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bridging semantic concepts and phonetic representations

March 14, 2010 Leave a comment

formerly located at Wikipedia: Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis # Experimental support (which also no longer exists, redirecting to “linguistic determinism”), but still available in edit history or elsewhere online like this

Experimental support

The most extreme opposing position – that language has absolutely no influence on thought – is widely considered to be false (Gumperz: introduction to Gumperz 1996). But the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that language determines thought, is also thought to be incorrect. Whorf himself never held this strong version; it is more of a theoretical construct employed as a foil. The most common view is that the truth lies somewhere in between the two. Current linguists, rather than studying whether language affects thought, are studying how it affects thought. Earlier, the bulk of the research was concentrated on supporting or disproving the hypothesis; the experimental data have not been able to disprove it. (Lucy 1992; Gumperz & Levinson 1996)

Investigation into the recall of linguistic entities confirms that the brain stores associations between semantic concepts (like the idea of a house) and phonetic representation (the sounds that make up the word “house”). The initial sounds are more important for recall purposes than later sounds. Relationships between semantic concepts are also stored, but indirect relationships between unrelated concepts can be inadvertently triggered by a “bridge” through a phonetic relationship. For example, one experiment showed participants photographs and asked them to name the item depicted. Participants who saw a picture of a cherry pit later responded more quickly and accurately when shown a picture of actor Brad Pitt.