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语言是否决定思维?

时间:2014-02-09 10:22:21  来源:  作者:

美国《纽约时报》发表长篇文章,题目:语言是否决定思维?(Does Your Language Shape How You Think?)。文章介绍曼彻斯特大学语言语言学及文化学院荣誉研究员Guy Deutscher 的新著《Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages》,多方面剖析我们所讲的语言是否影响,甚至决定了我们的思维方式。
Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the 20th century. At first glance, there seemed little about the article to augur its subsequent celebrity. Neither the title, “Science and Linguistics,” nor the magazine, M.I.T.’s Technology Review, was most people’s idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical engineer who worked for an insurance company and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for international superstardom. And yet Benjamin Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think.
70年前,也就是1940年,一本著名的科学杂志发表了一篇短文,开启了20世纪一股最为盛行的知识浪潮。乍一看,该文似乎甚少预示其之后的名人鉄事,“科学和语言学家”以及麻省的《技术回顾》杂志都不符合大多数人眼中对魄力的定义。而该文作者,一名在保险公司工作以及在耶鲁大学兼任人类学家讲师的化学工程师,不大被看好能够具备国际超级巨星的风范。然而,本杰明.李.沃尔夫提出了关于语言影响思维的力量的观点,颇令人心动。另外,他撰写了一篇激动人心的散文,让整整一代人相信我们的母语限制了我们的思维。

In particular, Whorf announced, Native American languages impose on their speakers a picture of reality that is totally different from ours, so their speakers would simply not be able to understand some of our most basic concepts, like the flow of time or the distinction between objects (like “stone”) and actions (like “fall”). For decades, Whorf’s theory dazzled both academics and the general public alike. In his shadow, others made a whole range of imaginative claims about the supposed power of language, from the assertion that Native American languages instill in their speakers an intuitive understanding of Einstein’s concept of time as a fourth dimension to the theory that the nature of the Jewish religion was determined by the tense system of ancient Hebrew.
沃尔夫宣称,尤其是美洲原住民的语言让说话人形成一种与我们所不同的真实的画面。因此,说美洲原住民语言的人,有可能不会理解我们当中大多数基本概念。譬如,时光流逝、或者物体(像“石头”)和行为(像“掉落”)之间的差别。数十年来,沃尔夫的理论让学界和大众颇为不解。在他的影响下,其他人也抛出了极富想象力的、有关假设中语言具有力量的一系列宣言,从假定美洲原住民的语言让他们深刻而直观地将爱因斯坦关于时间的概念理解为第四个维度,到犹太教的本质是由古代希伯来人神经系统决定的理论。

Eventually, Whorf’s theory crash-landed on hard facts and solid common sense, when it transpired that there had never actually been any evidence to support his fantastic claims. The reaction was so severe that for decades, any attempts to explore the influence of the mother tongue on our thoughts were relegated to the loony fringes of disrepute. But 70 years on, it is surely time to put the trauma of Whorf behind us. And in the last few years, new research has revealed that when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.
最终,当沃尔夫的理论由于实际上缺乏任何可以支持他的大胆宣言的证据而慢慢失去威力时,沃尔夫的理论翅膀狠狠地摔在残酷的事实和坚实的大众意识上而惨遭折翅。数十年来,任何试图探究母语对我们的思维产生影响的努力都被视为徒劳无功、沽名钓誉,人将对这种言论视为无稽之谈。但是70年的时光流逝,足够让我们把曾经的沃尔夫狂热抛之脑后。而在最近的几年中,新的研究披露,当我们学习自己的母语时,我们终究需要一定的思维定势,帮助我们以富有意义而令人惊喜的方式形成属于我们的经验。

Whorf, we now know, made many mistakes. The most serious one was to assume that our mother tongue constrains our minds and prevents us from being able to think certain thoughts. The general structure of his arguments was to claim that if a language has no word for a certain concept, then its speakers would not be able to understand this concept. If a language has no future tense, for instance, its speakers would simply not be able to grasp our notion of future time. It seems barely comprehensible that this line of argument could ever have achieved such success, given that so much contrary evidence confronts you wherever you look. When you ask, in perfectly normal English, and in the present tense, “Are you coming tomorrow?” do you feel your grip on the notion of futurity slipping away? Do English speakers who have never heard the German word Schadenfreude find it difficult to understand the concept of relishing someone else’s misfortune? Or think about it this way: If the inventory of ready-made words in your language determined which concepts you were able to understand, how would you ever learn anything new?
现在我们知道,沃尔夫当时的确犯了许多错误。其中最严重的一个是,他假定我们的母语限制了我们的思维,使我们不能持有某种想法。其论证的大概框架在于,如果某种语言中没有表达某种概念的词汇,说话人就有可能无法理解这一概念。譬如,如果一种语言没有表示未来时态这一概念,说话人理所当然地,就无法抓住未来时间的这一理念。让人不能完全理解的是,基于如此论证,也许就有可能实现这样的动作。因为无论你怎么看,摆在你面前始终是大量自相矛盾的证据。如果你用无可挑剔的大众英语以现在时态提出问题,“你明天会到这里来吗?” 你是否会感觉你对未来概念失去了把握?一个从未听过德语“Schadenfreude(幸灾乐祸)”一词的以英语为母语的人是否发现自己很难理解对他人不幸的体会? 或者,这样认为:如果你使用自己母语中那些已经创造出来的词汇就能够理解的所要表达的概念,你怎么会学习其他新的词汇?

