Reconsidering “Sapir-Wholf” hypothesis-From Cognitive Perspective-(Part1)


Hello. This is Hisanori Iijima. Today, I would like to consider one of the most controversial question in the studies of language–Sapir-Wholf hypothesis”. According to this hypothesis, human’s thoughts are reflected on human’s production of the language. However, this hypothesis is highly debated and discussed. Then, let me discuss the “Sapir-Wholf hypothesis”.

ATTENTION : This is one of the series of the article. Here is the first time of the article.

Abstract–What is the problem??–

Historically, the inquiry into the connection between language and cognition has been conceptualized within the framework of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which has focused on the examination of the presence or absence of universal or diverse patterns of thought across different languages and cultures. The enduring discourse surrounding the theory has failed to produce a definitive and satisfactory resolution. The suboptimal outcome can be primarily ascribed to two factors: (a) the imprecise delineation of the concept of “thought,” and (b) the varied interpretations of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis throughout the academic community. In this study, the contention put up is that the inquiry to be posed should not revolve around the universality or divergence of mind among distinct language groups. Instead, it is advisable to pose more precise and feasible inquiries, acknowledging the limitations imposed by our inherent language-independent cognitive abilities.

Simultaneously, it is important to recognize that a significant portion of our thinking processes is influenced by language. The inquiries that warrant consideration are as follows: within which cognitive domains (such as spatial cognition, ontological knowledge, and categorization of natural objects), at what particular level (such as perception, memory, knowledge representation, and on-line information processing), and to what extent (a) does our thinking succumb to the influence of the particular structure of the language at hand (or remain impervious to it), and (b) is our thinking molded by language acquisition or restricted by language-independent innate cognitive structure?

To reassess the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis from a novel standpoint, an extensive examination of relevant scholarly works was conducted, primarily concentrating on three separate cognitive domains: ontological knowledge pertaining to individuation, categorization of natural objects, and spatial cognition.

IntroductionーHumans are unique among other speciesー

Humans are unique among other species in that we routinely think and operate logically at an abstract level. For example, humans routinely conceptualize, structure, catagorize, and verbalize abstract objects that cannot be directly seen or touched (e.g., time) in the same way as those that can be directly perceived by the senses, and in many domains, they are understood indirectly as metaphors from directly perceived bodily experiences.

In many domains, we do not even realize that they are understood indirectly as metaphors from directly perceived bodily sensory experiences (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). Also, in certain domains (e.g., understanding the physical properties of objects), infants have the ability to classify and discriminate objects and events based on abstract levels of similarity and principles that cannot be determined by direct perceptual experience alone (Baillargeon, 1993; Spelke, 1990; Carey, 1997).

In addition, from infancy, children spontaneously and quite naturally form higher-level rules and biases based on their perceived experiences (Imai, 1997; Jusczyk, 1999; Marcus, Vijayan, Rao, & Vishton, 1999, Saffran, 1999; Jusczyk, 1999. Nevvport, & Aslin, 1996). Such abstract logical operations, especially the ability to manipulate relations between things and between events at a higher abstract level, are unique to humans, and are considered to be a major qualitative difference between humans and non-human anthropoids, which are biologically closest to humans.

Another major characteristic of human intelligence is, of course, the ability to speak. Although recent attempts to have higher apes such as chimpanzees learn language have produced significant results (Matsuzawa, 1991), the naturalness and ease of language learning, as well as the generativity and complexity of the final language acquired, suggest that human language is species-specific, and that the artificial “language” learned by chimpanzees through long-term training is not a “language” that can be learned by humans. The nature of human language is very different from that of an artificial “language” that is learned by a chimpanzee through long-term training.

The problem immediately arises when we consider that human thought is not a language, but an artificial “language” learned through long-term training.

The immediate problem here is the relationship between human thought and language. It is not surprising that human beings conceptualize abstract objects that cannot be directly sensed and perceived, and that they are not directly perceived, perceived, or perceived by others.

Does it depend on the existence of language to “feel” as if we directly perceive and experience abstract objects that we cannot directly perceive and perceive as a matter of course? Also, is it possible that the existence of language is dependent on the presence of language, especially in infants?

Continued in Part 2.