The concepts of linguistic determinism, as well as the hypothesis of linguistic relativity, have long been a question of controversy. Linguistic determinism, in general, is the idea according to which one’s native language and its structures limit and identify the speaker’s process of thinking as well as knowledge, thought, perception, and memory. Linguistic relativity, on the other hand, is the form of linguistic determinism.
We will write a custom Coursework on Linguistic Determinism and Linguistic Relativity specifically for you
301 certified writers online
The authors of the linguistic relativity hypothesis, also known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, proclaim that “the speakers of different languages think and perceive reality in different ways and that each language has its own world view” (Hussein 642). That means that very often that are certain concepts or words in one language that can be understood only by its native speakers and cannot be understood by those who do not live and think in it.
As provided by one of the authors of this hypothesis, Edward Sapir, language shapes the speaker’s reality not simply reflects it, that is why people who speak and think in different languages have different perceptions of the world (Hussein 642). The other author, Benjamin Lee Whorf, who was Sapir’s student, went further and believed that the structures of the language, i.e. grammar, define the speaker’s mental activity and how he analyzes impressions but does not determine his worldview (Hussein 643).
Linguistic relativity hypothesis, to my mind, is a controversial concept, but it does explain why people who think in different languages may have a different perception of reality, think and express their ideas differently. It can be proven, for example, by the fact that in one language there may be many words describing one common thing in a variety of its states while there is just one or not a single in the other or a number of words for naming colors depending on the nature of the speakers’ primary activities, etc. That is why I agree that the concepts of linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity do prove that language influences the perception of reality.
Syntax and Semantics
Every language is a system functioning according to a certain set of rules that are known as syntax and semantics. Syntax is a set of grammar rules regarding word order in the sentences or their structure while semantics is about their meaning (Anderson 284). They are interrelated because the correct use of both helps express one’s thoughts in a right and clearly way.
The problem that may arise with syntax and semantics is that they are different for different groups of languages. That means that people thinking and communicating in different languages may face certain difficulties in understanding each other or translating their words. Very often this problem emerges from the distinction between the syntaxes of the languages that may result in the disparities of semantics. For example, misunderstandings begin if the word order in the other speaker’s language differs from those of the English language. Then when this person tries to express his or her thought in English, he or she uses the grammar rules of his native language, thus expressing the idea in a mixed-up way not even knowing it.
From my personal experience, I had a difficulty in understanding my friend whose native language is Italian, who just started learning English. He wanted to practice his English and decided to tell me a story about how a dog bit him. What I understood from his translation into English is that he bit the dog, not the dog bit him. At that time, neither he nor I knew that the syntax in English and Italian was different, and it resulted in a misunderstanding. Now as we know it, we recall this situation with a smile on our faces but it taught us that syntax and semantics play a significant role in being understood while communicating.
Hussein, Basel Al-Sheikh. “The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Today.” Theory and Practice in Language Studies 2.3 (2012): 642-646.Print.
Anderson, John R. Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. 8th ed. 2015. New York, United States: Worth Publishers. Print.