SINCE THERE IS NO EVIDENCE that any language forbids its speakers to think anything, we must look in an entirely different direction to discover how our mother tongue really does shape our experience of the world. Some 50 years ago, the renowned linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out a crucial fact about differences between languages in a pithy maxim: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” This maxim offers us the key to unlocking the real force of the mother tongue: if different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.
没有证据可以证明,任何语言禁止说话人思考任何事情。因此我们必须站在一个完全不同的角度,挖掘我们的母语是怎样真正地塑造我们对于这个世界上的经验。大约50年前,以一句精辟箴言,著名语言学家罗曼.加科逊道出了一个残酷事实,不同的语言之间有着很大的差别,就是说:“语言之间的差别根本在于,什么概念是必须传达的,而什么是可能传达的。”这一箴言向我们提供了解开母语具有何种真正力量的关键:如果不同语言以不同的方式影响我们的思维,并不是因为我们的语言允许我们这样思考,而是由于其习惯性趋势促使我们作此想法。

Consider this example. Suppose I say to you in English that “I spent yesterday evening with a neighbor.” You may well wonder whether my companion was male or female, but I have the right to tell you politely that it’s none of your business. But if we were speaking French or German, I wouldn’t have the privilege to equivocate in this way, because I would be obliged by the grammar of language to choose between voisin or voisine; Nachbar or Nachbarin. These languages compel me to inform you about the sex of my companion whether or not I feel it is remotely your concern. This does not mean, of course, that English speakers are unable to understand the differences between evenings spent with male or female neighbors, but it does mean that they do not have to consider the sexes of neighbors, friends, teachers and a host of other persons each time they come up in a conversation, whereas speakers of some languages are obliged to do so.
请看这样一个例子:假如,我用英语对你说“我昨天与一个邻居待在一起。”你可能马上反应,与我待在一起的那位是男的还是女的。但是我有权委婉地告诉你,这与你无关。但是如果我们之间是用法语或德语交流,我可能没有这样的权利以这种方式推诿,因为我可能受到这两种语言中语法的制约,在表达“邻居”或“睦邻”这一概念的法语voison或voisiner以及德语Nachbar 或 Nachbarin之间作选择;这些语言迫使自己告诉你,跟我待在一起的那个人是位男士还是女士,不管我是否觉得这根本就与你无关。当然,这并不意味说英语的人未能理解夜晚时与男性或者女性邻居呆在一起的差别。但是它的确意味着,即使以某语种为母语的人有义务这样做,他们也不必考虑向别人表明,每次与自己聊天的邻居、朋友、老师,和待他人为宾的主人是男人还是女人。
On the other hand, English does oblige you to specify certain types of information that can be left to the context in other languages. If I want to tell you in English about a dinner with my neighbor, I may not have to mention the neighbor’s sex, but I do have to tell you something about the timing of the event: I have to decide whether we dined, have been dining, are dining, will be dining and so on. Chinese, on the other hand, does not oblige its speakers to specify the exact time of the action in this way, because the same verb form can be used for past, present or future actions. Again, this does not mean that the Chinese are unable to understand the concept of time. But it does mean they are not obliged to think about timing whenever they describe an action.
另一方面,英语促使你阐明某些信息,而这些信息在其他语言行文说话中有可能会被忽略。如果我想用英语告诉你有关与邻居进餐的事,可能我不必提及邻居的性别,但我必须告诉你进餐的时间安排:我必须明确地告诉你,我和邻居是否已经、一直、正在、或者即将用餐等等信息。而另一方面,说中文的人不必用这种方式道出某种行为的确切时间,因为同样的动词形式可以用来表达过去、现在或将来时态。而且,这并不意味着使用中文就不能理解时间的概念。而是意味着说中文的人不必一定考虑如何说清楚他们所要描述的动作发生的时间。

When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world.
当你所使用的语言不无例外地促使你明确某种信息,它让你注意到这个世界的某些细节,还会注意到,以其他语言为母语的人可能完全不会去考虑的有关经验的某些方面。而且由于这种语言习惯是从很小就开始培养的,自然而然地就成为一种超出语言本身的、影响你的经历、观察力、联想力、感觉、记忆和定位的思维定势,

BUT IS THERE any evidence for this happening in practice?
但是,在你的实际经历中有什么证据足以证明这一观点?

