Sunday, June 29, 2008

What Does It Mean To Be Alive?

What Does It Mean To Be Alive?

Science Daily reports on a study that suggests that "knowledge is shaped by language." The study compared children who speak English with children who speak Indonesian, specifically in terms of how they classify things as "alive."

In English, the word "animal" can sometimes refer to all living beings, including humans, while at other times it refers only to non-human living beings. In Indonesian, the equivalent word unambiguously excludes humans. In the study, the two groups of children identified pictures of things as "alive" or not. Indonesian children easily included plants and animals in the "alive" group, while English-speaking children even up to age 9 often excluded plants. The researchers concluded that

"understanding the conceptual consequences of language differences will serve as an effective tool in our efforts to advance the educational needs of children."
"Conceptual consequences of language differences...." Where have I heard something like that before? Oh yeah, Sapir Whorf, anybody?

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