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Last hour thoughts

Linguistic relativity – and why it matters

By May 21, 2015No Comments

Regardless of where you are, the boundaries defined by your culture make certain things normal, possible as well as unlikely and impossible. These impossibilities are sometimes achieve by cross-culture intervention, but most often than not, they are the anomaly inside the standard.

Language is a slave of culture.
A culture by definition needs a language to impose its ideas and values over chaos, therefore, you should be wary of the words and ideas you select to employ. Culture is organized, and although it’s in constant flux, there has to be an acceptance for its swings and alterations over time (think class, technology, revolution/politics)

Miguel Ruiz has made a career with The Four Agreements, which he claims were taught to him by the Toltect – even though there’s little to no evidence of their existence – yet this, his most famous work, still holds important and interesting concepts related to the construction of reality (let’s also have in mind that these concepts can be found in many Buddhist ॐ and Taoist ☯ teaching which were recorded much sooner in history than the Toltecs)
The Four Agreements makes a foundation around the powerful influence of language, the spoken word and how it can change our ways while transforming everything around us.
This is a fascinating topic since any language is a reflection of many factors over the course of time. The etymology of words tells the hidden tales of conquest, commerce, technology and politics around the globe (nuke, ordinateur, almohada just to name a few)

Linguistic relativity then is an attempt to explain this same concept. How the words were taught to us and how we employ and transform them. They hold the meaning to our world and are actually influencing and shaping the reality around us. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, the creation of a framework as to explain or group an identity or culture self reflected on everything, tells a lot about the interlocutor and the powers at be on that specific culture.
Although there has been  wide homogenization of western culture and values across other cultures around the globe, there are still many obvious differences that technology and distance don’t seem able to erase. Cultivation by mass media can be seen as the most immediate homogenization in a large scale scenario, but centuries of tradition and transformation can’t be wiped out immediately by an external force.

There’s an example in Spanish that helps to translate a conflicting topic and with it, an array of pre-set values of that culture. Most specifically I’m referring to commonly used slang in Argentina and in many other latin-american countries that were firstly colonized by the Spanish empire and still have, up to this day, many of the cultural traces intertwined with their local culture:

The word ‘Puta’ translates simply as female whore or prostitute. It’s commonly used as an insult with a combination of other nasty word yet, its immediate male counterpart ‘Puto’ has a completely different connotation and doesn’t represent a male prostitute but of a queer or homosexual.

The cultural connotations are evident in a masochistic and somewhat homophobic society that can be misogynistic at times. Examples like these can be found all over the Spanish language which tell the history of a culture still ruled and controlled by men were gender boundaries are fundamentally reconstructed as it was Spain after the 711 Moor invasion.