Monday, July 14, 2014

Classifying in other languages

This post is an explanation of the Sapir Whorf and how we categorize.  Here is the original lesson.

Set 1. Auto, turtle, basket, bird
Students generally select auto or basket using the culturally familiar categorizing device of machines vs. non-machines or and movement vs. non-movement. At least some non-western cultural groups, however, would see birds as most different because their culture emphasizes shape and birds are relatively angular rather than rounded in shape. Our culture tends to emphasize use or functionality. Thus correctness would be culture-dependent.

Set 2. Laundry, beer, clothing
Students generally, with great assurance, select beer as most different. Functionality places clothing and washing machines together. Yet, at least one culture views clothing as different because laundry and beer are both “foamy”. Visual appearance is most salient. US slang for beer (“suds”) also recognizes the attribute of foaminess.

Set 3. A chair, a spear, a couch 

Students again select the “wrong” answer—at least from the perspective of traditional West African cultures. US Americans tend to emphasize use, thus placing couch and chair together as types of sitting devices (i.e. “furniture”). Ashanti apparently would see the “couch” as the most different because both a chair and a spear can symbolize authority.

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