One wonders, indeed, what makes the notion of linguistic relativity so fascinating even to the non specialist. Perhaps it is the suggestion that all one's life one has been tricked, all unaware, by the structure of language into a certain way of perceiving reality, with the implication that awareness of this trickery will enable one to see the world with fresh insight.
John B. Carroll
Language sets everyone the same traps; it is an immense network of easily accessible wrong turnings. And so we watch one man after another walking down the same paths and we know in advance where he will branch off, where walk straight on without noticing the side turning, etc. etc. What I have to do then is [to] erect signposts at all the junctions where there are wrong turnings so as to help people past the danger points.
Oh, Lord, when will the time come when [we] shall behold the day that we may stand together and gaze upon eternal wisdom engraven upon the heavens, while the majesty of our God holdeth up the dark curtain until we may read the round of eternity; to the fullness and satisfaction of our immortal souls? Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen, and ink; -- and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.
…the mathematical formula that enables a physicist to adjust some coils of wire, tinfoil plates, diaphragms, and other quite inert and innocent gadgets in a configuration in which they can project music to a far country puts the physicist’s consciousness on to a level strange to the untrained man, and makes feasible an adjustment of matter to a very strategic configuration, one which makes possible an unusual manifestation of force …
We do not think of the designing of a radio station or a power plant as a linguistic process, but it is one nonetheless. The necessary mathematics is a linguistic apparatus, and, without its correct specification of essential patterning, the assembled gadgets would be out of proportion and adjustment, and would remain inert. But the mathematics used in such a case is a specialized formula-language, contrived for making available a specialized type of force manifestation …
Permit me to clarify the Junction Grammar notion of data types by drawing an analogy. In nature, we find that animals and plants group together as distinct species, and that the boundaries between them are rather firmly drawn. Thus, animals cross-breed within species and undergo transformation to some extent therein, but not between them.
Linguistic data types appear to be similarly constrained by virtue of the functional diversity of the tissues and organs which constitute the human capacity for speech. For example, code designed to activate the musculature of the vocal tract could not be used to drive the writing hand, nor to stimulate the neurological tissues of any "semantic" tract. From the point of view of junction theory, then, it would be unnatural to fuse these codes as though they belonged to a single representational system. Rather, it would be necessary to maintain them separately, in order to satisfy the unique content and formalism of each, and then, additionally, to provide a means for them to interact if necessary.
The failure of linguistic science to do this systematically is largely responsible, in my opinion, for the embarrassing absence, at this late date, of the at least relatively unified base which other more prestigious areas of scientific inquiry enjoy ... I am firmly convinced that the crux of the problem is rooted in the naive practice of "cross-breeding" data types in unnatural ways. While the resulting offspring are plentiful, and, to be sure, captivating in their infancy, and promising in their youth, they have a way of aborting prematurely, or developing fatal post-natal deformities. Still others mature as impotent mules, as it were, or as linguicorns, if you will, which have no counterparts in reality, but exist only in the world of what might be termed "mythological linguistics."
The behaviorist movement in psychology fell prey to the fallacious objective|subjective dichotomy, which led its adherents to declare that introspection, being subjective, was incompatible with scientific method. Since ‘meanings’ are revealed only by way of introspection, linguists with a behaviorist bent declared them to be out of bounds. Language models emerging from this perspective attempted to account for language independently of meanings (semantics), which, of course, is nonsense, pure and simple, inasmuch as the ‘business’ of language IS meaning.
Regrettably, Noam Chomsky’s early model of syntax (Transformational Generative Grammar) bore the stamp of behaviorism – meanings were ruled to be out of bounds. Subsequent attempts to repair the model have, to date, mostly added to the overall confusion, leading as of this date to a thoroughly fragmented discipline. Gerald Edalman, Nobel Laureate (1972) for work on the immune system, Director of the Neurosciences Institute and Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Scripps Research Institute, has gone so far as to condemn the so-called ‘Chomskian revolution’ in linguistics as a deviation of science. Junction Grammar, the model of language [featured on this web site], has from its outset been an attempt to restore ‘meaning’ to linguistic science (in more ways than one).