Does Language Influence Your Worldview?

old_sea_dog1.jpgOne of the blogs I like – ESL Pundit – has had a couple of intriguing posts about the topic “does language influence a person’s worldview?”. I may be going off on a tangent a bit (another neat thing about ESL Pundit is that each topic is left open enough that people can often take away from it what they like), but here are a few of the interesting language language “thingies” I’ve come across while teaching abroad and some accompanying thoughts.

I suppose in my mind, language, culture, and worldviews are definitely related to some extent – though which influence which and to what degree may be something that is the field of theory and conjecture more than objective research.

I know little about the evolution of languages, but one of the things that strikes me as notable is this: Slavic languages have up to seven grammatical cases (English may be said to have a couple but certainly does not for nouns as a group) and no articles; English has articles whereas Slavic (and many other language groups) don’t. Why did these languages evolve in this way – where a component that is apparently essential to one is nearly totally missing from the other? I don’t intend to claim that the fact that I use “the” and my students in Slovakia don’t is responsible for different social and political attitudes that make up what we normally think of as our worldview; I just feel like there must be some result in the way we think about things.

Similarly with a few concepts represented by one word in one language and two in another: “remember” in Bosnian is both “sjecati” – to pull it up, and “zapamtiti” – to memorize/put it in, “I know” often has “two” translations in other languages – “je sais” for facts and “je connais” for people in French. “I understand” words or a language literally in Bosnian is “razumijem”, to understand a concept or “get it” is “shvacam”. English obviously has a way of expressing this difference in meaning, but only one word.

In Slavic languages there are different endings for nouns when they are associated with numbers…up to five. Then the ending is always the same. It’s hard for me to think of all these things as totally random.

Finally, there is no denying that calling a shark a “sea dog” (“morski pas”) just gives a more favorable image of that particular marine animal. Who’s in charge of shark PR in the Balkans?

Of course all of these examples still don’t answer the question “does culture/a worldview influence language…or does language influence culture”?

Thanks to ESL Pundit for blogging about this neat topic.