The Limits of My Language Mean the Limits of My World Essay Example
The Limits of My Language Mean the Limits of My World Essay Example

The Limits of My Language Mean the Limits of My World Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 3 (786 words)
  • Published: August 28, 2016
  • Type: Essay
View Entire Sample
Text preview

The human language may empower all of it’s users. The Famous Austrian-born philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, once said ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’. A variant translation to this is ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for’. This statement follows the notion of linguistic determinism which is, in its strongest form, the idea that language and its structures limit and determine human knowledge and thought. However, we must emphasise that the absence of a concept in a language does not oblige us to never understand such a concept.

When considering the following topic, we must consider the limitations of the English Language. The renowned linguist, Roman Jakobson, points out the limitations of all languages by


stating ‘Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey’. This statement basically means: If different languages influence the way we think, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about. We observe this effect by comparing the English language to the Italian language. For example, when saying ‘last night, Jenny wore a dress.

It was beautiful’ in English, you would use the same form of past tense for each sentence. But when saying ‘ierisera, Jenny ha vestito un vestito. Lo era bellisima’, you would have to use the ‘part tense’ when saying ‘Jenny wore a dress’ but the ‘imperfect tense’ when saying ‘it was beautiful’. In English, we use one past tense form when referring to event

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

in the past. The past tense in Italian emphasises that the event happened once and it was finished with but the imperfect stresses that the event happened for a long amount of time in the past or the dress was always and will always be beautiful.

However, in English we still understand that ‘Jenny wore a dress’ happened once but we don’t need to say it because we are not obliged to say it. We may not have words to differentiate between the two part tenses but we still understand the concepts and, therefore, we know more than what we have words for. A man heavily against linguistic determinism and its theorists is John McWhorter. He argues that to agree with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, is to dismiss half of the world as ignorant. in his article ‘the pernicious persistence of the “Language shapes thought” theory’, McWhorter reports his distaste for the theory and that the main difference between languages is that ‘some languages happen to be more anal about nuance than others’.

He is basically stating that all languages are more specific about one thing, such as Italian being more specific in past tense than Chinese which contains no past tense and only present form; and not be quite as specific in conveying another concept, such as Italian speakers differentiating between our male cousins ‘cugino’ and female cousins ‘cugina’ whereas English speakers simply have to say ‘cousin’.

In addition to detesting the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, McWhorter agrees with the underlying points of Roman Jakobson’s take on language conveyance. To say that language limits our thought would say that languages that aren’t specific in what

they convey do not have as advanced thought patterns as those specific languages. The English language is forever changing and may, in the distant future, develop into a more advanced language or ‘the perfect language’. In the past, the English language lacked idiomatic expression and slang terms.

In addition to this, other languages, such as Italian, also contain idiomatic expressions such as the expression ‘to put up with’ directly translates into ‘to touch someone’. These expressions were brought about by the pioneers of the English language which include Charles Dickens and Williams Shakespeare. So, it is established that it is possible for the language to change, but is it possible for the structure to change? Ludwig Wittgenstein, of the above quote, hypothesised ‘the perfect language’ is one that can express anything.

This would involve drastically changing the structure of all languages as they all lack in some areas in what they choose to convey. Our language may be viewed as limited at present but that is not to say it cannot evolve into a sophisticated form in the future. To propose that thought process is limited due to our language would also propose that half the world is not as sophisticated or non-sensical in what it conveys. It is, however, true that language may allow us to think about more things, but this does not imply that non-speakers of our language cannot understand the same concepts we understand.

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds