The influence of the mother tongue

“Language has two lives. In its public role, it is a system of conventions agreed upon by a speech community for the purpose of effective communication. But language also has another, private existence, as a system of knowledge that each speaker has internalized in his or her own mind. If language is to serve as an effective means of communication, then the private systems of knowledge in speakers’ minds must closely correspond with the public system of linguistic conventions. And it is because of this correspondence that the public conventions of language can mirror what goes on in the most fascinating and most elusive object in the entire universe, our mind.

This book set out to show, through the evidence supplied by language, that fundamental aspects of our thought are influenced by the cultural conventions of our society, to a much greater extent than is fashionable to admit today. In the first part, it became clear that the way our language carves up the world into concepts has not just been determined for us by nature, and that what we find “natural” depends largely on the conventions we have been brought up on. That is not to say, of course, that each language can partition the world arbitrarily according to its whim. But within the constraints of what is learnable and sensible for communication, the ways in which even the simplest concepts are delineated can vary to a far greater degree than what plain common sense would ever expect. For, ultimately, what common sense finds natural is what it is familiar with.

In the second part, we saw that the linguistic conventions of our society can affect aspects of our thought that go beyond language. The demonstrable impact of language on thinking is very different from what was touted in the past. In particular, no evidence has come to light that our mother tongue imposes limits on our intellectual horizons and constrains our ability to understand concepts or distinctions used in other languages. The real effects of the mother tongue are rather the habits that develop through the frequent use of certain ways of expression. The concepts we are trained to treat as distinct, the information our mother tongue continuously forces us to specify, the details it requires us to be attentive to, and the repeated associations it imposes on us-all these habits of speech can create habits of mind that affect more than merely the knowledge of language itself. We saw examples from three areas of language: spatial coordinates and their consequences for memory patterns and orientation, grammatical gender and its impact on associations, and the concepts of color, which can increase our sensitivity to certain color distinctions.

According to the dominant view among linguists and cognitive scientists today, the influence of language on thought can be considered significant only if it bears on genuine reasoning-if, for instance, one language can be shown to prevent its speakers from solving a logical problem that is easily solved by speakers of another language. Since no evidence for such constraining influence on logical reasoning has ever been presented, this necessarily means-or so the argument goes-that any remaining effects of language are insignificant and that fundamentally we all think in the same way.

But it is all too easy to exaggerate the importance of logical reasoning in our lives. Such an overestimation may be natural enough for those reared on a diet of analytic philosophy, where thought is practically equated with logic and any other mental processes are considered beneath notice. But this view does not correspond with the rather modest role of logical thinking in our actual experience of life. After all, how many daily decisions do we make on the basis of abstract deductive reasoning, compared with those guided by gut feeling, intuition, emotions, impulse, or practical skills? How often have you spent your day solving logical conundrums, compared with wondering where you left your socks? Or trying to remember where your car is in a multilevel parking lot? How many commercials try to appeal to us through logical syllogisms, compared with those that play on colours, associations, allusions? And finally, how many wars have been fought over disagreements in set theory?

The influence of the mother tongue that has been demonstrated empirically is felt in areas of thought such as memory, perception, and associations or in practical skills such as orientation. And in our actual experience of life, such areas are no less important than the capacity for abstract reasoning, probably far more so.”

THROUGH the LANGUAGE GLASS – Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages (2010), Guy Deutscher (1969). Pages 233 to 235, published by Arrow Books (2011).

De ecos

06.03.2018

 

Por supuesto que no guardo rencor

tengo suerte de haber podido ir más allá

de eso

casi que los veo con ternura

a pesar de la rabia

y la impotencia

porque el pasado poco cambia

 

Digamos que trato de entenderlos

de descifrar por qué hicieron lo que hicieron

¿Por qué tomaron esas decisiones?

¿Por qué ignoraron lo que ahora parece tan evidente?

No sé qué sentir

Su fracaso me ha hecho lo que soy

y sin su estupidez no hubiera hecho lo que he hecho

sólo tengo eso

la especulación es locura o dramatismo

y lo que no fue

no ha sido simplemente

 

¿Cuántas vidas tendré que vivir para reparar su daño?

¿Dónde comienza o termina mi pasado?

¿Cuáles son mis responsabilidades?

 

El presente se confunde entre el sueño y el deseo.

El pasado es una seca fuente de verdades.

Ojalá el futuro no sea remordimiento.

