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  1. #1
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Casiopea






    Well, it's not ... a theory. Sapir–Whorf hypothesis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Today researchers disagree — often intensely — about how strongly language influences thought.


    Yes, and what is your definition of theory, or rather difference between a theory and a hypothesis?

    "theory is not necessarily based on facts; True descriptions of reality are more reflectively understood as statements which would be true independently of what people think about them. In this usage, the word is synonymous with hypothesis."

    Also, the Worf hypothesis is quite new - 2005 - and I am not surprised that, as you said, it received a strong reaction. But so did the other theories while in their childhood. Copernicus was sentenced to death for revealing his hypothesis that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. What I mean is that all theories are hypotheses which come up with smth new, revolutionizing, and debunk previous "truths." B. Worf hypothesis is also referred to as a theory.
    Theory - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    and may I ask what is your point with your last sentence?
    Last edited by bianca; 31-Jul-2007 at 12:51.

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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    So, are you arguing that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a theory?

    There's more on the controvesy here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, the author of which writes:
    Whorfism has not only fallen out of favor and has never been backed up by rigorous studies, it has also been used, again and again, to support the idea that indigenous languages are inprecise, incomplete means of communication which will never suffice for the modern world. Yes, I do know that Safir, Whorf's teacher, was trying to do exactly the opposite: point out the value of indigenous languages by pointing out their many complex and unique features, but Whorf completely warped what the legitimate point that Safir was trying to make. When I talk to people about language preservation, it amazes me how often they dredge up some half-remembered reference to Whorf that they read about during college "Isn't it true that Hopi can't refer to time in any way? Well, really, it would be nice to preserve it, but how can they actually use it in today's world if they can't even talk about when something happened?"
    .


    ___________
    My graduate work, spent in the Yukon Territory, where I lived and worked with a First Nations band for two consecutive years, was dedicated to documenting their language for the purposes of a) preservation and b) linguistic data, (Hopi and Navajo, by the way, among other aboriginal languages, are two that I researched during those 2 years), so if you would like to get into the inner workings of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, I have first-hand experience and knowledge to share with you in support of the problems raised by the hypothesis; however, and since the topic of this thread (your thread) focuses on semantics;i.e. theory v. hypothesis, I'm not all that convinced, given your argument, that you fully understand the issue at hand. Maybe it would be best at this point if you defined your terms, and explained what it is exactly that you think the hypothesis means and how it applies to the previous discussion, the one that spun this discussion, English grammar rules, worldwide?

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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    and may I ask what is your point with your last sentence?
    I'm sorry. I don't fully understand what it is exactly that you are asking me to explain.

  4. #4
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea View Post
    Maybe it would be best at this point if you defined your terms, and explained what it is exactly that you think the hypothesis means and how it applies to the previous discussion, the one that spun this discussion, English grammar rules, worldwide?
    I believe I have already changed the thread to dicuss linguistic theories about grammar, and this subject derived from the previous thread. So, why ask?
    I don't know if I am so interested about your expertise in Linguistics or in this particular theory (or hypothesis). I have maybe not a full, but a fairly good understanding of linguistic theories in general, not only in this one. But I am here to learn even more. My M.A. research was conducted in the field of Linguistics. I was only asking about your definition of a theory as opposed to hypothesis, since I provided Wikipedia's definition - which is mine,too. I got an elaborate description of smth else instead. Again: theory and hypothesis are often used interchangeably. The theory of relativity is also a hypothesis. I can give you lots of details about how some other established theories (such as Chomsky's) are still widely disputed and controversial although world famous.

    As to researchers disagreeing among themselves, this is a well-known fact. Nobody disagrees with you...

    I believe I originally wanted to have a constructive discussion about grammar and language, not about what's right or wrong - because anyway nobody knows the truth. So, I guess there's not much left for me to say here. I certainly don't like this kind of talk. Everyone is free to disagree, but by backing up their claims with evidence alone, not with insinuations or personal attacks.
    bianca
    Last edited by bianca; 31-Jul-2007 at 17:51.

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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    I was only asking about your definition of a theory as opposed to hypothesis, ...
    To my knowledge, we are, or rather, were talking about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which you referred to as a theory, and left hanging on another thread (See English grammar rules, worldwide?) to start this thread in search of support for that claim--that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a theory. So, you see, you've lost me with I was only asking about your definition of a theory as opposed to hypothesis because when scholars refer to Sapir-Whorf they are referring to a hypothesis, not a theory. It doesn't matter what the semantic differences are between a theory and a hypothesis. What matters is clarity, especially in a discussion that supposedly houses learned people. Otherwise, the discussion veers off into the realm of semantics--as this one has done.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    I believe I originally wanted to have a constructive discussion about grammar and language, not about what's right or wrong - because anyway nobody knows the truth.
    Agreed, but basic assumptions need to be defined first. Explain your terms, not just for me, but for the readers as well. They, like you, would also like to learn more about this topic, but how is that possible if some of the terms used lead them down a white rabbit trail? If readers aren't familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, they are either going to ask or they are going to look it up. They're certainly not going to assume that when you said theory you meant hypothesis. Sure, there is a difference between the two words, but not when it comes to a specific linguistic concept.