Let’s take genders again. Languages like Spanish, French, German and Russian not only oblige you to think about the sex of friends and neighbors, but they also assign a male or female gender to a whole range of inanimate objects quite at whim. What, for instance, is particularly feminine about a Frenchman’s beard (la barbe)? Why is Russian water a she, and why does she become a he once you have dipped a tea bag into her? Mark Twain famously lamented such erratic genders as female turnips and neuter maidens in his rant “The Awful German Language.” But whereas he claimed that there was something particularly perverse about the German gender system, it is in fact English that is unusual, at least among European languages, in not treating turnips and tea cups as masculine or feminine. Languages that treat an inanimate object as a he or a she force their speakers to talk about such an object as if it were a man or a woman. And as anyone whose mother tongue has a gender system will tell you, once the habit has taken hold, it is all but impossible to shake off. When I speak English, I may say about a bed that “it” is too soft, but as a native Hebrew speaker, I actually feel “she” is too soft. “She” stays feminine all the way from the lungs up to the glottis and is neutered only when she reaches the tip of the tongue.
让我们再以性别为例。在西班牙语、法语、德语和俄罗斯语等这些语言中,不但要考虑到朋友和邻居的性别,而且你会一时兴起给所有无生命的物体定义其性别。比如,法国人的面包(la barbe),哪一种更具女性化?为什么俄罗斯人把水比作女性“她”,但当你把茶包浸泡到水中,这样的水就成了“他”?马克.吐温写过一次著名悼文,哀悼人们将诸如此类不规则的性别比作充满女性魅力的郁金香和中立的女侍从,然后他愤愤的说:“见鬼,德语。”

但是,他反而断言德语中描述性别的语言体系太有悖情理。事实上,英语是与众不同的语言体系。起码,在欧洲各种语言中,不会将郁金香花和茶杯以男性化或者女性化。将不规则的物体看作“他”或者“她”的语言让说话人将如此物体假设为男人或者女人。而且,当某种语言中存在描述性别的语言体系时,以该语言为母语的人就会告诉你,一旦形成习惯,就会形成主宰,极难摆脱其干系。说英语的时候,我可能会说“床”是一个柔软的物体。但是作为一个以希伯来语为母语的人,我真的感觉到“床”她是多么柔软。从说话人的肺部到声门,我们总感觉到他们将“她”视之为女性化,而从他们的舌尖跳出的语音我们每一次都能听到,“她”是个中立的单词。

In recent years, various experiments have shown that grammatical genders can shape the feelings and associations of speakers toward objects around them. In the 1990s, for example, psychologists compared associations between speakers of German and Spanish. There are many inanimate nouns whose genders in the two languages are reversed. A German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; and the same goes for clocks, apartments, forks, newspapers, pockets, shoulders, stamps, tickets, violins, the sun, the world and love. On the other hand, an apple is masculine for Germans but feminine in Spanish, and so are chairs, brooms, butterflies, keys, mountains, stars, tables, wars, rain and garbage. When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. With objects like mountains or chairs, which are “he” in German but “she” in Spanish, the effect was reversed.
近年来,各种各样的经实验表明,语法上的性别能够让说话人对身边的事物形成一种感觉和联想。例如,20世纪90年代,语言学家比较了说德语的人和说西班牙语的人产生的联想。两种语言中许多无生命名词的性别是相反的。例如,德语中的桥(die Brücke)为女性,但西班牙语中桥(el Puente)为男性;同样,钟、公寓、刀叉、报纸、口袋、肩膀、邮票、票、小提琴、太阳、世界和爱在两种语言中表示不同的性别。另一方面,德语中的苹果是位男性,而在西班牙语中为女性,同样的,椅子、扫帚、蝴蝶、钥匙、山、星星、桌子、战争、雨和垃圾分别在德语和西班牙语中表示男性和女性。如果要求说话人对大量物体根据其特点进行分类,说西班牙语的人认为桥、钟鹤、小提琴具有更多“男子化的性质”,好些具有很大力量。但说德语的人趋向于认为它们较为苗条或优雅。诸如山、椅子这类物体,在德语中为“he”,而在西班牙语中看作是“she”,效果完全相反。

In a different experiment, French and Spanish speakers were asked to assign human voices to various objects in a cartoon. When French speakers saw a picture of a fork (la fourchette), most of them wanted it to speak in a woman’s voice, but Spanish speakers, for whom el tenedor is masculine, preferred a gravelly male voice for it. More recently, psychologists have even shown that “gendered languages” imprint gender traits for objects so strongly in the mind that these associations obstruct speakers’ ability to commit information to memory.
在另外一个实验中,要求说法语和西班牙的人对卡通中的不同物体进行配音。说法语的人看到一个刀叉(la fourchette),都想用女人的声音来表达,而说西班牙语的人把表示刀叉的el tendor看作男性,选择了极具男性魅力的声音进行配音。最近一段时间,心理学家甚至表示,“性别语言”为各种物体在说话人的心中烙下了强烈的性别轨迹,以至于他们的联想阻碍了说话人对信息进行存储记忆的能力。

