[ Content | View menu ]

NPR on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Mark Mzyk | April 12, 2009

A while back I wrote about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.  In a serendipitous coincidence, NPR ran a story recently that directly relates to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: Shakespeare Had Roses All Wrong.  While the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis isn’t mentioned, it clearly is involved.

The story touches on languages and how gender in languages affects thinking.  It is highlighted that Spanish speakers and Germany speakers pick different adjectives to describe a bridge, based on the fact that in one language a bridge is male, in the other, female.

The story goes on to talk about how scientists set up an experiment to determine if it was language that the differences could be attributed to.  They determined it is language and that you can shift people’s thinking by teaching them a language that uses different gender constructs.

The story then goes on to talk about Shakespeare’s famous line: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Here’s the actual, full quote:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
Act II, Scene II. Romeo and Juliet

It’s a very interesting story and well worth the seven minutes it takes to listen to.

As an added bonus, Knowing and Doing just posted a post titled Language Driven Programming, which tackles many of the same themes and applies them to programming languages.