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Does language influence worldview?
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Language has a minimal effect on worldview

Languages have much in common; they share a universal grammar. Additionally, people do think in a specific language. Therefore, language can’t control our perceptions or what we think about.
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The Argument

Languages have many rules in common which have led some researchers to claim that there is a universal grammar that all children are born with.[1] Proponents of this universal grammar such as Noam Chomsky and Joseph Greenberg claim that language has a minimal effect on worldview. Chomsky hypothesized that children are able to create sentences with grammatical rules that they have never heard before because people have modules in the brain that are specialized for the capacity for language.[2] Chomsky believed that culture played only a minimal role in studying language and instead focused on identifying organizing principles that are shared by all languages.[3] Another linguist that doesn’t believe that language influences worldview is Steven Pinker. He believes that people do not think in specific languages, but that there is a universal language of thought: Mentalese. A language is merely the ability to communicate these thoughts.[4] Everyone can attest to the fact that we don’t always think in words. We picture people, sounds, and smells without the use of words. The Dani of New Guinea only has two words to describe colors (one for dark colors and one for light colors). However, research has shown that they can still distinguish all different colors even though they don’t have a word for them. Our language doesn’t control our perceptions or what we think about.[5] Finally, there are some intuitive problems in claiming that language shapes worldview. A person’s worldview can change for a variety of reasons throughout their life. If language determined worldview people would need to learn a new language in order to develop a new worldview. Additionally, there are 1.5 billion people that speak English.[6] Clearly, all of those people from different countries, religions, and cultures do not share a worldview.

Counter arguments

Universal grammar cannot be applied to all languages. Linguist Daniel Everett spent time with and conducted research on the Pirahã people. He claims that the Pirahã are a severe counterexample to the theory of universal grammar.[3] Psychologist Russell Gray and his colleagues have also done research that discredits universal grammar. They compared the evolutionary trees of several hundred languages. They found that each linguistic family evolved its own rules instead of being governed by universal rules.[2]



[P1] There is a universal grammar shared by all languages. [P2] People do not think in a specific language. [P3] Therefore, our language doesn’t control our perceptions or what we think about. [P4] All people that speak that the same language do not share the same worldview.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Universal grammar cannot be applied to all languages.


This page was last edited on Sunday, 23 Aug 2020 at 22:29 UTC