    So, in short, if you feel the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a theory, then please consider taking this learned advice:
    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    Everyone is free to disagree, but by backing up their claims with evidence alone, ...
    I have yet to see your evidence.

  6. #6
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea View Post
    They're certainly not going to assume that when you said theory you meant hypothesis. Sure, there is a difference between the two words, but not when it comes to a specific linguistic concept.

    I have yet to see your evidence.

    The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

    In his book The Act of Writing (see link above), Daniel Chandler writes the headline "hypothesis", but in the text he refers to it as the Sapir-Whorf theory. Hypothesis and theory in this particular case are used interchangeably. I agree that some "theories" are only known as theories, like Darwin's and Einstein's theories (I've never heard of them as hypotheses), but others (like this one) are referred to as both t and h. Maybe it is due to disagreements among linguists. If it had only been a hypothesis as distinguished from theory, under no circumstances would it have been called a theory, especially not by linguists.
    Last edited by bianca; 08-Aug-2007 at 13:13.

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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

    In his book The Act of Writing (see link above), Daniel Chandler writes the headline "hypothesis", but in the text he refers to it as the Sapir-Whorf theory.
    OK. So how does he work the hypothesis into a theory, and, more importantly, how does that theory apply here, English grammar rules, worldwide?, our previous discussion?

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    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea View Post
    OK. So how does he work the hypothesis into a theory, and, more importantly, how does that theory apply here, English grammar rules, worldwide?, our previous discussion?
    The author of the book uses the terms "hypothesis" and "theory" as though they were synonyms. I don't condone this, because I believe one should stick to either, or. I only examplified to you Wikipedia's definition of theory, where it is referred to as a hypothesis, because there is no absolute truth in them, like it is in Science.

    Now, the topic of English grammar rules, worldwide I remember being done and over with. I have opened a new thread, to talk specifically about the controversies around theories / hypotheses in general - because I have seen disputes among linguists about this, just like it has been between us.

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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    The author of the book uses the terms "hypothesis" and "theory" as though they were synonyms. I don't condone this, because I believe one should stick to either, or. I only examplified to you Wikipedia's definition of theory, where it is referred to as a hypothesis, because there is no absolute truth in them, like it is in Science.
    Agreed, and you bring up an interesting point--one I've also wondered about from time to time:
    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    ... the controversies around theories / hypotheses in general - because I have seen disputes among linguists about this, just like it has been between us.
    Turns out we share the same concern. However that may be, there is a distinction between hypothesis and theory, especially when those terms are used in technical contexts, such as when referring to the combined notions of Safir and Whorf:
    Theory, hypothesis are used in non-technical contexts to mean an untested idea or opinion. A theory in technical use is a more or less verified or established explanation accounting for known facts or phenomena: the theory of relativity. A hypothesis is a conjecture put forth as a possible explanation of phenomena or relations, which serves as a basis of argument or experimentation to reach the truth: This idea is only a hypothesis.

    Source cited here: theory - Definitions from Dictionary.com
    In other words, if an author, say a linguist, when making reference to the Safir-Whorf hypothesis uses the term "theory" in a non-technical context, the assumption, supposedly, is that s/he means an idea, right?, a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.

    Semantics. Can that really be the explanation for the synonymity? Well, hold on here. English is housed with many synonyms, so why not use the terms conjecture or idea or concept? Why do they choose this word, theory?

    Ah, semantics, yes, but in this way: in using the term "theory" to refer to the workings of a hypothesis, the author, whoever s/he might be and no matter the discipline or the context, technical or otherwise, is in essense saying the hypothesis holds truths that can be used in support of and eventually towards a coherent group of general propositions, a theory. If that's not the case, then the author (a) isn't talking about a hypothesis, and (b) would have chosen a non-ambiguous synonym, like the ones mentioned above.

    The next step, as I see it, would be to analyse the semantic function and distribution of the two terms in question. Would you, since it's your topic, have a sample of text we could look at?

