The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

There are countless reasons to travel the world and study languages. The adventure seekers crave new experiences to get their adrenaline pumping, the foodies want to taste the exotic flavors the world has to offer, and the historians wish to uncover the ancient intricacies of the past. Going to a new place and diving headfirst into not only the culture but the language is the truest way to fulfill any one of these drives. Adventure, food, or history, the only way to really find the authenticity being sought is through immersion.

Which brings me to the elevated-seeming title of this piece and the inspiration behind the re-conceptualization of my personal soap box.  Named after the linguists who came up with the theory, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states, at its core, that a language is the way each culture sees the world. Between all the differences in structures and syntax and slang, it becomes apparent that even the mode of thought is dependant upon a person’s native tongue. If you had an idea and ran it through the routes of trains of thought in two different languages, it would have the potential to have two completely diverse outcomes. The idea itself may manifest itself exponentially differently. If this is too complicated, suffice it to say that a Frenchman worrying about the inevitable rain on his commute home will approach the very thought in a completely different manner than a Japanese man would.

The order of the words, how they each relate to the subject, and even how they relate to the outside world are all there in the blueprints of each language. I want to be able to see the world from every angle, perspective, and habit of thought. You’ll have to humor me but my goal is to understand as many of these linguistic guides as physically and mentally possible. There are so many opinions and ways of thinking that I cannot be content seeing things from only a few limited mentalities. It would be nice to not only see the world, but to see it from a diverse collection of viewpoints.

It all comes down to this: when you travel it’s all good and well to see the sights and get some souvenirs, but the real essence to a place is found when you talk to the locals and get lost in a mindset you aren’t used to.