521-Class 16

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Issues in language and thought: an overview[edit]

Readings: Bloom & Keil (2001); Levinson (2003); Boroditsky (2010)

Most of these readings should be review at this point. Please have a look at this debate for more pro/con arguments for the idea that language affects the way we think.

Study Questions[edit]

Bloom & Keil (2000)

  • What are four distinctions of the ‘language-affects-thought claim’ listed by Bloom and Keil?
  • What are their criticisms of Whorf’s Hopi example?
  • What are their alternative explanations for Lucy and Gaskin’s (2001) results on Yucatec Maya?
  • What was the main finding in Levinson’s (1996) study on Dutch and Tenejapan speakers and why do the authors claim that the results are “methodologically impressive”?
  • According to Bloom & Keil, is knowledge of a language needed for all causal and social reasoning? What reasons do they give to support their point?
  • According to the authors, how might language help memory and account for infantile amnesia?
  • What is the ‘strongest version’ of the claim that language influences concepts? Do the authors agree with the ‘strongest version’? Why or why not?
  • What is the ‘interesting claim’ and what is the ‘trivial claim’ for how language influences thought?

Levinson (2003)

  • According to Levinson, what is simple nativism?
  • What is Levinson’s argument against it?
  • How does Levinson demonstrate that languages vary in semantics and form?
  • According to Levinson, why are Conceptual Representations (CR) not universal?
  • According to Levinson, how does linguistic coding affect perceptual discriminability?
  • What evidence does Levinson cite for how linguistic coding “is both a facilitator of a specific cognitive style and a bottleneck”?
  • What is Levinson’s argument against the claim that children must already have conceptual bundles in their mind before learning language, if not language learning would be an impossibly difficult task?

Boroditsky (2010)

  • According to Boroditsky, how does research on relative spatial reference frames and absolute reference frames in language show that language influences thought? How does Boroditsky argue that the influence extends to abstract thought?
  • What evidence does Boroditsky cite for how language affects color perception?
  • What evidence does she cite for how grammar affects thought?
  • How does Boroditsky argue for the causality of the effect of language on thought? How does she address alternative explanations (e.g., the environment, experience) and what other arguments does she make?
  • What is non-linguistic thought? According to Boroditsky, what are some effects of language on non-linguistic thought?
  • According to Boroditsky, is language a straitjacket for thought (i.e., is language necessary for thought)? What evidence does she cite to support her position?