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Neural Netw. 2009 Jul-Aug;22(5-6):518-26. doi: 10.1016/j.neunet.2009.06.034. Epub 2009 Jul 2.

Language and emotions: emotional Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

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  • 1Harvard University, SEAS, Cambridge, USA. leonid@seas.harvard.edu

Abstract

An emotional version of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that differences in language emotionalities influence differences among cultures no less than conceptual differences. Conceptual contents of languages and cultures to significant extent are determined by words and their semantic differences; these could be borrowed among languages and exchanged among cultures. Emotional differences, as suggested in the paper, are related to grammar and mostly cannot be borrowed. The paper considers conceptual and emotional mechanisms of language along with their role in the mind and cultural evolution. Language evolution from primordial undifferentiated animal cries is discussed: while conceptual contents increase, emotional reduced. Neural mechanisms of these processes are suggested as well as their mathematical models: the knowledge instinct, the dual model connecting language and cognition, neural modeling fields. Mathematical results are related to cognitive science, linguistics, and psychology. Experimental evidence and theoretical arguments are discussed. Dynamics of the hierarchy-heterarchy of human minds and cultures is formulated using mean-field approach and approximate equations are obtained. The knowledge instinct operating in the mind heterarchy leads to mechanisms of differentiation and synthesis determining ontological development and cultural evolution. These mathematical models identify three types of cultures: "conceptual" pragmatic cultures in which emotionality of language is reduced and differentiation overtakes synthesis resulting in fast evolution at the price of uncertainty of values, self doubts, and internal crises; "traditional-emotional" cultures where differentiation lags behind synthesis, resulting in cultural stability at the price of stagnation; and "multi-cultural" societies combining fast cultural evolution and stability. Unsolved problems and future theoretical and experimental directions are discussed.

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