Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chapter 12 " The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Worlds Shaped by Words"

When I started to read the first pages of “The Sapir- Whorf Hypothesis: Worlds Shaped by Words” it was confusing for me because I couldn’t see how languages shape our view of the world. But at the second paragraph of the page 118 it was much clearer for me. The example of the shade of colors is familiar to me since in French we have countless words to describe one color e.g. purple that can be “lavender” or “plum”…

Another example that I find interesting is the comparison between rice grains and automobiles p 118/119 made by Gleason. The contrast between the amount of vocabulary of the Hanunoo to describe rice and the amount of vocabulary of Americans for automobiles stunned me! Actually it is very true and obvious! Depending on where you live and what is familiar to you, you are most likely to acquire certain words linked to the way you live.

When came the illustration of translating one word from French into English I totally recognized myself through it. I always try to translate directly from French into English and sometimes it sounds like neither French nor English for my listener. The comparison that the book made between “distingue” and “distinguished” are one among numerous. The word “cinema” in French, which means “Movie Theater” in English, was kind of new for me. I always thought that it was the same word in English! I just discovered that it was not while I was speaking with a friend. In the same way, strangely as it is, there are words that are used both in French and English. It is probably a great illustration of how culture is shared through languages.

I experience all of these little things everyday, especially when it comes to write something. French people, we tend to write our thoughts not in a straight way as English or American people do. We love to put adjectives, euphemisms or images whenever it’s possible. As an example instead of saying: Yes I want to see you, I would say: It would be a pleasure to have the possibility to meet you again. Problems here I come! When first I came here, I learned how to be concise when writing and I struggled with it and still I do. Changing the way I think before to write down is very tough, it is almost learning how to write again for me.

That is how I finally understood how Worlds are shaped by Words. Each culture has its own language but also its own way to perceive, to feel and to interpret things. I think that culture and language definitely go hand-to-hand and that it influences our perception of the world as well.