Cognitive Limits to Conceptual Relativity: The limiting-case of religious ontologies
IN: Rethinking linguistic relativity
Studies in the social and cultural foundations of language, No. 17
Edited by John Joseph Gumperz, and Stephen C. Levinson
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. 1996. p. 203-231
The chapter questions some tenets which the author believes lie behind the following "Whorfian" argument: categorization requires grouping by similarity, this categorization is under-determined by objective reality, but is suggested by linguistic categories, which therefore play a crucial role in the transmission of culture across generations; argues ...that categorization or conceptual grouping is really determined by an implicit theory about a particular domain: for example, animate objects are grouped together by their teleological behavior (for which there is a pan-human naive theory) and distinguished by properties of each natural kind (for which, again, there is a naive theory of essence and reproduction); such domain-specific implicit theories are not, he claims, learned, and therefore are biologically, not culturally, transmitted; anthropologists, he argues, are blinded by a few spectacular oddities to the enormous undercurrent of universal conceptual assumptions... suggests that religious ideas have a reliable crosscultural structure: metaphysical beings are ascribed all the properties specific to the human domain (with its associated naive theory of intentional, purposeful behavior) with just a few outlandish properties--e.g. invisibility, omniscience, etc.; suggests that even the outlandish elements conform to limited types, which guarantee their memorability and hence their cultural transmission.
Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles