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Is your fork masculine or feminine?

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Fork Art picture from ThirdEyeDumb

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“A German woman rarely mistakes her husband for a hat, and Spanish men are not known to confuse a bed with what might be lying in it.”


Actually, I don’t personally know for sure if this is true about German women!   That statement about husbands and hats comes out of an article I read this morning (much too early) called “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?” written by Guy Deutscher and published in the NY Times on Aug 26, 2010.

I think you may find this rather lengthy article useful for language and culture and maybe for understand how to better communicate and live in our multi-cultural world.

Deutscher writes about a now discredited idea of  Benjamin Lee Whorf  from 1940. Whorf “let loose an alluring idea about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think.”  Whorf’s (“racist”? my word not Deutscher) ideas actually were NOT supported by  any evidence. Deutscher writes, “Whorf, we now know, made many mistakes. The most serious one was to assume that our mother tongue constrains our minds and prevents us from being able to think certain thoughts.”

Following are a few more excerpts from Deutscher that discuss a number of new studies on regarding language and culture:

  • “When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world.”
  • “This does not mean, of course, that English speakers are unable to understand the differences between evenings spent with male or female neighbors, but it does mean that they do not have to consider the sexes of neighbors, friends, teachers and a host of other persons each time they come up in a conversation, whereas speakers of some languages are obliged to do so.”
  • “The area where the most striking evidence for the influence of language on thought has come to light is the language of space — how we describe the orientation of the world around us.”
  • “The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies.”

About the fork–you have to read the article to figure that one out!

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