequence of a need (a need for cooperation leading to a need for communication) and is merely a tool which is shaped by our cognitive abilities. We cannot communicate that which is beyond language. But what we can conceive of, but is not covered by existing language, can be described by learning a new, existing language or by inventing new language. (New words, new grammar, mathematical notations, chemistry notation, …..).

Suppose our noses were highly developed and our sight was not. Suppose further that we had the same cognitive ability as we have now. If we had the ability to create and discern and record smells, I can imagine a language based on smells, where we could describe electrons and dark energy and the shape of the universe and the world around us and emotions in terms of their smells. We could still develop radiation detectors and describe what we could not “see” with our senses. We could still invent mathematics and nuclear power and “smell-writing” would be quite advanced. Literature and drama would be quite different but not necessarily music. Grand opera with smell and sound rather than sight and sound.

But whatever the language, the limits of our cognitive abilities would define the imponderable.

  1. before the beginning
  2. after the end
  3. life before birth
  4. life after death
  5. the stillness of time
  6. the speed of time
  7. whiter than pale
  8. blacker than black
  9. far ago and long away
  10. infinite universe of finite mass
  11. zero is a number
  12. x/0 = ∞
  13. √-1
  14. x0= 1
  15. Magic
  16. parallel lines meet at infinity
  17. the Big Bang theory
  18. gravity is not a force
  19. evolution is wonderful
  20. ………….
  21. ..

Tags: ,

%d bloggers like this: