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Language differences

Language differences

Willhelm Von Humboldt

1767 - 1835

Prussia (North Germany)

Philosopher and Linguist

Language is a rule-based system

Said it before Chomsky

Humboldt ALSO said

Language carries the spirit of a nation

The way we think is mixed up with language

The way we see the world is mixed up with language

No language is SEPARATE from everything

Universal Grammar

Language MODULE in the brain


The way we see the world is mixed up with language


Shut up! SEPARATE!

Edward Sapir

Benjamin Lee Whorf

Language shapes thought

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Strong version language determines thought

Weak version language INFLUENCES thought

Shut up! SEPARATE!

Who is right?I Dontknow

Cognitive LinguisticsNo evidence for Universal GrammarLanguage and thought cannot be separatedLanguage and thought influence each otherA bit like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Shut up! SEPARATE!

Blank slate (John Locke)

Nativism (innateness) Immanuel Kant

Nativism we are born with knowledge

Nativism -- Descartes

Its an old argumentWhos right?IDont Know

George Lakoff

Mind and body are connected

Language is embodied

Language CANNOT be separate

How about colors?

Different language classify .

in different ways

Whats this?

Any other language differences?

ClusivityWe are the greatest!Does this INCLUDE the person you are speaking to?Or not?Not clear in EnglishSome languages make this clearHow about Japanese?

AgreementSo you arent going to the party tomorrowHow do you answer?Lets say its true that you arent going to the partySo you answer NoThat means No. Im not going to the party

So youre not going to the party tomorrow?No.No. Im not.No. Im not going to the party.

Are you going to the party tomorrow?No (Im not)Yes (I am)

Didnt you do the homework?YesYes, I didNoNo, I didnt

So you dont like meYes, I do like you (?)No, I dont like you

Its confusingWhats going on?Anyway, some languages do things very differently

Word orderEnglishSVO



SVOAbout 36% of languages

SOVAbout 41% of languages

VSOOnly about 9% of languages

Word order in English is kind of fixed

Some languages have special markers

-wa or ga marking subjects

-o marking objects

Case markers

Usually makes it easier to move things around

Only certain words marked for case

He is subject-marked

Nominative case

Object-markingI saw himHim is marked as an object-like wordI gave the book to him

I consider him to be a geniusAccusative case

AnywayIf languages have case markersOr dont have case markersDoes that have an effect on the way we thinkOr see the world?

How about questions?

How do the worlds languages handle questions?

EnglishJohn saw [Mary][Who] did John see?

Words moving around and changing order?What for?Its pointless!

Most languages DONT do thatJohn saw MaryThey use question-markers somewhereQ John saw MaryJohn saw Mary Q

Or intonationJohn saw Mary?

Most languages?Over 60% of languages use question markersJust like JapaneseSo English is VERY unusualIs it OK to think all languages are basically the same?


What do I think?IDontKnow

What do you think?Less than 2% of the worlds languages move words around in questionsThe point is what?What is the point?

How about politeness?Languages like Japanese have special polite word endingsVerbs mark levels of formalityEnglish doesnt do that

English-speakers dont care about politenessLend me your penCould you lend me your pen?I wonder if you could lend my your pen?I was just wondering if it might be at all possible for you to lend me your pen.

Politeness is more creative in English?Do English speakers care more about politeness than Japanese speakers?

TimeTime is always mixed up in English sentencesI saw JohnThats in the pastI saw John yesterdayWe know its in the past because its yesterdayWhy do we need the information on the verb?I see John yesterday (Very bad)

Why is English obsessed with time?I had already eaten the apple by the time you came home yesterday.

Chinese doesnt have time mixed up with verbsThey dont have a problem understandingWhy does English do that?And can all languages really be basically the same?


Differences in pitch

Higher or lower

All languages have differences in pitch

Differences in pitchAre you completely crazy?I am completely sick of this boring class!I feel like crying.

In some languages

the meaning of words changes

depending on the pitch

We call them tones

So Chinese is a tonal language

Tonal languages are rare in Europe

Rare in Asia (except East Asia)

Maybe 70% of languages are tonal!

Funny soundsLanguages like XhosaFrom South AfricaSeven million speakersLots of funny click noisesHow does this affect the way you think?Are they just cleverer than us?

Frame of reference

Everything is relative

To your left or right

It depends on the person or objct

Next to

To the left to the right

Some languages dont do it like this

Some languages have NO words like this!!?

Guugu YimithirrAustralian aboriginal languageNo relative direction wordsEverything is North, South etc!!

So they ALWAYS know the direction!!I NEVER know the direction!!!They ARE cleverer than us!

Guugu YimithirrAustralian aboriginal languageNo relative direction wordsEverything is North, South etc!!

What happens if you lose the ability to tell North?You also lose the ability to speak the language?

Guugu YimithirrYou have got to be joking!Notice the pitch differences in that sentence

Anyway, I dont knowBut what do you think?I was just wondering if you might like to think about these language differences?Arent I polite?