Fabian Bross and Philip Pfaller
Ludwig Maximilian-University, Munich, Germany
Journal of Unsolved Questions, 2, 2, Articles 19-24, 2012 (Received Feb 14th, accepted June 20th 2012, published online June 22nd, 2012)
The goal of this study was to test a weak form of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis dealing with one of the biggest unsolved questions in linguistics: Does language affect the way we think? Grammatical systems in the world’s languages differ in many aspects. Unlike English or German many languages group nouns on the basis of noun classifiers. Recently research has adressed the question if these linguistic categories built up by classifier systems influence non-linguistic thought. In this paper we studied Mandarin Chinese and Thai—two languages with classifier systems. Although both are classifier languages they categorize objects in different ways. We tested if these system differences lead to different similarity judgements of objects in a non-linguistic rating task (participants had to rate the similarity of picture pairs). In contrast to previous studies we suprisingly observed no difference in categorization. It seems that the so-called Whorf effect, i. e. that language affects the way we perceive and categorize the world, diminishes rapidly over the time speakers are exposed to a different language system such as, in this case, German.