Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 19:55:51 -0700 From: Rudy Troike Subject: Re: non-linguistic thinking It is surprising at this late date in the 20th century to have a discussion among linguists taking place at such an unsophisticated level. Everyone who hasn't should get in their time machines (courtesy a written form of the language) and zip back to the 1920s or 1930s and read Edward Sapir. There is a constant danger, even for linguists, to get trapped in the Eurocentric view of language as composed of atomic things called "words", and to think other peoples and cultures less sophisticated because they don't have "a word" for something. For one thing, they may have many words for aspects of a phenomenon, and think English speakers less capable of precise thought because we bumble along with a single gross category. When we study European languages in school, we are encouraged by the dictionary habit to think that word=word. If you read Sapir, he will quickly disabuse you of such simplistic equations. To "translate" to Navajo, for example, one often has to decompose an English word into its semantic primitives, and then reassemble these in a totally different way, sometimes combining elements which are distributed in other discrete "words" in the English sentence. There is no verb "to throw" in Navajo, for example. Does this mean that Navajos are incapable of thinking abstractly of this action? No, it means that they have several verbs, each referring to movement on the part of a differently shaped object, to which a causative affix is attached, yielding "to cause a round object to move", "to cause a long object to move", etc. Surely our thought processes are more primitive in describing a scene by saying "John threw the ball", since "throw" makes no distinction for the form of the object. Korean, of course, requires its speakers to distinguish among 6 possible social levels, to which we English speakers are hopelessly and slobbishly insensitive. We can't even think about some of the topics which are of great moment in Korean culture. So please, hasten to your bookshelves and read, or re-read, your Sapir. --Rudy Troike (rtroike[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]