Chapter 3: Language and thinking: the root of difference
One of the fundamental premises of this book is that the cognitive modes of different cultures differ, and it is essential to understand these differences in order to conduct unambiguous and effective cross-cultural communications and to understand fully the other party’s true meaning or intention for effective strategic development. Why, then, should cognitions differ among different cultures? What is the root of these differences? In the West, the idea that language influences human thought emerged at least as early as 1836 in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt, a German philosopher, and it has long been an interesting question among linguists, philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists. A considerable body of literature can be found that has examined the language–thought relationship. Harold Innis is considered the first scholar to have explored ideas about how writing influences human thinking patterns. However, to date no consensus on the relationship has been reached. Two earlier major scholars, Benjamin Lee Whorf, an American linguist, and Edward Sapir, an American anthropologist–linguist, have suggested that thought is determined by the words and syntactic structure of a language. This is commonly known as the ‘Sapir–Whorf hypothesis’ or ‘Whorfian hypothesis’. It includes the following key points: ‘(1) languages vary in their semantic partitioning of the world; (2) the structure of one’s language influences the manner in which one perceives and understands the world; (3) therefore, speakers of different languages will perceive the world differently.’
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