Boas’s principal points are thus that language is the classification of experience. Importantly, the ways in which classifications within languages occur vary dramatically from language to language. Boas believed that the classifications reflected both the universal aspects of humanity and the cultural and historical experience of individual cultures. He also emphasised that these classifications are unconscious.
Edward Sapir, who was a student of Boas’s, expanded upon the work of his mentor. He asserted that any given language is “a complete system of reference” and that languages differed in the “systemisation of fundamental concepts.” Sapir argued that a simple sentence in English can contain many concepts, but that the analogous sentence in other languages could and did contain addition concepts and lacked some that existed in the English version. As such different languages have developed different ideas of what concepts are necessary when communicating an idea. In some cases this is because the stating of some concepts are considered unnecessary. Where Sapir’s hypothesis differs from Boas’s is that he believed that linguistic classifications chanels thought.He believed that thought arose from language classification because thought was the ultimate version of language. He described the relationship between language and thought as being, “The instrument makes possible the product, the product refines the instrument.
” What he means to say is that without language, thought would not be possible, but that thought refines language. In this way he believed that thought was held back by the limitations and biases of language. It was Sapir’s opinion that culture influenced language not in its vocabulary, but in its morphological properties.
Sapir concluded that the evidence did not support the hypothesis that there was a “correlation between these environments [social and physical] and grammatical structure”. Sapir explained a more complex relationship between culture, thought and language as being as follows. “Culture may be defined as what a society does and thinks. Language is a particular how of thought.
” Following on from this is the conclusion that language is dependant upon culture as language is just the manner in which culture and thought are expressed.It is Sapir’s opinion that there is some form of relationship between language, thought, culture, and by extension, social reality. What exactly that relationship is is still debated to this day, but a relationship does exist. Sapir’s assertion that language is a formative factor in thought means that any differences between languages, be they structural or in vocabulary, will have some, if only a minute, effect on the thoughts of the speaker. As a result of the fact the thoughts of the speaker are different from that of a speaker of a different language means they are going to view the world differently.
It is our view of the world that shapes our culture, and by extension our social reality. An extreme example of this is to be found in the novel by George Orwell, 1984. In it a totalitarian government is creating a new language. The aim of this language is to properly reflect the ideology of the state.
As a result of the structural and lexical between English and Newspeak, as the invented language is called, society will change. The structure of the language is one that does not encourage familiarity, individual thought, or in fact, thought at all.Entire concepts that we take for granted, democracy, free speech and love, do not exist in Newspeak. Through its structure Newspeak does not encourage abstract thought, only the absolute necessary to carry out your duties is allowed. If the vocabulary does not exist, then the concepts, for all intents and purposes, do not exist.
Humanity, however, are not a species that stagnate. Given the opportunity, new labels would be attributed to many of the concepts that Newspeak originally disposed of.This is simply because there are concepts, such as love, that cannot, for whatever reason, be suppressed. In the case of Newspeak, however, the language would be policed in order to suppress any unsanctioned changes to the language. Even if the language did gain its own independence, however, it would not return to what we call English.
This is because in the intervening time culture and society would have changed, and so the view of the world of the speakers of this language would not be the same as ours and our English would not satisfactorily reflect their social reality.Sapir took Boas’s concept of “experience in language” and developed the idea of language being a “formally complete system”. Boas believed that language principally reflected thought and culture while Sapir initially believed language to be a shaping factor of thought and culture. Later, he did to a certain extent rethink his view on the influence of language on thought.
Although there is still a great deal of work to be still done in this field, there is one certainty, language and thought are inextricably linked to one another. What is left to be fully determined is the exact nature of this relationship.