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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Deep thoughts on language and culture

Happy Halloween/Samhain!
Just reading an interesting article from a man in India saying that because the lower castes are not taught English, they are therefore prohibited from getting high paying jobs:
He writes in the article “A Middle-eastern friend was lamenting that they have been driven into an intellectual blind alley because they are stuck with medieval Arabic, which determines their mindset. (Incidentally, their plight is really bad. More books are translated into Spanish in one year than into Arabic in a couple of hundred years!). They are literally trapped in the language of real and imagined pasts. The very idea of progress becomes impossible.”
Assuming the statement above is correct, I think it brings up an interesting argument (and an entire field of anthropology): how much does language influence how we think and view the world? I don't just mean derogatory terms like calling someone a faggot (which is bad enough in itself). I mean like everyday things. For example, in Spanish, a spoon is feminine but a knife is masculine. A road is masculine but a mountain is feminine. How does that effect how they see the world? I know in some south pacific language (maybe papua new guinea?) the word for girl translates as "little mother," or something like that. Just a moment of anthropological introspection.
I’d be interested to hear from someone who actually knows another language (you have seen the extent of my Spanish in the above paragraph: El camino va a la montana. My madre tiene una cuchara. Tengo un cuchillo).