Of course, all this does not mean that speakers of Spanish or French or German fail to understand that inanimate objects do not really have biological sex — a German woman rarely mistakes her husband for a hat, and Spanish men are not known to confuse a bed with what might be lying in it. Nonetheless, once gender connotations have been imposed on impressionable young minds, they lead those with a gendered mother tongue to see the inanimate world through lenses tinted with associations and emotional responses that English speakers — stuck in their monochrome desert of “its” — are entirely oblivious to. Did the opposite genders of “bridge” in German and Spanish, for example, have an effect on the design of bridges in Spain and Germany? Do the emotional maps imposed by a gender system have higher-level behavioral consequences for our everyday life? Do they shape tastes, fashions, habits and preferences in the societies concerned? At the current state of our knowledge about the brain, this is not something that can be easily measured in a psychology lab. But it would be surprising if they didn’t.
当然,这并不意味着说西班牙语、法语或德语的人无法理解,无生命的物体实际上是没有生物才有性别——说德语的女人极少把自己的丈夫误看作一顶帽子,而我们也很少听说西班牙语的人把床看作是自己的丈夫。然而,一旦性别概念对年轻人的思维形成长期的深刻影响,这些概念引导那些母语中有性别体系的人通过染上了联想和情感反应的镜片看待无生命的世界,而说英语的人依然深陷“its”单性别的沙漠,这一切都是明显不过的。例如,德语和西班牙语中表示“桥”的相反性别概念,是否在西班牙和德中影响到桥的设计?受性别系统影响的情感图表是否对我们的日常生活有高层次的施为结果?他们是否在社会上形成了相关的品味、时尚、习惯和表现?就我目前对脑袋理解,也并非可以轻而易举地用实验室标准来衡量 。但是,如果他们并非如此的话没,那将令人无比惊喜。

The area where the most striking evidence for the influence of language on thought has come to light is the language of space — how we describe the orientation of the world around us. Suppose you want to give someone directions for getting to your house. You might say: “After the traffic lights, take the first left, then the second right, and then you’ll see a white house in front of you. Our door is on the right.” But in theory, you could also say: “After the traffic lights, drive north, and then on the second crossing drive east, and you’ll see a white house directly to the east. Ours is the southern door.” These two sets of directions may describe the same route, but they rely on different systems of coordinates. The first uses egocentric coordinates, which depend on our own bodies: a left-right axis and a front-back axis orthogonal to it. The second system uses fixed geographic directions, which do not rotate with us wherever we turn.
语言对思想的影响这方面的课题最强有力的证据出现在空间语言上——我们怎么描述我们身边这个世界的定向?假如你想给某人指出到达你的房子的方向,可能说:“经过交通灯,左转,然后在第二个交通灯的地方右拐,就可以看到一座白色房子。我们家的门口在右边”。但是从理论上来讲,你也可以说:“经过交通灯,往北行驶,然后在第二个十字路口往东,你就可以看到一座白色的房子正面对东边。我们房子的门朝南”。这两组方位可能描述的是同样的路线,但是他们使用的是不同的语言组织体系。第一个以我为中心,从说话人的角度进行描述:即以左-右和前-后轴线的相交点为中心。第二个使用固定的地理方位,并不随我们本身位置的变化而变化。

We find it useful to use geographic directions when hiking in the open countryside, for example, but the egocentric coordinates completely dominate our speech when we describe small-scale spaces. We don’t say: “When you get out of the elevator, walk south, and then take the second door to the east.” The reason the egocentric system is so dominant in our language is that it feels so much easier and more natural. After all, we always know where “behind” or “in front of” us is. We don’t need a map or a compass to work it out, we just feel it, because the egocentric coordinates are based directly on our own bodies and our immediate visual fields.
例如,当我们徒步走在空旷的乡村上的时候,我们发现使用地理方位非常有用。但是当我们描述小规模的空间时,我们完全以自己为中心的坐标系进行交流。我们不会说:“当你走出电梯,往南走,然后在第二个门口往东。”以自己为中心进行描述的原因是,它容易被理解而且表述自然。毕竟我们永远知道什么位于我们的“后面”或“前面”。由于以自己为中心的坐标系直接基于我们的身体而且在我们直接的视觉范围内,所以我们不需要绘出地图,或者使用指南针进行引路,我们靠的是感觉。

