Dothraki and Weltanschauung: What Language Can Teach Us About Worldview

A world view is a totality of what a person or people believes about the world, the world being that time and place in which what they do and think is considered rational. Our world views are heavily influenced by our languages(1). Our world views are, in some sense, linguistic, and our communications are in the same sense paradigmatic(2).
Languages aren’t just ways of speaking or saying things; they are ways of thinking thus the saying attributed to Charlemagne that “when one has two languages, one has two souls”.
Linguistically, some of these distinct ways of seeing the world are onanistic. Whereas for an English speaker, a tapir and a horse are two completely different animals, in Yucatec Mayan one word, tzimin, is used to name both. When the Yucatec first saw the Spanish on their horses, they presumably understood them to be riding a kind of tapir.
Similarly, the English word computer means “calculating machine”, the Chinese diànnǎo(电脑), literally means “electric brain”. Could this be one of the reasons why the Chinese are winning the AI race(?) because their language already presumes the computer to be a kind of brain? I don’t know.
 
Grammar is another way in which language influences worldview. The sentence structure in English is SVO; verbs exist to connect a world of nouns, and if Anglophones are living in a world of names then the precise definition of those nouns becomes very important as they define the world itself.
 
However, Japanese is a language whose grammar is SOV. You don’t always need a subject or an object to form a Japanese sentence; sometimes a conjugated verb is all that’s required, but the verb always comes last, no exceptions.
 
The Japanese live in a world of verbs, actions, processes; they have a kata(方) and do(道) for almost everything. Things are defined by what they do, rather than what they look like, which is why a Japanese person(like my wife) might be perplexed as to why English speakers call lions and tigers “big cats” or why the typical Japanese is Shinto at birth, Christian on their wedding day and Buddhist at death.
 
Japanese religion is not theologically or metaphysically top-heavy; Shinto doesn’t even have a canonical set of sacred writings. What makes religions distinct, in Japan, is their praxis. Compare this attitude to the Abrahamic faiths, each with a unique collection of canonical sacred writings, where one cannot be more than one religion at a time. The Abrahamic faiths are very top-heavy when it comes to their distinct theologies and metaphysics; they differ significantly in Doxa but differ little in praxis when compared to Japanese religions.
More dramatically, different languages can affect how humans perceive colour, orient themselves in physical space, understand the subjective qualities of objects and even their capacity to do math(2). For these reasons, language can rightly be used as an analogy for world view as the two are interdependent.
Your world view is mostly dependent on your parents and childhood environment, but other world views can be learned and adopted. When you first acquired your (first)world view, it was done without comparison to different world views. Things, processes, ideas and their meanings were described in a matter of fact ways. This is one reason why total conversion to a new world view is difficult and only comes with near fanatic obsession and hard work.
Some people can hold to more than one unrelated world view at the same time, then jump back and forth, as the situation requires. Though rare, these multiparadigmatic people are often more adaptive to different cognitive environments than their monoparadigmatic peers.
Often these multiparadigmatic minds are the product of total immersion in multiple worldviews, being immersed during different periods of their lives, indifferent “thought herds” of people.
No one world view describes the world correctly, as it is. It’s even doubtful whether any organism has evolved into seeing the world beyond what is needed for fitness payoffs, that anyone species see nature as it is and not as they need to to survive(3).
The oldest surviving world views describe the world in ways that facilitated the fitness of peoples in specific ecologies. When people share a world view, they can work together effectively. When people share different, though related word views, they can work together, to a degree.
When people have entirely different and unrelated world views, then no cooperation is possible, unless these distinct world views are melded together in the creation of a new world view, a paradigmatic Spanglish.
The world view we have is mostly a matter of convenience and personal tastes. Some world views are retained because of social pressures. If everyone in your family or town holds one specific world view then adopting a different worldview will eventually lead you to go elsewhere, as the pressure to take the dominant world view is intense, and your new world view will inevitably lead to new unaccepted behaviours. Attempts at forced assimilation are often suffered by mental minorities living out a different world view.
People retain or adopt worldviews that they like or find the most convenient for their end goals and present situations. Some people are attracted to a particular culture and seek to become part of it, so they learn and adopt that culture’s world view. Even so, this adoption of the new world view is often only understood in comparison with the “mother world view”.
Sometimes, a small segment of those fluent in multiple worldviews, the more adventurous multiparadigmatics, will construct entirely new world views. Like conlangers, these polynoetic minds aren’t just able to think and live out multiple worldviews, and they understand how world views work, how they come into existence and how they determine what we believe and are capable of thinking.
Some constructed world views are created for purely aesthetic reasons for the sake of beauty. Some built world views are created for the purpose of expanding human cognitive potential(4).
This latter form is created with the understanding that our world view can make us blind to certain aspects of the natural world while making us more cognizant of other elements. Invoking a will to power, these worldviews are constructed with the sole intent of maximising human capacity, with specific functions in mind.
Regardless of a constructed worldview’s purpose for existence, the creators of constructed world view still seek to produce something with the feel of an organic world view. To mimic the features of a natural world view, the creator must become something of a historian, archaeologist and detective(5), to create the worldview’s foundational myth.
This myth is the foundation for the metaphysics of the constructed worldview. This new metaphysics undergirds the epistemology of the constructed worldview, which in turn becomes the basis of the created world view. Myth precedes metaphysics precedes epistemology.
Invoking “eternal recurrence”, the world view’s foundational myth points more to the desired future than it does to the past thus the tale need not be factual vis a vis the history only true vis a vis the future. After language, world view might be humanity’s greatest invention(6) and the realisation that world views can be constructed for the achievement of certain ends might be one of it’s most unappreciated insights(7).
Sources
(1) For a less anecdotal, more rigorous and scientific description of the interdependence of language, worldview and civilisation read:
Richard E. Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently and Why; Free Press (2003).
(2) Lera Boroditsky, “How Language Shapes The Way We Think”; https://www.ted.com/talks/lera_boroditsky_how_language_shapes_the_way_we_think
(3)https://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is
(4)https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/toki-pona-smallest-language/398363/
(5)http://blog.ted.com/meet-david-peterson-who-developed-dothraki-for-hbos-game-of-thrones/
(6)https://www.ted.com/talks/david_peterson_why_language_is_humanity_s_greatest_invention
(7) Jason Reza Jorjani, “Black Sunrise”, Lovers of Sophia; Arktos Media(2019), Kindle Edition.
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