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Re: THEORY: language and philosophy [was Re: A question and introduction]

From:Andy Canivet <cathode_ray00@...>
Date:Monday, June 17, 2002, 2:16
>From: "Thomas R. Wier" <trwier@...> > >Right. I haven't been disputing that culture affects language. >What I've been disputing is that organized systems that people >create affects language in any really meaningful way. For example, >there are no Christian cultures whose languages encode things like >"saved" vs. "unsaved", nor Confucian cultures whose language encodes >how "benevolent" one is. These things simply do not occur, perhaps >because it is difficult to see how these things can be discourse- >functionally important in distinguishing actants in a discourse. >Knowing how many people are involved may be important; knowing how >old someone is may be important; knowing what their social rank is >may be important; but knowing someone's religious, philosophical >or political affiliation appears never to have been important enough >for people to want to, say, use distinct pronouns for such social >differences. There many more salient diffentiators out there to use. >More subtle things, like telling time and aspect of an action may >differ from language to language, but appear to occur in languages >whose culture has one philosophy with equal frequency as in languages >of cultures with radically different worldviews. To the very best >of my knowledge, these things simply do not occur. >
Heheh - this is going to be long, but it's the weekend... I think we're actually in agreement for most of this - "philosophy" in the deliberate sense doesn't really have much effect on language (except for specialist vocabulary). As for terms of address, pronouns and such - I also agree. These terms refer to relationships between people, and only the most relevant difference or relationship will be worthy of it's own linguistic reflection; so kinship terms on the basis of faith would seem pretty bizarre. Besides, I would imagine that a situation like our modern one, where many people may speak a common language but hold radically different philosophical views is on the unusual side, in historical terms - one would expect different groups within a socoiety to eventually diverge into different cultures with different (if related) languages. More abstract things, such as telling time and so forth, I do believe must have some influence on language - although perhaps this influence is very minimal or even non-existent at a grammatical level. It certainly exists at the level of language use - consider mythic / epic literature versus modern forms. Mythic stories are timeless, symbolic, and universal. Modern novels are more like historical accounts of the lives of particular individuals. This indicates that somewhere along the way there was a fundamental shift in the way that Western culture views the self in relation to society - the individual is now much more independent and important. I do think much of this change is directly related to the work of Plato, Augustine, Descartes, etc. In this way, I think philosophy does influence language, but only insofar as it influences culture. However, this such change is far from deliberate at that point - it simply reflects a change in conciousness. However - for the sake of a conlang (or at least artlang), I don't see anything wrong with creating a language that is somewhat reflective of the conculture that is supposed to speak it, so long as it doesn't get out of hand. As part of an invented story / world, the language is itself a symbol for the author to use - in the way that Tolkien made the Elven languages light and lyrical and the Orkish tongues harsh and gutteral. Anything beyond this, I think, would be excessive (unless there is a good reason, such as alien species very different from humans, etc.) Andy _________________________________________________________________ Join the world’s largest e-mail service with MSN Hotmail.


John Cowan <jcowan@...>language and philosophy [was Re: A question and