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08 NOVEMBER 2008

Language may shape human thought

"Hunter–gatherers from the Pirahã tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration, revealed the study.

Experts agree that the startling result provides the strongest support yet for the controversial hypothesis that the language available to humans defines our thoughts. So–called 'linguistic determinism' was first proposed in 1950 but has been hotly debated ever since.

'It is a very surprising and very important result,' says Lisa Feigenson, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, US, who has tested babies' abilities to distinguish between different numerical quantities. 'Whether language actually allows you to have new thoughts is a very controversial issue.'
Gordon says this is the first convincing evidence that a language lacking words for certain concepts could actually prevent speakers of the language from understanding those concepts.

Science Express (19 August 2004/ Page 1/ 10.1126/science.1094492)"
(Celeste Biever)

[this adds weight to the social constructionist notion that reality is formed through our use of language (not that language is merely an impartial carrier of information)]



Brazilconceptualisation • counting • culturehabits of mind • Hiaitiihi • hunter-gatherers • knowledgelanguagelanguage habits • linguistic determinism • linguisticsmathematicsNew Scientist • numbers • numeracy • Pirahã • social constructionismthoughttribetruth


Simon Perkins

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