But then a remote Australian aboriginal tongue, Guugu Yimithirr, from north Queensland, turned up, and with it came the astounding realization that not all languages conform to what we have always taken as simply “natural.” In fact, Guugu Yimithirr doesn’t make any use of egocentric coordinates at all. The anthropologist John Haviland and later the linguist Stephen Levinson have shown that Guugu Yimithirr does not use words like “left” or “right,” “in front of” or “behind,” to describe the position of objects. Whenever we would use the egocentric system, the Guugu Yimithirr rely on cardinal directions. If they want you to move over on the car seat to make room, they’ll say “move a bit to the east.” To tell you where exactly they left something in your house, they’ll say, “I left it on the southern edge of the western table.” Or they would warn you to “look out for that big ant just north of your foot.” Even when shown a film on television, they gave descriptions of it based on the orientation of the screen. If the television was facing north, and a man on the screen was approaching, they said that he was “coming northward.”
但是之后出现一种来自北昆士兰的地处偏僻的澳大利亚土著语——Guugu Yimithirr, 紧接着,人们惊喜地发现,并非所有语言局限于我们一直以来简单地归类的“自然”。事实上,Guugu Yimihirr 根本没有使用到以自己为中心的坐标系。古人类学家约翰.哈维兰德以及之后的语言学家斯蒂芬.勒文森表示,Guugu Yimithirr没有使用诸如“左”或“右”、“前”或“后”等词汇描述物体的方位。无论什么时候我们使用以自己为中心的体系,Guugu Yimithirr语却依赖基数方向。如果他们想要你腾出车位,他们会说“向东移动一点。”为了告诉你他们在你的屋里具体哪个地方留了东西,他们会说,“放在西边桌子的南角。”或者他们会提醒你“留意就在你的脚正北边的大蚂蚁。”甚至在播放某部电影或电视的时候,他们会根据屏幕的方位进行描述。如果电视机面对北边,屏幕上一位男士慢慢走过来,他们说他正“往北移动。”
When these peculiarities of Guugu Yimithirr were uncovered, they inspired a large-scale research project into the language of space. And as it happens, Guugu Yimithirr is not a freak occurrence; languages that rely primarily on geographical coordinates are scattered around the world, from Polynesia to Mexico, from Namibia to Bali. For us, it might seem the height of absurdity for a dance teacher to say, “Now raise your north hand and move your south leg eastward.” But the joke would be lost on some: the Canadian-American musicologist Colin McPhee, who spent several years on Bali in the 1930s, recalls a young boy who showed great talent for dancing. As there was no instructor in the child’s village, McPhee arranged for him to stay with a teacher in a different village. But when he came to check on the boy’s progress after a few days, he found the boy dejected and the teacher exasperated. It was impossible to teach the boy anything, because he simply did not understand any of the instructions. When told to take “three steps east” or “bend southwest,” he didn’t know what to do. The boy would not have had the least trouble with these directions in his own village, but because the landscape in the new village was entirely unfamiliar, he became disoriented and confused. Why didn’t the teacher use different instructions? He would probably have replied that saying “take three steps forward” or “bend backward” would be the height of absurdity.
这些Guugu Yimithirr语言的细节披露后,促进了一场大规模针对语言空间的研究工程。随着研究的推进,人们发现Guugu Yimithirr的出现并非一无是处;主要依靠地理坐标的语言在世界各地,从波利尼西亚到墨西哥,从纳米比亚到巴里,都有分布。对我们来说,它好比舞蹈老师所说的、晦涩难懂、颇具艺术难度的动作,“现在,举起你北边的手,向东移动你南边的脚。”但是在一些语言中就失去了它的幽默效果:加拿大裔美国的音乐学家,柯林.麦柯菲曾于20世纪30年代在巴里度过几年的时光,提到了在那里一位对舞蹈有极高天分的少年。由于那条村子没有舞蹈老师,麦柯菲安排他师从另外一条村子的老师。但是几天后当他找到那男孩了解学习进度时,发现他出现抵触情绪,他的舞蹈老师也非常沮丧。教这个男孩学什么东西都是不可能的,因为他无法理解任何指导。老师告诉他“向东移三步”或“向西南弯腰”,他一头雾水。在他的村子中,这位男孩对这些指导完全能够理解。但是由于在新的村子中环境完全不同,他变得非常迷茫,失去了方向。为什么老师不使用其他指导?他很有可能会说,“向前迈三步”或“往后弯腰”是个技术难关。

So different languages certainly make us speak about space in very different ways. But does this necessarily mean that we have to think about space differently? By now red lights should be flashing, because even if a language doesn’t have a word for “behind,” this doesn’t necessarily mean that its speakers wouldn’t be able to understand this concept. Instead, we should look for the possible consequences of what geographic languages oblige their speakers to convey. In particular, we should be on the lookout for what habits of mind might develop because of the necessity of specifying geographic directions all the time.
所以,使用不同的语言我们表达空间的方式也就有所不同。但是这样是否意味着我们必须有区别的考虑方位?现在应该提出警告,因为即使一种语言中没有“后面”这个词语,这并非意味着说话人不能理解这个概念。相反,我们应该寻找一种地理坐标语言促使其说话人传达意思的可能结果。特别地,由于经常需要具体说明地理方向,我们应该时刻留意思维方式的发展。

