So, -finally- kicked myself into working on my cognition essay. (after doing laundry, tidying room, and sticking more pictures on my wall for no real reason). I’ve written a letter to Fumiko, my Japanese teacher, and in doing so really had to get my head together over what the essay is about! So, before I stick it in an evelope, I’m going to retype it up here… feedback encouraged!
Writing this letter has been amaxingly helpful. By the virtue of the fact I HAD to put it in a way she can hopefully understand, ensuring -I- had to understand it to write the thing..
Also, had a great weekend (and days before hand, infact) getting into the world of -decent- live action roleplay. This means flexible, essentially simple/common sense rules, people that are there for an enjoyable game, not to be poncy and power-gaming, and social beer drinking. I’ll probably write more on the adventures I had as a woodelf with Rachel and Marc, including the joys of gorse bushes, if I can get over the fact that it makes me sound terribly, terribly sad.
Thank you and you husband very much for the offer of help and advice on my essay – it is already much appreciated. I’m finding myself getting very interested in what you’ve been saying on the Japanese language-culture, which is perhaps a little dangerous since I really need to be thinking about the rest of my course!
The basic idea behind my essay is to discuss the question “to what extent does language affect the way we think?” The main psychologist to suggest that language and thought were very much related was Benjamin Whorf (1956). However, his ideas have since been criticised as too vague or blatantly incorrect. (Whorf’s strongest idea is that your language -IS- the way yo think, down to the most intrinsic levels. The view now is that all people, regardless of what language they use, think the same on a mental level ‘below’ language)
However, I still think that language, while not the ultimate ‘form’ of thinking, is a powerful tool by which culture and -WAYS- of thinking, acting, or just viewing the world can be manipulated or constrained. This, hopefully, will be the essay’s conclusion.
I don’t know if you’ve read the book ‘1984’, but George Orwell wrote about individuals in a fictional (if prophetic) society who were slowly being introduced into using a government-created language (“Newspeak”). This was expressily designed to cut down the words people could use, or more importantly, think and express concepts with.
Newspeak was designed to ‘brain wash’ people into esentially being good little society robots, that despite what they may be feeling, have no real way of expressing it to other people or even think about it themselves.
Obviously the Japanese language can not be directly compared to Newspeak. For a start, Newspeak reduced words to a minimal number, whilst Japanese, as you have told me, has many, many ways of expressing the same thing.
However, both you and Tsuguya (more on him in a bit) have expressed fears of Japanese people being somehow ‘brainwashed’ and becoming less creative or able to argue.
I would like to look at reasons behind this – particularly those to do with the language system, the effects of teaching Japanese, the need to be polite, and english-translation causing a reduction in Japanese forms of expression.
Of course, my main problem is that since I’m not Japanese and it is very hard to find literature about this subject, I don’t have much information to go on! What I have found is a collection of ‘reflections’ made by a man called Tsuguya Sasaki which he has put on the internet. Not only is he a native Japanese person who left Japan for a few years and so has an ‘outside view’, but he’s also a linguist! This means a lot of his reflections are on the Japanese language – very useful for me! ((note to self – particularly since they’re in english!!))
I’ve included a selection of extracts from these reflections, from which (with Tsuguya’s permission) I will quote in my essay…(Cut stuff about asking Fumiko for help assessing validity..) .. and perhaps write down a few thoughts of your own. I’m especially intrested in the problems with learning/teaching English, and the affect it’s had on Japanese.
(cut niceties at end)
“the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world view and mental habits proper devotees on Ingsoc (english socialism) but to make all other modes of thought impossible”
comments from fumiko that can remember:
– haven’t got past perfect.
– variation in kids speech goes down due to ‘translation’ method of learning english for exam to get into highschool.
– constrained by context-senstivity (need to know how polite to be before you open your mouth)
– behaviour very different ‘outside japan’. Note amount of inside-outside words in language..outside ‘group’.
– JET scheme??????
– deliberatly done by government (reckons fumiko)!!
– leads to lack of questionning, arguing, criticism (or ability to deal with it appropriatly)
phew.. better go and get food now!