 

El Matallana

Zitat aus Drachenläufer

“Manchmal, wenn Soraya ruhig neben mir schlief, lag ich wach im Bett, horchte auf die Tür mit dem Insektengitter, die im Wind aufschwang und wieder zufiel, auf das Zirpen der Grillen im Garten. Und ich konnte geradezu die Leere in Sorayas Leib spüren, wie ein lebendes, atmendes Ding. Diese Leere hatte sich in unsere Ehe geschlichen, in unser Lachen und in unser Liebesspiel. Und in der Nacht spürte ich in der Dunkelheit unseres Zimmers, wie sie von Soraya aufstieg und sich zwischen uns legte. Zwischen uns schlief. Wie ein neugeborenes Kind.”

Drachenläufer (2004) – Khaled Hosseini (1965). Die Originalausgabe erschien 2003 unter dem Titel The Kite Runner.

Fantasía

22.12.2017

?Dónde está la fantasía?

Repiten la vida

que otros quieren que repitan

Y tratan de convencerme

con sueños que son ajenos

no de ellos

ni bellos

una espiral sin sentido

que no causa vértigo

sino somnolencia

o ligera hipnosis

 

Me preguntan sobre poesía

como si un poema fuera una cosa de esas

que llevan en los bolsillos

u otra de las banderas que les recuerdan su valía

sin valor

y sin substancia

 

Se miran a los espejos todo el día

porque las aguas cristalinas quedan demasiado lejos

o les asustan

o ya no existen

 

Yo siento que mi alma desaparece porque nadie la nombra

me pierdo en un bosque de voces que nada dicen

que giran perpetuamente

alimentando un monstruo antiguo

que nos devora inclementemente

 

Los mares de este mundo me rodean

soy libre de vez en cuando

cuando las nubes blancas se levantan

sobre el azul horizonte

 

Su honesta sonrisa me miente

yo quiero creerle

y creer en ti fantasía

en una vida sin futuros o pasados

en un instante que me pertenece

 

Vámonos pronto amada

corazón de melón

alegría

nada nos espera ya en su nada

sólo nuestra vida

fantasía

 

El Matallana

Are you really autonomous?

Autonomy*

The attainment of autonomy is manifested by the release or recovery of three capacities: awareness, spontaneity and intimacy.

Awareness

Awareness means the capacity to see a coffeepot and hear the birds sing in one’s own way, and not the way one was taught. It may be assumed on good grounds that seeing and hearing have a different quality for infants than for grownups (1), and that they are more aesthetic and less intellectual in the first’ years of life. A little boy sees and hears birds with delight. Then the “good father” comes along and feels he should “share” the experience and help his son “develop.” He says: “That’s a jay, and this is a sparrow.” The moment the little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing. He has to see and hear them the way his father wants him to. Father has good reasons on his side, since few people can afford to go through life listening to the birds sing, and the sooner the little boy starts his “education” the better. Maybe he will be an ornithologist when he grows up. A few people, however, can still see and hear in the old way. But most of the members of the human race have lost the capacity to be painters, poets or musicians, and are not left the option of seeing and hearing directly even if they can afford to; they must get it secondhand. The recovery of this ability is called here “awareness.” Physiologically awareness is eidetic perception, allied to eidetic imagery (2). Perhaps there is also eidetic perception, at least in certain individuals, in the spheres of taste, smell and kinesthesia, giving us the artists in those fields: chefs, perfumers and dancers, whose eternal problem is to find audiences capable of appreciating their products.

Awareness requires living in the here and now, and not in the elsewhere, the past or the future. A good illustration of possibilities, in American life, is driving to work in the morning in a hurry. The decisive question is: “Where is the mind when the body is here?” and there are three common cases.

1. The man whose chief preoccupation is being on time is the one who is furthest out. With his body at the wheel of his car, his mind is at the door of his office, and he is oblivious to his immediate surroundings except insofar as they are obstacles to the moment when his soma will catch up with his psyche. This is the Jerk, whose chief concern is how it will look to the boss. If he is late, he will take pains to arrive out of breath. The compliant Child is in command, and his game is “Look How Hard I’ve Tried.” While he is driving, he is almost completely lacking in autonomy, and as a human being he is in essence more dead than alive. It is quite possible that this is the most favorable condition for the development of hypertension or coronary disease.

2. The Sulk, on the other hand, is not so much concerned with arriving on time as in collecting excuses for being late. Mishaps, badly timed lights and poor driving or stupidity on the part of others fit well into his scheme and are secretly welcomed as contributions to his rebellious Child or righteous Parent game of “Look What They Made Me Do.” He, too, is oblivious to his surroundings except as they subscribe to his game, so that he is only half alive. His body is in his car, but his mind is out searching for blemishes and injustices.

