Quizatzhaderac wrote:There's a joke I sometimes tell: "Italian has 18 words for pasta, but none for 'Speak up!' ". The BS being that English and Italian are alike in that neither have "a word" for it, but both have terms that clearly express the concept.jc wrote:Neither does English; that's why we use a two-word phrase for the concept.
Arguably, English has far more words for pasta than Italian, given that what in English are specifically words for pasta, are more everyday words in Italian that mean things like "shells" or "strings".
Quizatzhaderac wrote:That doesn't follow. Arithmetic allows saying an infinite number of things, but only things about numbers; there in no way to express the concept of "cheese".orthogon wrote:it seems obvious to me that if a concept has thinginess, that it must be possible to express it in any language given the infinite combinatorial properties of language.
Good point: that wasn't really meant to be a one-line "proof", but rather a statement of the idea. I'm appealing to a sort of Turing Completeness of natural language, but I don't think you could ever necessarily prove it. I probably picked up the idea from the way Pinker talks about language as a "discrete combinatorial system" and grants such a system infinite expressive power.
Quizatzhaderac wrote:Apart from anything else, even the languages that "have a word for it" must be able to re-express it in other terms; otherwise are we to believe that the dictionary writers simply throw up their hands when they get to that entry?
The "hypothesis" is that language significantly affects thought, not that the word is essential for the thought. There is a big difference between a concept being explainable in principle and being readily available to most speakers.
Again, I blame Pinker: he sets out a sliding scale of "Whorfian hypotheses", with one extreme being "we actually think only in language" and the other extreme being "our language(s) has no effect whatsoever on our cognitive processes". Both extremes are more of less strawmen, but I'm not completely clear exactly where Sapir and Whorf themselves stood on this scale, whether the two authors agreed, or whether subsequent Whorfians agreed with them.
Quizatzhaderac wrote:As you said, the act of sexual harassment came first, then a minority having a conception of it, then the term, then the term had it's effect by massively facilitating the spreading of the conception.
I think that's more a feature of the way in which ideas are disseminated and the importance that writing and speaking plays in the propagation of memes, which I put it to you is a sociological effect that's rather more obvious and less interesting than a putative psychological effect that's normally associated with Whorfianism. Given that language is by far the most powerful means of communication we have, and that all mass media are based on it, it's not in the least bit surprising that having a word for something helps the concept to spread through society. But it's not the only way - styles of dressing and hairstyles don't necessarily need words to become ubiquitous; awareness of a developing weather pattern, new skyscraper or pop song can be universal without anybody knowing what they're called.