The SapirWhorf hypothesis about linguistic relativity suggests that the differences in languages cultural and cognitive encodings affect how people think. In other words, speakers' thinking style is defined by the cultural context which shaped the language they use. The power of language on shaping human thought is thus central to this hypothesis that has become attached to the writings of Whorf and Sapir. The conclusion which hence follows is that a language shaped by the cultural context is therefore also the indirect medium through which culture reconstructs the thinking style of individuals. Language becomes therefore a tool; a tool whose goals are similar to those of Newspeak as advanced by George Orwell in his book 1984.
In George Orwell's 1984, a totalitarian government has fashioned a new language (Newspeak) to control and manipulate the scope and direction of thought by its citizens. Political scientists, linguistic scholars, and literary experts alike have since debated the realistic practicality of such a linguistic tether on the minds and thoughts of people. Language has long been a political tool used to manipulate the masses, but new research is beginning to show more the inherent power of language itself and its capacity to alter reality.
Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen is a book written by Victor Klemperer that advances the notion of the importance of the social and cultural context to the meaning that language and words assume. To highlight this, the author demonstrates how the Nazi propaganda altered the German language simply since the cultural context due to the change instituted by this political party, was also transformed. The connection between culture and language's power on human thought is clear in this hypothesis. The author refers to the examples of the recurrent words which create the desired discourse, such as ewig (eternal) and artfremd (alien to the species. By stating for example that der ewige Jude (the eternal Jew) on a recurrent basis and connecting it in sentences to phrases as das ewige Deutschland, the Nazi party reconstructed a language whose words assumed a new meaning shaped by the distinct political and cultural context (Klemperer, 2000).
[...] Linguistic scholar Benjamin Lee Whorf believes the power of linguistics lies in the formulation of word combinations. Whorf offers a number of common item names where power resides in the formula of words which constructs the name. One such example used by Whorf is “empty gasoline drum” (Whorf, n.d.). The meaning, as conditioned by society, of such a name might lead one to assume that there is nothing inside the gasoline drums. This however is untrue, as one would find out if they threw a match inside one; it would combust with the residual flammable fumes and vapors. [...]
[...] The language of the Third Reich: LTI, Lingua Tertii Imperii : a philologist's notebook. London: Athlone Press. Whorf, B.(n.d.). "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language." In Culture and Society. Waveland Press, pp. 64-68. [...]
[...] So, we can now see that the meanings of words can be reshaped and restructured if cultural and contextual awareness is applied. While the full scope and power of language is far from understood, it stands apparent that the use of language and the employment of culture to enhance the public's reception of the signifiers and intended meanings of words, can in fact wield certain tangible powers, particularly if one is well aware of the cultural context that grants language its power and legitimacy. [...]
[...] The fervor over what language is politically correct and what is insensitive depending on cultural traditions and moral codes (i.e. who can say what, when they can say it, and where), has created a void so self-consuming as to forget about anything of practical importance. Political correctness serves to “trivialize politics” Cameron states, focusing on language and not [cultural] reality” (Cameron, 1994). While the conscious and intended creation of political correctness as a strategic linguistic tactic is questionable it is certainly used as one today. [...]
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