Western philosophy of language and cultural variance.

Language acquisition has been a philosophical topic long before the empirical field of  psychology was established.  Most of the historical literature on the topic has been done by western philosophers and ignored eastern culture, whether due to cultural arrogance or due to lack of access to significant eastern literature (philosophical grammars and such.).  Western philosophy of language, perhaps best exemplifies by the logical positivists,  asserted that language gained its meaning from each word’s conjunction with some real world object or class of real world objects like say, chairs.   Children were supposed to learn meaning of words via “indexical” qualities (Wittgenstein, “Philosophical Investigations”), You point at a chair and say, “chair”.  Do this enough times and the child associates the object with the word, and the word is associated with the internal representation of the sense experience of a chair. Western thought has continued along these lines and has postulated that nouns form the fundamental basis of lingual structure, and are the first types of words acquired by children(of all languages).

Western research has shown this hypothesis to be true, but not for ALL languages.  This propensity is called a “Noun Bias”.  However at least two studies, that I am aware of, did not show this bias.  Tardif, 1996, (” nouns are not always learned before verbs: Evidenced from Mandarin speakers’ early vocabularies.”  Developmental Psychology, 32, 495-504) has shown that “Chinese toddlers were found to use more verbs than nouns.”(503).  Also in another study, Choi and Gopinik, 1995, of Korean children, there was no evidence of a noun bias found at all.  (“Early acquisition of verbs in Korean: a cross lingual study.”  Journal of child language, 24, 949-960 ).

This easily shows the importance of empirical inquiry in validating philosophical theories, and that this evidence ought to include cross cultural studies in discussions of language.  These differences would never have been found if research had not been done one the language acquisition of other languages.   Philosophers definitely would not have noticed this without empirical research.

Stuart Walker

~ by havok43v3r on November 2, 2009.

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