Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 22:56:31 -0700


Subject: American Indian languages and thought

I'm not sure what is meant by the statement that speakers of (some)

American Indian languages don't use entification in their communication.

There is a difference between "world view" and the grammar of a language

one talks about it in. Relationship is of prime importance to Koreans, for

example, and the hierarchical social structure is encoded in the grammar in

a way that is untranslatable in English, but one can use the same kind of

GB tree-diagrams for Korean as for Turkish or English. The same diagrams

and UG principles-and-parameters work as well for many American Indian

languages, although I have heard it argued that they don't work well for

the Northern Caddoan languages (but have not looked closely to see whether

the claim can be disputed).

As anthropologists have long argued from the "culture area" concept,

even pre-dating it going back to Boas, the same language (or closely related

variants) can mediate radically different cultures, and world-views, and the

same culture/world-view can be mediated by totally different and differently

structured languages. Language structure can influence thinking so some

extent, and can facilitate or inhibit expression of certain things (that's

one reason there are different computer languages), but English, like other

languages, basically deals with relationships, too. That's why the kind

of grammatical analysis that Fillmore introduced (Case Grammar) and Chafe's

variation on it, remain so useful and revealing of cross-language uniformities.

Adopting that more abstract model (further evolved by Chomsky in not always

helpful ways) enables us to see beyond the apparent great differences of

surface grammatical differences. There are real differences regarding the

aspects of events that languages can express, or how they can express them,

as Chinese, for example, has no tense, but only aspect. Even German, as

closely related to English as it is, does not make the distinction we do

between present and present progressive "tense" (really aspect). But I would

want to see clear grammatical evidence that language X could express

relationships and language Y could not, or that language X could not

express entification whereas language Y obligatorily did so. From there it

would be necessary to provide empirical evidence that the structural

differences enhanced or precluded certain kinds of thought.

--Rudy Troike (rtroike[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]