Language Hotspots and Biodoversity
What does Harrison (2007, Chapter 2) consider to be some important differences between scientific classification of animals and plants, and folk classification, as reflected in languages?
The Kayapó of Brazil distinguish 56 folk species of bees, divided into 15 folk families (see Harrison, 2007, Chapter 2). Genetic taxonomy now divides these into 66 species. But in what ways might the Kayapó folk classification be richer?
English grammar appears to care a lot about tense, definiteness, and plurality. In trying to discover traditional ecological knowledge, researchers must learn indigenous languages that place more importance on different grammatical concepts (see Evans, 2009, Ch.4; McWhorter, 2013, Ch.4). Briefly describe the following linguistic ideas: (i) evidentiality; (ii) volitionality.
72 The Language Hoax
Chomskyan conceptions of an abstract universal grammar
that models English and Japanese as the same language with
a different set of switch flips. How we talk is, certainly,
connected to how we are.
As such, there are ways that language intersects with culture
beyond those I have discussed here. I take issue with the approaches
and conclusions of none of them, and even on the
basis of this brief chapter, the case rests: language would seem
to have an awful lot to do with culture.
What this book takes issue with is a specific question. Does
a language’s structure, in terms of what it does with words and
how it puts them together, conspire to shape thought to such
an extent that we would reasonably term it a “worldview,” a
perspective on life robustly different from that of someone
whose language structures words and grammar differently?
Does every language, as Jack Hitt phrased it, have “its unique
theology and philosophy” quietly but mind-alteringly ‘buried
in its very sinews”?
Many feel that the answer to that question is yes, but their
grounds for that conclusion create as many problems as they
solve. I can now explain why, with it clear that I am arguing not
that language and culture have no relationship but that they
are separate in an aspect highly particular but widely discussed
and with significant implications. Let us move on, for example,
Dissing the Chinese
MucH OF THE APPEAL of Whorfianism is the idea that other
people’s languages lead them to pay more attention to certain
things than English speakers do. Investigators seek to show
that certain particularities of a language make people more
sensitive to the material of things, to grades of blueness, to the
gender that their language happens to assign to inallimate
objects. Indeed, many languages are chock full of constructions
that call attention to nuances of environment that an
English sp.~aker would scarcely imagine any language’s grammar
would have anything to do with. One duly supposes that
all of the bells and whistles in such a language might indicate a
kind of hypersensitivity to certain facets of living-that the
rest of us ought marvel at and perhaps even take a page from.
The Normal Language: Beyond English Indeed
Part of what got thinkers like Whorf and other specialists in
Native American languages into this frame of mind is that
those languages tend to be janglingly elaborate in terms of