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      Grammatical Gender, Neo-Whorfianism, and Word Embeddings: A Data-Driven Approach to Linguistic Relativity

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          Abstract

          The relation between language and thought has occupied linguists for at least a century. Neo-Whorfianism, a weak version of the controversial Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, holds that our thoughts are subtly influenced by the grammatical structures of our native language. One area of investigation in this vein focuses on how the grammatical gender of nouns affects the way we perceive the corresponding objects. For instance, does the fact that key is masculine in German (der Schl\"ussel), but feminine in Spanish (la llave) change the speakers' views of those objects? Psycholinguistic evidence presented by Boroditsky et al. (2003, {\S}4) suggested the answer might be yes: When asked to produce adjectives that best described a key, German and Spanish speakers named more stereotypically masculine and feminine ones, respectively. However, recent attempts to replicate those experiments have failed (Mickan et al., 2014). In this work, we offer a computational analogue of Boroditsky et al. (2003, {\S}4)'s experimental design on 9 languages, finding evidence against neo-Whorfianism.

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          Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers' conceptions of time.

          Does the language you speak affect how you think about the world? This question is taken up in three experiments. English and Mandarin talk about time differently--English predominantly talks about time as if it were horizontal, while Mandarin also commonly describes time as vertical. This difference between the two languages is reflected in the way their speakers think about time. In one study, Mandarin speakers tended to think about time vertically even when they were thinking for English (Mandarin speakers were faster to confirm that March comes earlier than April if they had just seen a vertical array of objects than if they had just seen a horizontal array, and the reverse was true for English speakers). Another study showed that the extent to which Mandarin-English bilinguals think about time vertically is related to how old they were when they first began to learn English. In another experiment native English speakers were taught to talk about time using vertical spatial terms in a way similar to Mandarin. On a subsequent test, this group of English speakers showed the same bias to think about time vertically as was observed with Mandarin speakers. It is concluded that (1) language is a powerful tool in shaping thought about abstract domains and (2) one's native language plays an important role in shaping habitual thought (e.g., how one tends to think about time) but does not entirely determine one's thinking in the strong Whorfian sense. Copyright 2001 Academic Press.
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            Inherent versus contextual inflection and the split morphology hypothesis

             Geert Booij (1996)
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              Linguistic Relativity

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                21 October 2019
                Article
                1910.09729

                http://arxiv.org/licenses/nonexclusive-distrib/1.0/

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                cs.CL

                Theoretical computer science

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