In order to speak a language like Guugu Yimithirr, you need to know where the cardinal directions are at each and every moment of your waking life. You need to have a compass in your mind that operates all the time, day and night, without lunch breaks or weekends off, since otherwise you would not be able to impart the most basic information or understand what people around you are saying. Indeed, speakers of geographic languages seem to have an almost-superhuman sense of orientation. Regardless of visibility conditions, regardless of whether they are in thick forest or on an open plain, whether outside or indoors or even in caves, whether stationary or moving, they have a spot-on sense of direction. They don’t look at the sun and pause for a moment of calculation before they say, “There’s an ant just north of your foot.” They simply feel where north, south, west and east are, just as people with perfect pitch feel what each note is without having to calculate intervals. There is a wealth of stories about what to us may seem like incredible feats of orientation but for speakers of geographic languages are just a matter of course. One report relates how a speaker of Tzeltal from southern Mexico was blindfolded and spun around more than 20 times in a darkened house. Still blindfolded and dizzy, he pointed without hesitation at the geographic directions.
为了说像Guugu Yimithirr这样的语言,你需要时刻注意每走一步所处的主要方向。你需要在脑海中有个指南针的概念以便随时地、日日夜夜地、不分午饭或周休地指导你行走。否则你不能向你身边的人灌输自己的大部分基本信息或者理解他们所说。的确,使用地理语言的人似乎拥有几乎异于常人的方向感。不管怎样显而易见的情况,不管他们是否身处密林中或旷野上、室内或室外、甚至在山洞中,也不管是静止不动还是在不断运动中,他们对方向有一种胸有成竹的感觉。他们不用根据太阳以及暂停片刻进行盘算,就说,“有只蚂蚁正在你的脚的北边方向。” 他们轻而易举地就感知东南西北,正如有的人拥有绝佳音高感,无需计算节拍间隙就能够知道每个音符的音高。有大量的例子说明我们可能具备难以置信的方位优势。然而,对于使用地理语言的人,却是理所当然的。有个报告叙述了一位来自墨西哥南部,说Tzetal语的人。在一个漆黑的房子里他被蒙上眼睛,然后转上20多圈。在他还被蒙着眼,感觉非常晕眩的时候,他可以毫不迟疑地指出地理方向。

How does this work? The convention of communicating with geographic coordinates compels speakers from the youngest age to pay attention to the clues from the physical environment (the position of the sun, wind and so on) every second of their lives, and to develop an accurate memory of their own changing orientations at any given moment. So everyday communication in a geographic language provides the most intense imaginable drilling in geographic orientation (it has been estimated that as much as 1 word in 10 in a normal Guugu Yimithirr conversation is “north,” “south,” “west” or “east,” often accompanied by precise hand gestures). This habit of constant awareness to the geographic direction is inculcated almost from infancy: studies have shown that children in such societies start using geographic directions as early as age 2 and fully master the system by 7 or 8. With such an early and intense drilling, the habit soon becomes second nature, effortless and unconscious. When Guugu Yimithirr speakers were asked how they knew where north is, they couldn’t explain it any more than you can explain how you know where “behind” is.
他是怎么做到的呢?使用地理坐标进行交流的习惯,使说话人从小开始每时每刻留意生活中物理环境(太阳、风等物体的位置)这些线索,以及发展出一种准确记忆这些物体时时刻刻改变的方位。所以,日常交流中使用地理语言向他们提供了在地理方位方面最激烈、最有想象力的训练(据估计,10个Guugu Yimithirr语的单词中就有一个词是“北”、“南”或“西”、“东”,经常伴以准确的手势)。这种对地理方向的持续意识几乎是从婴儿时期就开始灌输:研究表明,身处这样环境的孩子从2岁就开始使用地理方向,到7、8岁时就能完全掌握这样的系统。从小就开始如此激烈的训练,习惯就变成了第二自然的、下意识的行为,根本不用费多大劲。当说Guguu Yimithirr语的人被问到,他们是怎样知道北方的位置,他们不会解释。正如同你不会解释你是怎样知道“后面”是哪里这样的概念。
But there is more to the effects of a geographic language, for the sense of orientation has to extend further in time than the immediate present. If you speak a Guugu Yimithirr-style language, your memories of anything that you might ever want to report will have to be stored with cardinal directions as part of the picture. One Guugu Yimithirr speaker was filmed telling his friends the story of how in his youth, he capsized in shark-infested waters. He and an older person were caught in a storm, and their boat tipped over. They both jumped into the water and managed to swim nearly three miles to the shore, only to discover that the missionary for whom they worked was far more concerned at the loss of the boat than relieved at their miraculous escape. Apart from the dramatic content, the remarkable thing about the story was that it was remembered throughout in cardinal directions: the speaker jumped into the water on the western side of the boat, his companion to the east of the boat, they saw a giant shark swimming north and so on. Perhaps the cardinal directions were just made up for the occasion? Well, quite by chance, the same person was filmed some years later telling the same story. The cardinal directions matched exactly in the two tellings. Even more remarkable were the spontaneous hand gestures that accompanied the story. For instance, the direction in which the boat rolled over was gestured in the correct geographic orientation, regardless of the direction the speaker was facing in the two films.
但是,讲地理方位语言的好处远远不止于此。这时因为,相对于眼前所见,方向感能够及时做出反应,看到更远的空间。如果你是说Guugu Yimithirr之类语言的人,对于任何有意向他人讲述的事物,它们在你脑海中是主方向的形式进行存储记忆的,这一点犹如每幅画作的一部分。在一段录影中,一位说Guugu Yimithirr语的人讲述了他朋友年轻时曾经有一次在鲨鱼出没的海域中翻船的经历。那个朋友和一位长者遭遇海上风暴,船被打翻。他们都跳到了水中,朝着海岸的方向奋力游了将近三英里,结果发现他们为之工作的传教士更加关心的是船被打翻所带来的损失,而非他们从凶险大海中的死里逃生。撇开充满戏剧性的历险不说,这个故事最令人印象深刻的部分是,整个故事本身由始至终都是以主方向的形式进行描述的:说话人从船的西边跳到海中,他的那位传教士则从东边跃入,他们看到一条巨大鲨鱼在北边游弋,如此等等。主方向是否只能用来描述某些情况的发生?嗯,纯属偶然,多年以后刚才那个人在录影中向我们讲述了同一个故事。主方向与两段叙述完全吻合。更令人印象深刻的是说话人在讲述时下意识做出的手势。比如, 在两段录影中无论说话人面朝哪个方向,翻船的方向与其所指的方向完全一致。
Psychological experiments have also shown that under certain circumstances, speakers of Guugu Yimithirr-style languages even remember “the same reality” differently from us. There has been heated debate about the interpretation of some of these experiments, but one conclusion that seems compelling is that while we are trained to ignore directional rotations when we commit information to memory, speakers of geographic languages are trained not to do so. One way of understanding this is to imagine that you are traveling with a speaker of such a language and staying in a large chain-style hotel, with corridor upon corridor of identical-looking doors. Your friend is staying in the room opposite yours, and when you go into his room, you’ll see an exact replica of yours: the same bathroom door on the left, the same mirrored wardrobe on the right, the same main room with the same bed on the left, the same curtains drawn behind it, the same desk next to the wall on the right, the same television set on the left corner of the desk and the same telephone on the right. In short, you have seen the same room twice. But when your friend comes into your room, he will see something quite different from this, because everything is reversed north-side-south. In his room the bed was in the north, while in yours it is in the south; the telephone that in his room was in the west is now in the east, and so on. So while you will see and remember the same room twice, a speaker of a geographic language will see and remember two different rooms.
同样,一些心理学实验表明,在某种情况下,说Guugu Yimitmirr风格语言的人记忆“同一实体”的方式与我们也是不一样的。对于如何讲解同样的一些实验,出现过很多争论。但是看起来令人信服的一个结论是,当我们受到训练,学习在提交信息进行记忆的时候忽略方向交替,而说地理语言的人不必这样做。为了对之进行理解,有一个方法就是想象你与一位说地理语言的人结伴旅行,在一个大型连锁旅馆驻留,然后以容易辨认的门口唯参照物一个走廊挨一个走廊地走动。你的朋友住在你的对门,而当你走进他的房间,你会看到他的与你的房间完全一致:房间左边是相同的浴室,右边是一个一模一样装了镜子的衣橱,主卧室靠左摆着一张同样的床,床的后面挂着同样的窗帘,一张相同的桌子挨着右边墙壁,一部相同的电视机在桌子左角摆放,而电话机则在右角位置。简单地说,你在同一个旅馆里看到了两件一模一样的房间。但是当你的朋友走进你的房间,他所见到的是完全是另外一番景象,因为所有东西都是南-北方向调转了的。在他的房间,他的床在北边而你的在南边;电话在他的房间里本来靠西摆放,现在却在东边,如此等等。所以,同样的一间房,你的两次所见所忆都是相同的,而说地理语言的人完全不同。

