The difference a word makes
The difference a word makes. In K. A. McElhannon, & G. Reesink (Eds.
), A mosaic of languages and cultures: Studies celebrating the career of Karl J. Franklin
(pp. 434-446). Dallas, TX: SIL International.
This paper offers some thoughts on the question what effect language has on the
understanding and hence behavior of a human being. It reviews some issues of linguistic
relativity, known as the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,” suggesting that the culture we grow up
in is reflected in the language and that our cognition (and our worldview) is shaped or
colored by the conventions developed by our ancestors and peers. This raises questions
for the degree of translatability, illustrated by the comparison of two poems by a Dutch
poet who spent most of his life in the USA. Mutual understanding, I claim, is possible
because we have the cognitive apparatus that allows us to enter different emic systems.