bookmark_borderSapir-Whorf revisited

Hard to Say
Originally uploaded by Idiolector

I once saw a painting by a Nordic artist that depicted the sun as a woman and the moon as a man. In most Germanic languages that have masculine and feminine (including German and Nynorsk), ‘sun’ is indeed feminine and ‘moon’ is masculine.

On the other hand, in Romance languages the situation is reversed, and ‘sun’ is masculine and ‘moon’ is feminine.

So when I described the painting to a native Romance speaker, she was shocked.

Ever since that episode, I’ve thought that you couldn’t fully discount the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, even if that placed me in the minority among linguists (I even wrote an essay about Whorf in my second year at uni).

I therefore read this article in the New York Times with great interest. You always have to be extremely cautious about believing any piece of linguistics published in mainstream media, but I didn’t spot any obvious errors.

It’s good that it quickly shows why the simplistic versions of linguistic relativism cannot be true, and I wasn’t aware of the existence of geographic languages, but the description sounds fairly convincing.

I guess I’d better get hold of a grammar of Guugu Yimithirr or Tzeltal to learn more!


I should probably have known about it already, but I had never heard of Zopa until ten days ago.

It’s simply a ‘social lender’ who will take your money, split it into small packages, and then let different people borrow one package each. The effect is that you get a much better interest rate than you would in a savings account, but obviously you are running a risk if they all default.

Here’s a video about it:

I’ve started out by lending out £50 over 48 months. The initial process is very slow – after creating your account you need to transfer money into it, and that has taken me a week and a half, but now I’m up and running.

I’ll blog about it again if it turns out to be better or worse than expected.