Annotated Bibliography on Language and Thought *

by Ralph Dumain


     The question of the relation of thought to language is a multifaceted one and has been approached by such disciplines as philosophy, linguistics proper, sociology of language, sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, and educational policy.

     This selected bibliography is not representative of the field of language and cognition as a whole, nor of its historical evolution, nor of its most current work, nor of its most significant contributions. I have selected, in a nonsystematic way, works which illustrate the different angles from which the issue must be considered and which illuminate the problems to be confronted. This bibliography reflects my interest in the high-level aspects of language and cognition, e.g. the strong version of Whorf's hypothesis [the world view issue], particularly the human ability to formulate and critique concepts. For me, the issue of the ability to form and interrelate abstract concepts is exclusively an issue of semantics. The practical and political issue is the mastery of word meanings and the conquest of the opacity of semantic systems.

     The most philosophically, sociologically, and politically astute authors listed here superbly criticize the philosophical and ideological problems of certain views of language, but unfortunately these same people tend to be the least knowledgeable about linguistics proper and thus are limited in their ability to form adequate positive notions of the nature of language. Newmeyer gives the best information on the history of modern linguistic theories since Chomsky.

     In the sociolinguistic and politically sensitive vein, I have neglected to include works by William Labov and Basil Bernstein, two of the foremost researchers of the 1960s on issues of cognitive ability and social dialects. I will have to rectify this omission in the next installment of this bibliography. Bernstein was a pioneer in the comparison of standard English vs. British working class dialects, the formulation of the notions of elaborated and restricted code, and the investigation of different uses of language as social reinforcements. Labov presented a wealth of ethnographic data to prove that ghetto-dwelling Black Americans using so-called Black English were perfectly capable of abstract thinking, refuting assertions to the contrary. Labov also used transformational-generative grammar to analyze the syntax of Black English and to refute superstitions about linguistic deficiency. I am completely on Labov's side in this matter. Superficial notions of language which reinforce shallow cultural stereotypes and facile ideas about world views are politically as well as intellectually dangerous.

     Besides paying more attention to recent developments in linguistic theory, we will also have to delve into the pragmatics of language more thoroughly, where much of the hidden dynamics of language and social control lie. There is much in the literature of philosophy, especially philosophy of science, that bears upon the tacit assumptions of Loglan ideologists such as Brown and Parks-Clifford about the nature of language, the limits to thought, the role of formal logic, and the nature of creativity and novelty in the progress of thought.

     Finally, though some of the references below deal with the politics of linguistic determinism, we hope to explore that avenue more thoroughly, especially the politics behind language reform as philosophical reform.

Annotated Bibliography

Bisseret, Noelle. 1979. Education, Class Language and Ideology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Bisseret examines the shortcomings of sociologists of language who analyze class dialects, such as Basil Bernstein. Their key defect is essentialism, the idea that a language variant is a natural expression of a (sub)culture (including family relationships within it). Such thinking represents a questionable stratificationalist view of society: each social stratum creates its own language variant as its cultural expression, as if each  social stratum existed in of and by itself, unrelated to the others. The essentialist view of social dialects ignores the relationship between social classes, which is antagonistic and in which one class dominates another. Bisseret also refuses to think of the standard language as an independent entity, by which progressives could speak of the unequal distribution of linguistic capital. Finally, Bisseret asserts that the logicality and coherence of the world belong to the dominant class.

Carroll, John B. 1964. Language and Thought. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. See chapter 7: 'Language and cognition', esp. the section "The linguistic-relativity hypothesis" (p. 106-110).

Carroll  is skeptical of  the strong Whorfian thesis. Evidence is lacking that grammatical differences between languages signify cognitive differences.  He gives examples to show misleading extrapolations based only on linguistic evidence. Carroll uses the expression "dead metaphors" (eg. 'breakfast').

Chomsky, Noam. 1973. See Schaff, Adam.

Friedrich, Paul. 1979. Language, Context, and the Imagination: Essays by Paul Friedrich, selected and introduced by Anwar S. Dil. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Friedrich disagrees with Whorf's views on language and metaphysics, but accepts the strong thesis in the realm of poetic language and its relation to the imagination.

Gyekye, Kwame. 1977. "Akan language and the materialist thesis: a short essay on the relation between philosophy and language," Studies in Language, vol. 1, no. 2, p. 237-244.

Opposes linguistic relativity in philosophy. Examples are given of mentalistic linguistic expressions in English which are expressed physicalistically in Akan. A linguistic relativist would conclude that the Akan people are materialists, yet Akan ontology is actually dualistic, with an absolute distinction between body and soul.

