Language enhance our ways of knowing or limit them?

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From reading the Article, I realize that our language has a great impact on our ways of knowing and interpreting our surroundings. In both ways, language enhances our knowledge as well as limits it depending on what aspects you view. I want to focus on the influence of language on our mind by how we describe the orientation of the world around us. In North America we use a system called the egocentric coordinates, which depend on one’s body to determine left-right plus front-back axis positioning from it. For example, while giving direction we would say, “Go straight then take the first right”. Why does this matter?

We are accustomed to use this method because our language feels that it is so easy and natural. However, from the article it has come to my attention that people around the world use the method of geographic directions. For example, in the same situation one could have said, “Go north and take the first east”. This type of instruction which may occur unusual to us is actually the way other languages conform to. From this I can establish that people who speak different languages think in a certain manner, and it doesn’t mean one from the other language doesn’t understand the concept of the cardinal direction but it not accustomed for its use.

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An Australian Aboriginal tongue, Guugu Yimithirr as pointed out in the article is not really able to use the egocentric coordinates at all. Again, proving the point that people understand the world differently based on their native language. Many people don’t use the geographic direction method of language is because one would have to know the cardinal direction at every moment in their life which is difficult to many. The way we are taught to speak from birth significantly impact on our ways of knowing and understanding our surroundings.

Children in societies such as Yimithirr’s, “start using geographic directions as early as age 2 and fully master by 7 or 8. ” (Guy 6) These kids are hard wired from birth and the habit becomes so natural, effortless and unconscious to deter cardinal direction. We can see the strength of this ability when a speaker of Tzeltal from mexico was able to point out the geographic direction even after being blindfolded and spun in a dark house.

I found this really fascinating because how a person is able to do something so extraordinary; it’s like being able to see without sight. This was all simply possible because of the way he communicates in a geographic language showing the power of language on our ways of knowing. The last and most fascinating point that was brought up in the article is that from speaking this creative “geographic-oriented language” one is able to deter ‘reality’ of appealingly same situations.

Using the example in the article, there are two identical rooms in front of each other such so that when you enter both rooms have a closet on the right, window on the far wall, washroom on the left and etc. As Americans we ignore the directional rotations but speakers of geographic languages are trained not to do so. Therefore, I would understand that they are identical rooms, but the other guy would see, “everything is reversed north-side-south.

” (Guy 7) To me, this proves how our languages significantly impact our ways of knowing. This reminds me of my Matrix essay and whether we are just not able to see our true existence and being able to differentiate between illusions and reality. Overall, I have learned and can say that language (our speech) actually has a great deal of impact on our minds and how we view the world. It is not the fact that we don’t understand more or less based on the language we speak but that we understand differently based on the language we speak.


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