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    Default Re: linguistic theories (grammar, language)

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea View Post
    The next step, as I see it, would be to analyse the semantic function and distribution of the two terms in question. Would you, since it's your topic, have a sample of text we could look at?
    The confusion about "theory" tends to come up often in the "Intelligent Design" vs. "Theory of Evolution" debates. Any discussion that involves Richard Dawkins should be interesting to look at.

    I remember, in a discussion about creationism, a teenage proponent of intelligent design being surprised at finding that "gravity" is "just a theory" as well. (She was genuinely curious and reported her confusion on what a teacher told her.)

    Theories in the scientific sense tend to equal facts in the popular sense, but the popular sense does not - generally - discriminate between "data and their interpretation" (which is why I have to resort to scientific terminology to even talk about the difference).

    Here is an article about this topic. They do quote Dawkins about the destinction:

    Quote Originally Posted by Dawkins, quoted in linked article
    [Evolution is] a theory in a special philosophical sense of science, but in terms of ordinary laymen's use of language, it's a fact,
    I find the use of "ordinary laymen's use of language" interesting, but I won't allow myself to be sidetracked here. ;)

    The article uses hypothesis, applying it to Intelligent Design:

    Quote Originally Posted by article
    ID, on the other hand, is not a theory. It is a hypothesis, but it is not even a scientific hypothesis because there is no way to experimentally verify its central claim that a Supreme Being intervened in the creation of life on Earth.
    And later, when distinguishing between theory and fact:

    Quote Originally Posted by article
    On Earth, release an apple and it will fall towards the planet. This is a fact, and the theory that explains this phenomenon is the current theory of gravity. Similarly, all living organisms share a common ancestry. This is a fact, supported not only by the visible similarities in body structures among organisms, but more powerfully, by evidence from genetics. The theory that best explains these similarities is evolution.
    I find it interesting how, while trying to explain the difference between fact and theory, the article confuses the terms itself. "Common ancestry" is not a "fact" in the same way that "an apple falling" is. You cannot observe "common ancestry". A fact, equivalent to apples falling to the ground would be: a shark has fins, a trout has fins, but an octopus doesn't.

    "Theory" and "hypothesis" may have the same "truth value" (itself a problematic term), but they differ in procedure:

    hypothesis = to be tested
    theory = has been tested enough (may be tested again when challenged by new hypothesis)

    And then there's the problem of interpreting theories: Look for "multiple world" vs. "Copenhagen interpretation". See this discussion. None of them have theoretic status; if they did, I'd probably accept Intelligent Design as a theory, too. (But perhaps I'm missing something. I'm not an expert in Qunatum theory.)

    Sciences that deal with human activity often have problems with filtering data, since "acts of interpretation" are part of the data. That's why we have corpus linguistics on the one hand, and the linguist's intuition on the other (e.g. transformational grammar). A physicist's intuition about, say, gravity is nowhere near anything a scientist would call data. But a linguist's intuition about language can be considered data. This is a controversial topic (in sociology, where I come from, it's an ongoing conflict between interpretative and quantitative approaches; e.g. the "positivism dispute" between Popper and Habermas).

    The result is that - in addition to statements about empirical reality - we also have - more than in, say, physics - statements about the researcher's frame of reference, so that a "theoretical approach to the data" is often called a theory. In linguistics, we have Saussure's structuralism, or the Prague functionalism; different ways of explaining similar phenomena. (It's roughly akin to the difference between classical physics and quantum physics, but the borders are less clear, and such definitions are much more common.)

    Now to Chandler on Sapir-Worf (Bianca's link): Chandler speaks about the "theoretical assumptions" (i.e. a statement about the researchers' frame of reference) that help make sense of the hypothesis:

    Quote Originally Posted by Chandler
    Mould theories represent language as 'a mould in terms of which thought categories are cast' (Bruner et al. 1956, p. 11). Cloak theories represent the view that 'language is a cloak conforming to the customary categories of thought of its speakers' (ibid.).

    [...]

    The Sapir-Whorf theory, named after the American linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, is a mould theory of language.


    He's talking about the theoretic underpinnings, about the theoretic approach, behind the Sapir-Worf hypothesis, not so much about the hypothesis itself. I think he's using the term "theory" rather than "hypothesis" in an attempt at language economy. "Sapir-Worf theory" seems to me not to be synonymous to "Sapir-Worf hyothesis", but to "the theoretical underpinnings of the Sapir-Worf hypothesis". This is not uncommon in meta-theoretical discourse.

    Within the social sciences, "theory" tends to mean subtly different things, depending on wether you speak of a body of knowledge, or an approach to research design. These topics don't seem as relevant in areas where the data doesn't consist of human "meaning".

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