Havranek, Bohuslav. 1964. "The functional differentiation of the standard language," in: A Prague School Reader on Esthetics, Literary Structure, and Style, selected and translated from Czech by Paul L. Garvin; Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press; p. 3-16.

On lexical and syntactic aspects of standard vs. folk speech, different modes of utilization of the devices of language, intellectualization, automatization and foregrounding. Intellectualization of language makes possible precision, rigor, and abstractness. Syntactic devices enable an integrated structure of sentences. Automatization is the creation of conventional expressions with definite meanings; once established, an automatization does not attract attention to itself linguistically. Foregrounding is the use of language (usually uncommon) that attracts attention to itself, eg. live poetic metaphor. An expression automatized in one context may be foregrounded in another. Automatizations of science are different from those in conversation.

This article is important for two complementary reasons: (1) It proposes requisites of intellectual language, especially the ability to express abstractions, which I believe is the key issue in being able to formulate and change one's world view; (2) automatization, in creating conventional expressions, not only makes possible the expression of concepts, but an automatization as such is no longer metaphorically alive and so no longer binds a thought to its particular linguistic expression (thus negating a putative Whorfian limitation on thought). Foregrounding is relevant to Loglan because as Loglan is entirely new, there are no clichés, no tiresome or worn expressions. Loglan seems poetic to some of its propagandists because the entire language is foregrounded. What might otherwise be banal seems to be exquisitely poetic. Whorf foregrounded Hopi grammar, making it a source of live metaphors for him if not for the Hopi themselves.

Jackendoff, Ray. 1983. Semantics and Cognition. Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press.

Deals with grammatical constraint, semantic structure and conceptual structure, and theory of representation. This reference is included not as an endorsement of a particular semantic theory but as an example of one of the more sophisticated recent treatments of semantics.

Kahane, Henry and Renée. 1984. "Linguistic aspects of sociopolitical keywords," Language Problems and Language Planning, vol. 8, no. 2, p. 143-160.

The Kahanes examine the semantics of ideologically loaded words (keywords) and the processes by which they evolve over time. I think that ideological semantic systems create the most crucial biases in language, and so this article is important.

Lakoff, George; Johnson, Mark. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The authors make an important study of the metaphorical basis of language (e.g. dominant = up, subordinate = down). In the final chapters they argue for an extreme relativism, which in my view does not follow from their otherwise useful data. Others have claimed to have found metaphorical universals and have just as inanely argued for the innateness of such universals.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1976. "Semantic representations and the linguistic relativity hypothesis," Foundations of Language, vol. 14, p. 307-357.

Langacker tries to formulate the hypothesis in a non-vacuous manner, and ultimately rejects the strong version, basing himself on a distinction between primary conceptual structures and the semantic representations into which thought is coded. Two sentences in different languages may be semantically equivalent even when they employ different semantic representations. Semantic representations may not necessarily be universal. Languages may choose different images for encoding equivalent notions. Such means of expression are conventionalized to varying degrees, and speakers may remain unaware of  images. This may be true of grammatical markers as well as of lexical items. The figurative character of morphemes may disappear and along with it semantic content. "The grammar of a language, like its lexicon, is not unreasonably viewed as a garden of faded metaphors." Linguistic theory must take into account figurative aspects of language. Though Langacker uses the obsolete framework of generative semantics, the article is still worth reading.

Levitas, Maurice. 1974. Marxist Perspectives in the Sociology of Education. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. See chapter 7: 'Language and deprivation.'

Levitas articulates the basic ideas of Vygotsky's view of language and thought and its educational implications. He accepts Vygotsky's view that word-meaning is the unit of verbal thought. Luria terms context-bound speech which fails to separate the sign from its referent, 'synpraxic speech,' which is a particular stage in a child's speech. Using Vygotsky and Luria, Levitas argues that working class children must be helped to master the elaborated code and to achieve in linguistic expression freedom from the context.

Macnamara, John. 1970. "Bilingualism and thought," in Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics 1970: Bilingualism and Language Contact, edited by James E. Alatis; Washington: Georgetown University Press; p. 25-45.

Includes discussion by other participants. The inadequacies of Whorf's formulations are analyzed. Macanamara urgently emphasizes the need for a semantic theory.

Newmeyer, Frederick J. 1983. Grammatical Theory: Its Limits and Its Possibilities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Newmeyer clarifies the nature and intent of generative linguistics, answers common objections, and dispels popular misconceptions. Newmeyer deals with both distinctive advantages of generative linguistics and its potential applications, and the role of other types of linguistics that deal with aspects of language outside of the reach of grammatical theory.

