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Re: [xmca] FW: NYTimes.com: Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

Mike and Vera
I followed your recommendations to read Lucy and so I googled his website
and located an "older" [1987] chapter he authored with James Wertsch titled
"Vygotsky and Whorf: A Comparative Analysis." in the edited book "Social and
Functional Approaches to Language and Thought".  Mike, I'm aware you
suggested reading Lucy's RECENT writings, so if he has changed his position
and become more critical of Whorf's ideas I would appreciate a suggestion
for more recent writings.

I'm also cognizant of the criticisms and "trauma" Mike has alerted me to be
aware of in reflecting on Whorf's theories. With that caution in mind, I
would like to summarize the points that Lucy and Wertsch recommended for
future research in their 1987 chapter.

Whorf's approach to the relation between thought and language was based on 3
1) The relation was concerned with large scale patterns of thought
2)concerned with HABITUAL thought
3)concerned with conceptual thought rather than perception.

These assumptions led Whorf to adopt a synchronic, comparative-interpretive
approach in his attempt to understand the role of language in human
thought.  This approach contrasts with Vygotsky's diachronic,
historical-developmental approach.  Now in 1987, Lucy and Wertsch comment
that these two approaches, though very different, in many ways COMPLEMENT,
rather than contradict each other. They state "It is this complementarity
that is most suggestive for future research.... Future research on the
significance of language for thought will profit from a creative
integration  of important features from both approaches.  (p.84)

Lucy and Wertsch suggest 3 implications of an integrated approach.

1) One implication of an integrated approach is that the use of language in
thought provides certain advantages but also entails certain costs.
Socially shared generalizations constitute a set of SPECIFIC classifications
of experience, and the specificity sets a certain direction to HABITUAL
thought that is extraordinarily difficult to surmount, in essence a
linquistic relativity.  A unified approach would recognize the potential
advantages recognized by Vygotsky and the costs emphasized by Whorf.

2) A second implication of an integrated approach is that any linquistic
relativity should increase during development. Early "lower" intellectual
activity should be relatively free of linquistic influences. As the child
develops true concepts which are abstract and have SYSTEMATIC internal
relations to one another, the way of organizing experience characteristic of
the language should become even more apparent.

3) A third implication of an integrated approach is that there may be
general historical changes in the USES of language.  Those modes of thought
(ie scientific) which use or rely on language forms most heavily are exactly
those forms which will be most bound by language.  Whorf by focusing on
form-meaning STRUCTURES as interpretive devices was led to minimize the
significant HISTORICAL evolution of the uses of language in thought.  If, as
Vygotsky suggests, there is a general development in the way language is
used in thought - more systematic, more explicit reliance on language in
modern society - it will not only produce new, perhaps more sophisticated
TYPES of conceptual forms, but it may also amplify the IMPACT OF THE
PARTICULAR interpretive forms of the languages involved. Thus, layered over
a general linquistic relativity based on the shaping force of language,
would be a second more specific level of relativity grounded in the cultural
RELIANCE on and, ultimately, REIFICATION of specific grammatical and lexical
forms, characteristic of modern Western societies. Whorf recognized the
potential for such an amplification of using language when he criticized the
human tendency to make a provisional analysis of reality and then regard it
as final. He emphasized that "Western culture has gone farthest hear,
farthest in determining thoroughness of provisional analysis, and farthest
in determination to regard it as final" (1956, p.263 as quoted in Lucy and
Wertsch P.85)

Mike, in 1987, it seems Lucy and Wertsch saw  the complementary value of
trying to integrate Vygotsky's diachronic historical-developmental model of
the interplay of language and thought in generating verbal thinking with
Whorf's synchronic comparative-interpretive approach. In the past 23 years,
since this chapter was written, Whorf's models of linquistic relativity may
have been refuted by empirical research, and his synchronic
comparative-interpretive approach found objectionable [not
historical-developmental]  However, the term "HABITS of mind" is a notion
from Whorf that may be productively explored.

In the New York article the concrete example of how a person orients in
space, which was contrasted as either referencing the "embodied self" or
"external coordinates" is an intriguing abductive conjecture. I don't know
if these contrasting "habits" of mind are a speculative conjecture, or is
this difference a "fact"?  If it is a fact, established empirically, then it
is a surprising fact that  needs to be explained.  Orienting to landscapes
seems to include sensory, motor, perceptual, and conceptual aspects and both
higher and lower cognitive processes are implicated.  This surprising "fact"
leads to questions of the interplay of language and thought.


On Sun, Aug 29, 2010 at 12:30 PM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

> So lets focus on the good part. Sorry I go hung up on the opening rhetoric.
> I tire of peope literally "making news" by trashing their progenitors. Very
> popular way to get a career started but generally not a great way to learn
> how to supercede your progenitors.
> The topic is certainly important. Might even have something to do with the
> nature of thinking and speech!
> mike
> On Sun, Aug 29, 2010 at 12:19 PM, Vera John-Steiner <vygotsky@unm.edu
> >wrote:
> > Hi Larry,
> >
> > I agree with Mike that the Whorf article in the N.Y. Times is overblown
> (in
> > terms of Whorf's claims) and it does not give named credit to the new
> wave
> > of researchers, including Lucy, Boroditsky and others. But focus on the
> > relationsip of  language and thought is a welcome
> > topic for public discussion,and a useful one for xmca.
> > Vera
> > ----- Original Message ----- From: "Larry Purss" <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
> > To: <lchcmike@gmail.com>; "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <
> > xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> > Sent: Saturday, August 28, 2010 1:20 PM
> > Subject: Re: [xmca] FW: NYTimes.com: Does Your Language Shape How You
> > Think?
> >
> >
> >  Mike
> >> As my previous post mentioned this "pop psycholinquistics" way of
> >> explaining
> >> phenomena I found intriguing.  What do you see as the fundamental error
> in
> >> this line of thinking.
> >> Specifically on the position he articulates on "orientation in space"
> and
> >> "landscapes" Do you question the basic premise that one cultural group
> >> could
> >> habitually orient by egocentric references to "my" body" while other
> >> cultural groups habitually orient by cardinal coordinates.
> >> If these "facts" can be empirically established then what would be a
> >> better,
> >> more coherent way to explain these habitual ways of responding to
> >> landsapes?
> >>
> >> Larry
> >>
> >> On Sat, Aug 28, 2010 at 10:40 AM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> >>
> >>  Peter-- This article seemed like pop psycholinguistics to me. The
> >>> "trauma"
> >>> of whorf?
> >>>
> >>> There is a lot of work, call it "neo-whorfian" on relations between
> >>> language
> >>> and thought. The recent writings of John Lucy come to mind, but many
> >>> others
> >>> as well.
> >>>
> >>> mike
> >>>
> >>> On Sat, Aug 28, 2010 at 6:16 AM, smago <smago@uga.edu> wrote:
> >>>
> >>> >
> >>> >
> >>>
> >>>
> http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&emc=eta1&adxnnlx=1283000763-rynkTFk68LNetdkYjfAi8Q
> >>> > _______________________________________________
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> >>> >
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