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).

Polvo del recuerdo

image

05.04.2016

Lenguas del cielo lamen el desierto
y la humedad que se respira
cumple la profesía
del olor a tierra despertando

De aquellas almas ya no queda rastro
no hay indicio de sus sueños en la roca herida
violentas espirales de viento
sepultan en polvo los recuerdos de esa vida

El Matallana

Wertvolle Gabe – Valuable Gift – Don valioso

„Die wertvollste Gabe ist die Erfindung, der größte Reichtum die Fantasie.“

Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert (2008) von Saša Stanišić (1978)

 

“The most valuable gift is the invention, the greater richness the imagination”

How the soldier repairs the gramophone (2008) by Saša Stanišić (1978)

 

“El don más valioso es la invención, la mayor riqueza la imaginación”

Como el soldado repara el gramófono (2008) de Saša Stanišić (1978)

Summer love

28.09.2015

 

Love

young

love

cheeky and wild,

like your time,

there and here

happy and free

 

From you

in me

nothing remains

but dreams

a couple of poems

and tenderness

 

History

about yon

that once was

a promise,

beautifully vain,

briefly right

 

El Matallana

Amor de verano

25.09.2015

 

Amor

joven amor

salvaje y procaz,

como tu era,

aquí y allí

libre y feliz

 

De ti

en mí

nada queda

más que sueños

ternura

y un poema

 

Historia

sobre aquello

que fue un día

una promesa,

bella vana,

breve cierta

 

El Matallana

Sommerliebe

24.09.2015

 

Liebe

junge Liebe

frech und wild,

wie deine Zeit,

hier und da

glücklich und frei

 

Von dir

in mir

ja nichts bleibt

als Träume

ein paar Gedichte

und Zärtlichkeit

 

Geschichte

über jenes,

das mal war

ein Versprechen,

schön vergeblich,

nur kurz wahr

 

El Matallana

Recuerdo de Maria A.

1

En aquel día en de luna azul Septiembre

Quieto bajo un joven ciruelo

Lo sostuve, al quieto pálido amor

En mi brazo como en un dulce sueño.

Y sobre nosotros en el bello veraniego cielo

Había una nube, que vi largamente

Ella era muy blanca y monstruosamente alta

Y así como la vi, no estaba nunca ahí.

 

2

Desde aquel día muchas, muchas lunas

Han flotado quietas cayendo y de paso

Los ciruelos ya fueron talados

¿Y me preguntas que fue del amor?

Así te lo digo: No puedo acordarme.

Sin embargo, seguro, sé a lo que te refieres

Pero de su rostro, ya nunca más sé

Sólo sé aún: antaño lo besé.

 

3

Y también el beso lo hubiera olvidado hace tiempo

Si la nube no estuviera ahí

De ella sé y he de saber siempre

Ella era muy blanca y venía desde arriba.

Los ciruelos quizá aún florecen

Y aquella mujer tiene tal vez ahora su séptimo hijo

Mas aquella nube floreció sólo minutos

Y así como la vi, desapareció en el viento.

 

Traducción no oficial de “Erinnerung an die Marie A.” de Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956)