Thursday, September 02, 2004

Chickens and eggs

To everyone out there in cyberspace, welcome to the new academic year, and a special 'hey there' to all new browsers of The Language Legend. Scoot through the archives for all kinds of interesting stuff from last year; save us in your faves folder and come back often cos there's a new post most weeks. And do zap your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions onto the message board cos otherwise I will actually get carted away by the men in white coats for spending way too much time talking to myself...

This week, we're delving deep into New Scientist, and what a great read that mag is! I'm one of the many people almost put off Science for life by a school curriculum of frog dissection and the reproductive habits of the amoeba, but here's a magazine that explains really cool stuff about transmissions from aliens and the language spoken by our Neanderthal ancestors in a totally accessible way.

You can check out those articles using the search facility on the New Scientist webapge, but the one I've been reading is about the old chicken and egg dilemma for linguists: does language have the ability to express anything we can think, or does the language available to us control our ability to think certain things?

That's a pretty hard question, and whilst there are theorists on both sides, proving either case is very tricky. Peter Gordon doesn't claim to have a coherent theory, but his research amongst members of a Brazilian hunter-gatherer tribe is really interesting. The tribe's language only has words for the numbers "one" and "two". Does this affect their ability to perceive different numbers of things? Go check out the link and post your thoughts...

Language may shape human thought


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