PODCAST – Slaves to Language

Transcript –

To begin, I want to say that perception is a matter of the mind and not an absolute truth that can be defined in one way or the other.

Using the definition from the Oxford Dictionary – The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is a hypothesis that was, “first advanced by Edward Sapir in 1929 and subsequently developed by Benjamin Whorf, that the structure of a language determines a native speaker’s perception and categorization of experience”

The question of whether language affects the way people perceive the world has been ongoing for many years. I ultimately believe language is the only thing that creates our perception of the world, and the forementioned hypothesis supports this claim. 

Merriam-Webster defines a slave as “one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence” 

Now why am I talking about slaves in relevance to language and perception? 

I want to argue that we, as humans, are all slaves (as the previous definition states) to the language we speak because it is ultimately the ruler of the universe we have allowed ourselves to know, and it is quite the challenge to emancipate ourselves from this form of mental slavery. 

Think about a time when there was something you were experiencing in your mind that you just could not find a word for. I know this has happened to me on several occasions. This is because every language does not have a word for everything we want to say. So what do we do when this happens? Well for me, after searching for words to describe what Im thinking, and failing, I just move on and forget about it.. This is exactly what I mean by mental slaves to language – if we didn’t have words to describe our thoughts, then we would get no where in communicating with others. As soon as we can’t think of what we are trying to say, our thoughts are literally lost somewhere in our brain. Language is the only thing here that is preventing our mind from doing what it is trying to do – communicate. 

Furthermore, I have several friends who are bilingual. Specifically my two best friends who’s native language is French. I have heard them stumbling to find a word to translate another word they know in French – and sometimes it simply does not exist. Some words have a strictly unique meaning and the can nature of them is unknown to other languages. Translation from languages is not an easy process because it is not just about changing a word to another word, but rather expressing the entire sense of the meaning to another. Even if they took their time to try to describe the word to me, I most likely will not understand the concept until I experience their culture myself. 

I have taken Spanish for 5 years now and I know by doing so I am allowing my mind to be more flexible to new concepts. This does not mean bilingual people are perfect or experience some form of higher thinking, but rather we are quicker to develop new perceptions of the world. 

I know there are things about the world that are unknown to me. And when I really started thinking about this topic of interest, was when we were learning about the ‘nothing’ in one of our modules. It was bizarre to me that I couldn’t think about the ‘nothing’, no image came to my mind. Although most people on the planet cannot picture what the nothing is, I know there are so many concepts that other people easily can perceive in their minds and that I just won’t be able to think about because it has not yet been introduced in my language. 

I also know when watching Lera Boroditsky’s TedTalk “How Language Shapes the Way We Think” that she was talking about languages that do not have exact words for numbers or ways to quantify things simply. This is one thing my brain is not able to perceive because I believe I learned my numbers before I even learned the alphabet. Conversely, the speakers of these languages without numbers have no possible way to think about numbers or quantities. It is just the way we have trained our mind to work based on our language and culture. Again, here language is controlling what we are capable of thinking about. 

REFLECTION – In my podcast, I analyze the control that language holds over our thoughts and perceptions of the world.  Because each language is so drastically different, each person’s knowledge of the universe varies based on their reality. Because there are different ways that people view the world around them based on their language and culture, this ultimately leads me to believe each language is its own universe. This reveals how flexible our minds are. In fact, I would have never had these thoughts, or did this podcast unless I took this class. The language of this class had the ability to control my thoughts, in a good way. I am thankful I took this class as I have enjoyed it the most out of all my classes this semester. It really allowed me to consider several challenges people all around the world encounter through language. I never even thought about language before this class really because it is something that comes so natural to us as speakers, we aren’t thinking about the control it has on us as a child when we are just learning to communicate. It’s too late to change much about it once we realize the manipulation that is occurring – be it benign or sinister..

In closing, if you agree that language controls thought, this means we, as humans, are completely submissive to its dominating control of our mind. As languages evolve, the control system allowing our mind’s to program meanings is evolving as well. Even in the instance of bilingual people, the bilingual person is still only able to think about the concepts her mind is allowing through language. There will always be an unknown – something you just cannot describe. Your mind is powerful enough to think about it, but your language is not. After all, Barry Mandela once said, “Words are the most dangerous weapons of all”.

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