NextBurgh, PA          @VannevarB      About      Pittsburgh Murals
June 07, 2011

Benjamin Whorf, Tom Murphy, Linda Boxx : The Mon-Whorf Trail

Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) was an American linguist known for his ideas about linguistic relativity. His approach, often referred to as the "Sapir–Whorf hypothesis" (SWF), named after him and his mentor Edward Sapir, suggests that language influences thought - to the degree that if a language can't express it, a person can't think it.

For instance, if a language does not contain words or symbols for time, a person who speaks only that language will not be able to think in terms of time. The SWH is seen in reverse social engineering in George Orwell's writing, in which the removal of words causes a subsequent inability of the population to think in terms of the newly-unnamed constructs.

Similarly, it appears that French citizens will soon be unable to think in terms of Facebook and Twitter if everything happens according to plan.

On the other hand, a person about to synthesize a new concept will only be able to think and communicate in terms of the new concept by assigning it a new name or neologism. Bringing new words into use can be the first step in bringing new things into existence. It's heady stuff.

A Modest Proposal

The purpose of these last few posts is to suggest that rather than call "it" the Mon-Wharf Trail, we might call it the Mon-Whorf Trail, recognizing the impact that language and words have upon thinking, people, politics, and eventually reality.

For instance, in 1992 a new term was introduced: "brownfield". Having the use of that word made thinking and action possible. On the wiki page for brownfields, you'll see:
One of the most well-known areas in the United States for brownfield redevelopment is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which has successfully converted numerous former steel mill sites into high-end residential, shopping and offices.

The efforts that produced results in Pittsburgh trail development were led in Pittsburgh by Mayor Tom Murphy and led regionally by Linda Boxx. This year's series of trail completions and quality-of-life enhancements come to us because of Tom Murphy and Linda Boxx, along with several hundred fellow-travelers.

Whorf's work continues to be appreciated by people who would bring about change. One of the next newish words, that will be just as significant as "brownfields", might be "viewshed". Just saying.

Urban planners think they've coined a neologism for a new concept; they believe they've invented something called the Green Belt.


Post a Comment

Comments and Feedback? Love that stuff. Please leave your thoughts in the box below--