______. 1986a. The Politics of Linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This is an excellent treatment of the history of linguistics and its internal and external politics. Newmeyer defends scientific linguistics against superficial moralistic and utilitarian notions of linguistics and exposes the reactionary nature of anti-scientific attitudes buttressed by phony humanistic pretenses. He also deals with the institutionalization and expansion of theoretical paradigms in linguistics and to what extent they are advanced or hindered by bureaucratic, economic, and political factors. Among other things, he demolishes Whorf's notions about grammar and world view and gives practical examples of Whorfianism's pernicious racist implications.

______. 1986b. Linguistic Theory in America. 2nd edition. Orlando: Academic Press, Inc.

This differs from the first edition in that it abridges treatment of earlier developments such as rise of abstract syntax and generative semantics in the late 1960s and adds information on recent developments. This book gives a real feel for the problems and evolution of theories, and shows how the rise and fall of competing theories or versions of a theory come about as responses to real problems, not just fads. The linguistically illiterate can also see that Chomsky's particular theoretical formulations form only part (and not always the most influential current) of the stream  of modern linguistic theory.

Rossi-Landi, Ferruccio. 1973. Ideologies of Linguistic Relativity. The Hague: Mouton.

His other works, on linguistics and economics, are deplorable examples of intellectual charlatanism, but this book admirably analyzes the shortcomings of and ideology behind the doctrine of linguistic relativity, including the white liberal guilt about Indians characteristic of people like Whorf.

Schaff,  Adam. 1973. Language and Cognition. Translated by Olgierd Wojtasiewicz; edited by Robert S. Cohen; introduction by Noam Chomsky. New York: McGraw-Hill. [Originally published in Polish, 1964.]

Chomsky's introduction is a valuable critique of Whorf and of superficial understanding of languages. He shows that the imputation to a language of a conceptual system about time based on its tense system does not hold up to examination. The English tense system with its use of verbal auxiliaries (including modals) suggests a different conception of time from the idea of time characteristic of modern English-speaking and other European peoples.

Schaff gives a history of ideas (mostly in philosophy) about language and thought from 18th century German idealism, through Neo-Kantianism, conventionalism, logical positivism, to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and then adds his own thoughts on the matter. Brown's Scientific American article on Loglan is referenced in the bibliography but is not mentioned in the text.

Vygotsky, Lev. 1986. Language and Thought. 2nd edition. Translation newly revised and edited by Alex Kozulin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

In my view, Vygotsky was the greatest pioneer in the area of developmental psychology, language and thought. Philosophically, he was way ahead of Piaget, and he makes Whorf look simply infantile. Vygotsky lived in an intellectual climate (the USSR before Stalin ruined Soviet science and culture) that was a more ideologically beneficent influence than the middle class mindset of Piaget's world or the contemptible racist mysticism that dominated American social science and lobotomized the minds even of white liberals like Whorf.

* This was originally labeled part 1 of a bibliography in progress. I compiled this bibliography in 1988 in the course of my engagement with the culture of Lojban, a logical language modeled on James Cooke Brown’s Loglan. My writing across the board changed significantly after 1991, by which time I let my engagement with Lojban lapse. Now I would have to write my interventions differently, not to mention bring myself up to date. My most egregious lapse here was to underestimate and probably misrepresent Basil Bernstein, whose work deserves serious attention. The question of social reinforcement driving linguistic behavior shifts the emphasis from the intrinsic properties of language variants in the abstract to the deeper question of social conditioning, which constitutes a vital social issue, and applies to the tacit social assumptions underlying intentional linguistic communities like Lojban as well. I should also have treated Piaget with greater care. More important than my annotations, though, are the actual sources, which largely remain of interest to a variety of concerns. (19 April 2010)

SOURCE: Dumain, Ralph. "Bibliography on Language and Thought," ju'i lobypli, no. 11, March 1990, pp. 36-38.

Letter on Sapir-Whorf discussions at LogFest ’89 and other topics

Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes: Selected Bibliography

Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Retgvidilo pri Esperanto & Interlingvistiko

Reflexivity & Situatedness Study Guide


Lojban revisited by R. Dumain

Lojban and Esperanto: Extracts from from ju'i lobypli
(including this article from #13)

Some comments on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Loglan,
with "Further Remarks on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and Other Matters" &
"Bibliography with Commentary in Progress on Language and Thought: Part 1"
by R. Dumain
(Why Lojban: Extracts from ju'i lobypli #6 - 8 / 1988)

The Alembic, no. 2, Summer 1989
(Includes "Retorts" by Mark Tierisch on Lojban & R. Dumain on childish anarchism)

A Working Bibliography by Robert Gorsch

Lojban in Perspective by Todd Moody

Book Review of Loglan 1 by Bob LeChevalier and Athelstan

insult: Lojban

The Emergence of Lojban Nationalism

Lojban site

Lojban - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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