The linguistic relativity theory suggests that the language a person speaks will influence the way they perceive the world (Wilson and Keil 2001). This is also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The stronger view known as linguistic determinism suggests that “speakers’ thoughts and perceptions are determined or conditioned by the categories that their language makes available to them” (Armstrong, 2005). The weaker version suggests that their thoughts are influenced by the language they use, but not necessarily determine the way you perceive the world.
This paper will use examples to illustrate the relationship between language, world view and beliefs. Each example will be presented from different cultures, followed by an analysis in light of sociolinguistic concepts. My analysis will take place under these headings: Language and Political Views – Abortion Language and the Chinese Culture – Relational Titles Language and the Ghanaian Culture – “Mom” Language and the Pirahi?? Culture Language and Political Views – Abortion
Many pro-life supporters use language to reflect their political beliefs, and this has even had an impact on legislation. For example, due to pro-life activists, abortion providers in South Dakota are required by law to refer to a foetus as “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” (Dominus, 2010). This suggests that by having an abortion, a woman will intentionally end the life of a human being. Not just a human being, but a “whole, separate, unique” human being, which is interesting because that description is tautological (i. e.human beings by definition are already whole, separate and unique), but those three adjectives create the idea of an individual with legal rights, rather than a “dependent clump of cells”.
This shows that the language not only reflects the world view and beliefs of pro-life activists, but can also potentially change the thoughts, world view and belief system of women considering abortion. “Murder” is also a term often used to describe abortion by some pro-life activists, which could be considered to some, a hyperbole of the meaning of the word “abortion”.
Those who are anti-abortion may also refer to a foetus as an “unborn child”, “human life” or the “baby”, rather than an “embryo” or “foetus” – the latter terms are considered closer to medical jargon, and therefore do not have any emotional or human connotations, unlike the former. Using descriptions in this way are an expression of the belief system of people with a particular ideology. It is difficult to determine – without empirical evidence – to what extent this type of language can have on influencing the beliefs of others, but it is clear how powerful, emotive words like “murder”, “unborn child” etc.
reflect people’s world view and beliefs about the controversial issue of abortion. Language and the Chinese culture In attempting to learn Cantonese, I have found one of the many confusing aspects is learning the names of my relatives. In English, we have “sister”, “brother”, “uncle”, “aunt”, “grandma” and “granddad”. However, in Cantonese it is more complicated. When referring to different members of the family, the Chinese are expected to refer to their elders using the “relational title”.