3. Less common is the “natural driver,” the man to whom driving a car is a congenial science and art. As he makes his way swiftly and skillfully through the traffic, he is at one with his vehicle. He, too, is oblivious of his surroundings except as they offer scope for the craftsmanship which is its own reward, but he is very much aware of himself and the machine which he controls so well, and to that extent he is alive. Such driving is formally an Adult pastime from which his Child and Parent may also derive satisfaction.

4. The fourth case is the person who is aware, and who will not hurry because he is living in the present moment with the environment which is here: the sky and the trees as well as the feeling of motion. To hurry is to neglect that environment and to be conscious only of something that is still out of sight down the road, or of mere obstacles, or solely of oneself. A Chinese man started to get into a local subway train, when his Caucasian companion pointed out that they could save twenty minutes by taking an express, which they did. When they got off at Central Park, the Chinese man sat down on a bench, much to his friend’s surprise. “Well,” explained the former, “since we saved twenty minutes, we can afford to sit here that long and enjoy our surroundings.” The aware person is alive because he knows how he feels, where he is and when it is. He knows that after he dies the trees will still be there, but he will not be there to look at them again, so he wants to see them now with as much poignancy as possible.

Spontaneity

Spontaneity means option, the freedom to choose and express one’s feelings from the assortment available (Parent feelings, Adult Feelings and Child feelings). It means liberation, liberation from the compulsion to play games and have only the feelings one was taught to have.

Intimacy

Intimacy means the spontaneous, game-free candidness of an aware person, the liberation of the eidetically perceptive, uncorrupted Child in all its naïveté living in the here and now. It can be shown experimentally (3) that eidetic perception evokes affection, and that candidness mobilizes positive feelings, so that there is even such a thing as “one-sided intimacy” – a phenomenon well known, although not by that name, to professional seducers, who are able to capture their partners without becoming involved themselves. This they do by encouraging the other person to look at them directly and to talk freely, while the male or female seducer makes only a well-guarded pretense of reciprocating.

Because intimacy is essentially a function of the natural Child (although expressed in a matrix of psychological and social complications), it tends to turn out well if not disturbed by the intervention of games. Usually the adaptation to Parental influences is what spoils it, and most unfortunately this is almost a universal occurrence. But before, unless and until they are corrupted, most infants seem to be loving (4), and that is the essential nature of intimacy, as shown experimentally.

REFERENCES

  1. Berne, E. “Primal Images & Primal Judgment.” Psychiatric Quarterly. 29: 634-658, 1955.
  2. Jaensch, E. R. Eidetic Imagery. Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York, 1930.
  3. These experiments are still in the pilot stage at the San Francisco Social Psychiatry Seminars. The effective experimental use of transactional analysis requires special training and experience, just as the effective experimental use of chromatography or infrared spectrophotometry does. Distinguishing a game from a pastime is no easier than distinguishing a star from a planet. See Berne, E. “The Intimacy Experiment.” Transactional Analysis Bulletin. 3: 113, 1964. “More About Intimacy.” Ibid. 3: 125, 1964.
  4. Some infants are corrupted or starved very early (marasmus, some colics) and never have a chance to exercise this capacity.

 

* Adapted from: Eric Berne M.D. (1910-1970). Games People Play – The Psychology of Human Relationships (1964). Chapter 16, page 158.

We and They

Father and Mother, and Me,

Sister and Auntie say

All the people like us are We,

And every one else is They.

And They live over the sea,

While We live over the way,

But-would you believe it? – They look upon We

As only a sort of They!

 

We eat pork and beef

With cow-horn-handled knives.

They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,

Are horrified out of Their lives;

While they who live up a tree,

And feast on grubs and clay,

(Isn’t it scandalous? ) look upon We

As a simply disgusting They!

 

We shoot birds with a gun.

They stick lions with spears.

Their full-dress is un-.

We dress up to Our ears.

They like Their friends for tea.

We like Our friends to stay;

And, after all that, They look upon We

As an utterly ignorant They!

 

We eat kitcheny food.

We have doors that latch.

They drink milk or blood,

Under an open thatch.

We have Doctors to fee.

They have Wizards to pay.

And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We

As a quite impossible They!

 

All good people agree,

And all good people say,

All nice people, like Us, are We

And every one else is They:

But if you cross over the sea,

Instead of over the way,

You may end by (think of it!) looking on We

As only a sort of They!

 

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

The Shadow: It is as evil as we are positive

“Where there is light, there must be shadow, and where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow. Karl Jung said this about ‘the Shadow’ in one of his books: ‘It is as evil as we are positive…the more desperately we try to be good and wonderful and perfect, the more the Shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive…The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the Shadow descends to hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.”

1Q84 (Book 2, Chapter 13), 2011Haruki Murakami (1949).