Monday, January 4, 2016

Dr. John McWhorter Lecture - The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language


Talk Synopsis: Academics and the media traditionally publicize a theory that the lexical and grammatical structures of a language shape how its speakers think, such that we might suppose that languages correspond to the cultures of their speakers not just in lending them words to express what they value, but in channeling how they process reality in subconscious fashion. In this talk I will show that while psychologists have indeed found that language channels thought in subtle ways unconnected with culture, the idea that language develops according to the "needs" of the people who speak it does not hold up empirically, and the very idea threatens as much condescension and dismissal as praise. Cultures show how people differ; language shows what people have in common.