LINGUIST List 7.181

Mon Feb 5 1996

Qs: Whorf, Urdu, Metaphors, Transcript

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  1. Pete Farruggio, Whorf and relativism
  2., Urdu study in Pakistan?
  3. Paulina Jaenecke, orientational metaphors
  4. SUE BLACKWELL, transcript wanted

Message 1: Whorf and relativism

Date: Sun, 04 Feb 1996 02:18:27 PST
From: Pete Farruggio <>
Subject: Whorf and relativism
I'm not a linguist, and so I put this out for some enlightened feedback,
and maybe some suggested readings:

In doing my classroom research with bilingual Latino children within a
Vygotskian/marxist theoretical frame, I've been reading about Vygotsky's
general approach to psychology, and about the idea that there are few
universals in human psychology above the very basic biological sub-strata.
For example, such things as color perception, interpretation of odors,
concepts of counting, etc. vary greatly across cultures. In this light, I
remember some very scanty reading I had done by and about Whorf, wherein he
was sharply criticized for maintaining that Hopis have a different concept
of time than those in industrial societies, and that this concept of time
is carried by the language. If I got it right, he was justifiably
criticized for asserting that Hopi speakers could not use time as a
quantifiable abstraction, thus maintaining that their language fixed their
consciousness for all time.

I do not know Hopi, and so I don't even know if Whorf had his facts right
about temporal thinking, but if he did, I would say (and so would Vygotsky
and Marx, I think) that any Hopi who entered (or was thrust forcibly into)
the capitalist economy would soon develop a more decontextualized view of
time in order to survive, and would probably also develop a metacognitive
view of both time systems (Hopi and "modern"). In other words, no language
"fixes" one's thinking in concrete.

The big question here for me, in educational research and reform, is in the
"cultural mismatch" game. On one extreme are the cultural imperialists who
see minority and working class kids' home cultures as deficient, and who
see other than mainstream modes of discourse and thinking as having a
"fixed" character that makes one incapable of learning theorems, algebra,
expository writing, etc. But on the other extreme are the romanticizers,
those who would excoriate Whorf for stating facts, who glorify the kids'
ability to compose clever Rap music rhymes, but who would not open their
worldview to History and Economics and to being able to read Shakespeare,
Frederick Douglass, and maybe Marx, for themselves. Neither extreme in my
dichotomy sees the need (romanticizers) nor the potential (imperialists)
for these kids to learn about the mainstream culture and to appropriate its
tools (its ways of thinking and organizing knowledge) for their own use. I
see great potential for synthesis, for creating new ways of thinking while
studying school subjects.

 Marx and Engels did see a general line of progress in history (never even
or predetermined, always subject to struggle) and they saw one's
consciousness as being reflective of one's class background in capitalist
society; but as dialectical materialists they saw one's way of thinking
always reshaping itself through social interaction.

What I'd like to know is if there are any debates along these or similar
lines among linguists? Are there "Whorfians" who say that language fixes
consciousness permanently? Are there "anti-Whorfians" who say that all
conceptual thinking is universal and all languages are the same?

Pete Farruggio
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Message 2: Urdu study in Pakistan?

Date: Fri, 05 Jan 1996 01:41:48 EST
From: <>
Subject: Urdu study in Pakistan?
I'm trying to find a beginning/intermediate Urdu study program in Pakistan --
preferably Lahore but maybe Islamabad. Any ideas? Or any ideas where to
search on Internet? Thanks for your help. - Chloe from
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Message 3: orientational metaphors

Date: Sun, 04 Feb 1996 21:32:14 +0100
From: Paulina Jaenecke <>
Subject: orientational metaphors
Dear Fellow Linguists,

Lakoff and Johnson mention in Metaphors We Live By (Chicago 1980) that
what they call orientational metaphors can vary from culture. "For
example, in some cultures the future is in front of us, whereas in
others it is in back" (1980:14) Can anyone give me example of
cultures/languages, where the future is in back? Is there anything
published on this topic? I'll post a summary, if I get any responses

Thank you
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Message 4: transcript wanted

Date: Mon, 05 Feb 1996 11:06:00
Subject: transcript wanted

Can anyone on the list send me, or point me to, the lyrics of
Smiley Culture's song "Cockney Translation"? I'm having a spot
of bother figuring out some of the expressions in it!


Sue Blackwell
School of English
University of Birmingham, U.K.
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