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Thursday, September 21, 2023

How Language Influences Our Perceptions And Our View Of The Universe

By Chantale JimenezSpecial To CSMS MagazineThe phrase “language influences our perceptions and our view of the universe” refers to the idea that language is the medium by which the experiences of a particular culture help to describe and define the unique way it perceives the world.  The basis of this idea is that different cultures not only speak different languages, but they think differently as well.  The way they think is influenced primarily by the experiences specific to a particular culture, and this is referred to in the text as “linguistic relativity.”   Language, then, is not only a way to describe the particular experiences of a culture, but also a way of defining those experiences and thereby creating a unique way of perceiving the world based on those experiences.  This explanation for the above phrase is what is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that “language is not simply a means of reporting experience but, more important, it is a way of defining experience.” (Samovar, Porter 143)   The United States has a multitude of co-cultures contained within its borders that not only reflect the impact of immigration from other countries, but also the different cultural experiences of ethnic groups that have been here for a long time.  The different experiences of these co-cultures has led to a great amount of language diversity in this country as these diverse groups developed their own “alternative languages” to describe and define their experience within the dominant culture.  The alternative languages created by co-cultures and groups within the U.S. have often developed a particular vocabulary, or argot, that is unique to them.  From this vocabulary slang terms are developed that use words that sound the same to convey different meanings.  From these two roots, a new alternative language is created.   Alternative languages are used to help individuals within the co-culture deal with the problems associated with living within a dominant culture, and offer methods of self-defense, empowerment, and a sense of common solidarity and pride in the group.  They also reflect the experiences, values, and lifestyles of a particular group.  For example, the use of spanglish among members of the Hispanic community in Miami has developed due to the unique experiences of immigrants to this area from first, Cuba, and later other Latin American countries.    Caught between two cultures, these immigrants have created a new alternative language that combines elements of Spanish and English to create a new argot.  While Spanish was the mother tongue for most of these immigrants, the exposure of younger members of this group to English education and society outside the home led to the unique combination of words that are now heard not only among schoolchildren, but also in the adult world of business as well as in social conversation.    To primarily Spanish or English speakers, this alternative language seems strange and somehow “wrong,” but to members of the group who use it, it provides the benefit of belonging to a special co-culture that has achieved a certain level of inter-cultural integration.  This is shown by the fact that spanglish is not only the use of new vocabulary words within either Spanish or English sentences, but also the mixture of both languages within the same sentence            Spanglish reflects the experiences, values, and lifestyles of the immigrant groups that have “grown up” in the Miami area, and the local argot reflects these unique experiences.  Spanglishalso reflects similar experiences of Hispanics in geographically separated areas within the U.S., each of which may have differences in vocabulary, but basically reflect similar experiences. However, the differences between different words used in spanglish no doubt reflect the influence of the principal immigrant group in the area.  For Miami, that would be primarily the Cuban co-culture, while for the border states in the West, it would be primarily the Mexican co-culture. Each has developed different words to reflect the experiences, values, and lifestyles associated with living in different geographic areas of the U.S.  So even within an alternative language likespanglish, there are differences related to the experiences of a particular co-culture.

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