Sprague Word

The future and more from Richard Sprague

Posted by sprague on August 29, 2004

The New Scientist reports an experiment conducted by Article: Language may shape human thought?| New Scientist: “Peter Gordon, a psychologist at Columbia University”, that apparently shows that language shapes thought, at least in the ability to tracks numbers.

Pirahã is a language with a counting system that only includes the concepts “one”, “two”, and “many”. In the experiment, seven speakers are asked to do various tasks that require memory of numbers beyond three and they fail regularly.

I’m not a linguistic determinist, which is the term this article uses for people who believe language shapes thought. I think Benjamin Whorf was wrong, and this experiment may contradict that. So I’d like to see more details before taking this research seriously.


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