Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Language and thought
A variety of different authors, theories and fields purport influences between language and thought.
Many point out the seemingly common-sense realization that upon introspection we seem to think thoughts in the language we speak. A number of writers and theorists have extrapolated upon this idea.
- The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in linguistics states that the structure of one's mother-tongue influences the way one's mind perceives the world. It has found at best very limited experimental support, at least in its strong form. For instance, a study showing that speakers of languages lacking a subjunctive mood such as Chinese experience difficulty with hypothetical problems has been discredited. However, another study has shown that subjects in memory tests are more likely to remember a given color if their mother language includes a word for that color.
- According to Cognitive therapy, founded by Aaron T. Beck, our emotions and behavior are caused by our internal dialogue . We can change ourselves by learning to challenge and refute our own thoughts, especially a number of specific mistaken thought patterns called "cognitive distortions". Cognitive therapy has been found to be effective by empirical studies.
- In behavioral economics, according to experiments said to support to the theoretical availability heuristic, people believe more probable events that are more vividly described than those which were not. Simple experiments asking people to imagine something led them to believe it to be more likely. The mere exposure effect may also be relevant to propagandistic repetition like the Big Lie. According to prospect theory, people make different economic choices based on how the matter is framed.
Other schools of thought
- General Semantics is a school of thought founded by engineer Alfred Korzybski and later popularized by S. I. Hayakawa and others, which attempted to make language more precise and objective. It makes many basic observations of the English language, particularly pointing out problems of abstraction and definition.
- E-prime is a constructed language identical to the English language but lacking all forms of "to be", like Russian or Arabic. Its proponents claim that dogmatic thinking seems to rely on "to be" language constructs, and so by removing it we may discourage dogmatism.
- Neuro-linguistic programming, founded by Richard Bandler, claims that language "patterns" and other things can affect thought and behavior. It takes ideas from General Semantics and hypnosis, especially that of the famous therapist Milton Erickson. Many do not consider it a credible study, and it has no empirical scientific support.
- Advocates of non-sexist language including some feminists say that the English language perpetuates biases against women, such as using male-gendered terms such as "he" and "man" as generic. Many authors including those who write textbooks now conspicuously avoid that practice, in the case of the previous examples using words like "he or she" or "they" and "human race". Political correctness is similar, but it is a loose cultural meme and has never been formally codified. Both are considered widely controversial.
- George Orwell, the famous political writer, certainly believed in the interplay between language and thought. One of the most fundamental and enduring ideas of his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was the control of "thoughtcrime" through omnipresent spying and propaganda, and the created language Newspeak. The purpose of this fictional language was to make thoughts unapproved by the state "literally unthinkable" by making language unable to express them. In a 1946 essay in which Orwell explores this topic further, Politics and the English Language, he wrote "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus that "the limits of my language indicate the limits of my world" and explores the philosophy of language.
- Ayn Rand's novella Anthem described a society which banned the use of the word "I", which had implications contrary to the goals of her objectivist philosophy.
- Various other schools of persuasion directly suggest using language in certain ways to change the minds of others, including oratory, advertising, debate, sales, and rhetoric. The ancient sophists discussed and listed many figures of speech such as enthymeme and euphemism. Today public relations firms use spin.
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