It is not easy for us to conceive how Guugu Yimithirr speakers experience the world, with a crisscrossing of cardinal directions imposed on any mental picture and any piece of graphic memory. Nor is it easy to speculate about how geographic languages affect areas of experience other than spatial orientation — whether they influence the speaker’s sense of identity, for instance, or bring about a less-egocentric outlook on life. But one piece of evidence is telling: if you saw a Guugu Yimithirr speaker pointing at himself, you would naturally assume he meant to draw attention to himself. In fact, he is pointing at a cardinal direction that happens to be behind his back. While we are always at the center of the world, and it would never occur to us that pointing in the direction of our chest could mean anything other than to draw attention to ourselves, a Guugu Yimithirr speaker points through himself, as if he were thin air and his own existence were irrelevant.
设想说Guguu Yimithirr语的人如何对在其心中任何图像以及图形记忆片断以纵横交错的主方向方式进行记忆,并不是一件容易的事。同样,推断地理语言如何影响所经历区域而不是空间定向——是否它们影响了说话人的辨认感,比如,或对生活带着一份缺乏自我为中心的观感,也颇有难处。但是有一份证据说明:如果你看见一个说Guguu Yimitirr语的人用手指着自己,你可能会自然而然地想象他有意引起别人对他的注意。事实上,他所指的是一个恰好在他身后的主方向而已。我们总是站在地球的中间,而手指我们的胸部方向可能代表其他事情而不是有意引起他人的注意,这样的事情好像永远不会发生在我们身上。一位说Guguu Yimitirr语的人指向他自己,似乎他就是那薄薄的空气,与他本人的存在毫无关联。
IN WHAT OTHER WAYS might the language we speak influence our experience of the world? Recently, it has been demonstrated in a series of ingenious experiments that we even perceive colors through the lens of our mother tongue. There are radical variations in the way languages carve up the spectrum of visible light; for example, green and blue are distinct colors in English but are considered shades of the same color in many languages. And it turns out that the colors that our language routinely obliges us to treat as distinct can refine our purely visual sensitivity to certain color differences in reality, so that our brains are trained to exaggerate the distance between shades of color if these have different names in our language. As strange as it may sound, our experience of a Chagall painting actually depends to some extent on whether our language has a word for blue.
我们所说的语言是否会在其他什么方面影响我们的经历?最近,一系列不确切的试验表明,我们甚至可以通过我们母语透镜察觉各种颜色。语言中划分可视光线的光谱中存在根本变化;例如,绿色和蓝色在英语中是色彩分明的颜色,但是在许多语言中却被看作是完全相同颜色的色调。结果是,平时我们的语言促使我们队颜色进行区别对待,实际上这样可以把纯粹可见的感觉精确定位到某种颜色。这样一来,如果在我们的语言中有不同的名称,经过大脑训练,我们夸大了色彩的色调之间的差别。这听起来也许有点奇怪,我们对于夏加尔绘画的看法实际在一定程度上依赖我们的语言是否有描述蓝色的词汇。

