Adam Gopnik on linguistic relativism: “Whorfianism [is] the idea that our language forces us to see the world a certain way, and that different languages impose different world views on their speakers. It’s a powerful idea in the pop imagination. It sounds right when you say it. Yet ‘Whorfian’ relativism, at least in its strong forms, is one of those ideas that disappear under any kind of scrutiny. After all, if we were truly prisoners of our language, we shouldn’t be able to use it to see its limits clearly, or to enumerate the concepts that it can’t conceive…. What’s the allure of linguistic relativism? There may be solace in imagining ourselves prisoners of circumstances beyond our control—of language or horoscopes, of God or Capital—and so relieved of responsibility for what we do next. It may also be that linguistic relativism gives a kind of cheap knowingness that we all enjoy: you’re a prisoner of your tongue, but I’m the one who can show that you’re imprisoned. In truth, language seems less like a series of cells in which we are imprisoned than like a set of tools that help us escape: some of the files are rusty; some will open any door; and most you have to jiggle around in the lock. But, sooner or later, most words work.” (from Adam Gopnik’s article, “Word Magic”)
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