The Sapir Whorf hypothesis has been savaged by academics for decades.  After studying Hopi language structures, Benjamin Whorf suggested that language may deeply inform the kind of world that we can perceive.  He believed that language informs perception and world view.

In the United States, we wrestle with a deeply destructive cognitive paradigm characterized by an allegiance to a cult of individuality.  We seem to be in the midst of a reframing of this compulsion.  Whereas until recently we encouraged selfishness for selfishness’s sake, because society seemed to profit from this kind of creativity and greed, now there seems to be a growing reverence for those that seek achievement that serves the common good.  We still revere the individual.  The context is changing.

At the opposite end of this cognitive arc are those that may not be particularly aware of themselves as individuals with priorities separate from the community.  Individuals define themselves in a context of what the community demands or requires.  These people may seem to behave selfishly, but conceptually most of what they may be aware of is others’ needs.  The individual is only significant in regard to his or her contribution to the community.

The American philosopher Ken Wilber hypothesizes that in ancient and some modern aboriginal societies it can be observed that personality structures will trend toward early childhood developmental stages.  One way to interpret this is that there are adult personality disorders–borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder–that reveal early childhood developmental stages in the personalities of modern society adults.  If I understand Wilber correctly, he suggests that the aboriginal adults will commonly evidence these stages not as “disorder” derivations from the norm, but as natural exhibitions of childhood developmental stages as adults.

So, we have a kind of complementary opposite thing happening.  American contemporary adults, if not exhibiting a “disorder,” are extolling the glories of selfishness while actually exercising a high degree of sensitivity to social interaction.  On the other side you have in a hypothetical aboriginal society a relative absence of an encouragement of individuality while cognitively there is a strong compulsion to being self centered.

The opponents of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis would not view this hypothetical dichotomy as a possible place to search for transformational grammar (TG) equivalents.  There is a presupposition among those in the TG community that language structures have not recently evolved, but that language structure is present in a full blown module embedded in our genetics that manifests similarly across all societies.

What I’m interested in at this particular moment is the possible connection between identity, transformational grammar and social evolution.  Identity and consciousness are closely related.  Consciousness has been a difficult subject to explore in the west, because according to reductionist precepts there is no “larger consciousness,” no trans consciousness, or what in the East they call the larger Self.  Because consciousness cannot be measured, it is excluded from the equation.  You end up with evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins extolling atheism because, in the opinions of Neo-Darwinists, Darwin’s theory of natural selection makes a larger consciousness unnecessary.

This reductionist emphasis creates an environment where clues to evolution in identity and consciousness are not explored.  This is particularly true when exploring the structure of language, language being perhaps the most obvious direct reflection of degree of identity/consciousness shift.

An evolutionary study of mythology in this context might be fruitful.

As I understand it, the hypothesis of Benjamin Whorf that language informs reality is not considered proven by most linguists.  Perhaps linguists should define “reality” evolutionarily.  How does language reflect an individual’s experience of identity and consciousness?  The specifics of transformational grammar suggest several places where a researcher can begin.


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This entry was posted on Monday, August 10th, 2009 at 7:18 am and is filed under Society, Unconscious. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. Bill Cameron, W A on March 1, 2012 5:14 am

    I believe in an orchestral theory of human living that that humanity has evolved in morphology and culture. The dynamics of hormonal structures are an important component of the orchestra, the music and the playing. Terms like reality and mind are descriptive for the players. See my book; Human Language and Objective Reality, VDM,2006

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