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Seeing the Words in the World of Other Languages

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

This is about an absolutely fascinating journey with Dr Hoye in which he invited us to view language through the medium of art. The notion that he introduced was that different cultures view and therefore create reality differently, and this is on display (as it were) in art.

He took us to some examples of Far Eastern Art in which perspective is flat in the sense that each piece of art seems to be a series of layered two dimensional drawings or paintings of landscape or people. This expresses a view of the world in which the artist is not the determiner of what your eyes do. The relative equivalence of all components of any image therefore is open, and the viewing and processing is done by the viewer – of the whole image. In some respects, from what we know about cultural differences, this is not surprising. What was surprising was the explicit contrast Dr Hoye drew our attention to in the three dimensionality of Western art.

He showed examples of Renaissance art in which the objective for the artist (amongst many other things of course) was to channel the viewers perception towards a focal point. He illustrated this with examples of vanishing points to replicate what tends to happen in Western ‘reality’.

(This focal point is also noticeable in the work of Richard Nisbett in The Geography of Human Thought. When an East Asian or Confucian Heritage Culture (CHC) person looks at an image they tend to generate meaning across the entire context and pay relatively light attention to a central image. The converse is the case for a more Western viewer who will attend in detail to the central image and be relatively poor in their perception of what could be regarded as the peripherals in the artwork. In other words, the Western mindset tends to focus and identify particulars, and the East Asian mindset tends to generate meaning or context across the breadth of a piece of work. It has been argued that this particular approach to thinking is what has generated differences in medicine and relationships generally, and in the Western context is responsible for the generation of the scientific method. )

Dr Hoye used Art to make the point that we view the world differently; and segued into an awareness that languages and cultures construct the world differently. Given what we know (see our ‘Brain’ Blog) about the full-time creation that happens in our brains, this lecture was a highlight of the linguistics that signify how we create the world.

He walked us through examples in different languages in which relationships are determined and signaled; in which the nature of evidence is determined and signaled; and in which so much of social perspective is determined by what we say.

Dr Hoye is not saying that whenever we do this we make a conscious choice of how we see the world and the social relationships, but what he is saying is that the language and the culture inextricably intertwined generate a view of the world which to a degree determines how we view things and say things.

There was a lot, lot more to this talk than this, and I wish that I had both the time and the capacity to give some adequate representation of this lecture, but suffice to say it was absolutely fascinating, and if you would like to receive the PowerPoint and references that Dr Hoye has so generously made available you are most welcome to contact me to receive it.

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