In coming years, researchers may also be able to shed light on the impact of language on more subtle areas of perception. For instance, some languages, like Matses in Peru, oblige their speakers, like the finickiest of lawyers, to specify exactly how they came to know about the facts they are reporting. You cannot simply say, as in English, “An animal passed here.” You have to specify, using a different verbal form, whether this was directly experienced (you saw the animal passing), inferred (you saw footprints), conjectured (animals generally pass there that time of day), hearsay or such. If a statement is reported with the incorrect “evidentiality,” it is considered a lie. So if, for instance, you ask a Matses man how many wives he has, unless he can actually see his wives at that very moment, he would have to answer in the past tense and would say something like “There were two last time I checked.” After all, given that the wives are not present, he cannot be absolutely certain that one of them hasn’t died or run off with another man since he last saw them, even if this was only five minutes ago. So he cannot report it as a certain fact in the present tense. Does the need to think constantly about epistemology in such a careful and sophisticated manner inform the speakers’ outlook on life or their sense of truth and causation? When our experimental tools are less blunt, such questions will be amenable to empirical study.
在接下来几年,研究人员也很有可能在知觉的更加细微领域上阐明语言的影响。比如,诸如秘鲁的Mateses语等一些语言好像最挑剔的律师一样,促使其话语者准确地阐述,他们是怎样知道他们正进行报告的事实的。你不能简单地,比如用英语说,“一个动物经过这里,”你必须使用不同的动词形式说明,这是否你的直接经历(你看到动物经过),推断(你看到脚印),揣度(平常动物都是在一天某个时间经过),听说或者其他经历。如果一篇说明用不正确的“证据”进行报告,就会被视为撒谎。例如,如果这样的话,你问一个说Mateses的男人有几个妻子,除非他就在那刻看见妻子,否则他会用过去式回答,并且说写诸如这样的话,“我查过,以前我有过两个妻子。”毕竟,考虑到并非现在的妻子这样的事情,他不能准确无误地确定,自从上次见面后(即使这只不过是五分钟前发生的),他的妻子中有的已经死去或者跟别的男人跑了。 所以他不能用过去式把它当作确切事实进行报告。使用如此谨慎、复杂的方式不停思考认识论的需要是否告诉我们话语者对生活的展望或者对事实和缘由的感觉?当我们的经历工具变得越来越迟钝,这样的问题可以在现实中通过学习解决。

For many years, our mother tongue was claimed to be a “prison house” that constrained our capacity to reason. Once it turned out that there was no evidence for such claims, this was taken as proof that people of all cultures think in fundamentally the same way. But surely it is a mistake to overestimate the importance of abstract reasoning in our lives. After all, how many daily decisions do we make on the basis of deductive logic compared with those guided by gut feeling, intuition, emotions, impulse or practical skills? The habits of mind that our culture has instilled in us from infancy shape our orientation to the world and our emotional responses to the objects we encounter, and their consequences probably go far beyond what has been experimentally demonstrated so far; they may also have a marked impact on our beliefs, values and ideologies. We may not know as yet how to measure these consequences directly or how to assess their contribution to cultural or political misunderstandings. But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same.

许多年来,据称我们的母语是一座“牢房”,限制了我们辩理的能力。一旦结果表明,这样的断定并无证据可寻,由此证明所有文化的人用基本相同的方式进行思考。但是,的确,过高估计我们生活中抽象辨理的重要性无疑是错误的。毕竟,相对那些受心里感知、直觉、情感、冲动或实际技能的指引,基于推导性逻辑我们做了多少日常的决定?我们的文化从婴儿时期开始植入我们脑海中的思维习惯,塑造了我们对世界的方位感,以及我们对遇到的事物的情感反应。而且,其结果极有可能超出目前实践表明的论断;它们可能也对我们的信仰、价值和意识有显著的影响。我们可能仍未知道怎样直接衡量这些结果,或者怎样评估它们对文化或者政治误解的贡献。但是,作为互相理解的第一步,我们会比假装我们人全部想法一致做得更好。
频道:文化

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