2

1. Non-Whorfian contexts and missing Czech equivalents

To begin with, I am not sure if this is the right place to ask a question that may just as well pertain to scientific terminology in general. Nevertheless, it was only when I was reading a paper on Cross-language comparison of intonation by R. D. Ladd that I encountered the use of weak vs. strong in a context other than the Sapir-Whorfian linguistic relativity, where two versions of a S-W hypothesis are offered:

  1. "The strong version says that language determines thought, and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories[.]"

  2. "[T]he weak version says only that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behavior."

In addition, I have never encountered the terms strong / weak hypothesis (or its translation silná / slabá hypotéza) in Czech linguistic literature. I might be wrong, but we either do no use these terms in Czech at all, or we do have some analogical terms that simply do not translate as silná / slabá and that I have only been failing to encounter. In the very few texts I have been able to find on the internet using silná / slabá among my search criteria the authors seem to be using them, rather idiosyncratically, as direct translations from English, i.e. anglicisms of a sort.

2. Close encounters in Ladd's paper

I think I should first explain the particular context I encountered the terms in. In the opening section of the above-mentioned paper, Ladd criticizes the various unversalist opinions on intonation as hardly tenable. He chooses Bolinger and Lieberman to exemplify this, and describing the latter's views her says:

Lieberman (1967), for example, put forth a strong hypothesis relating intonational phrasing to the control o f breath and subglottal pressure in speech production, in connection with which he made broadly similar claims about universal functions of intonation to those made by Bolinger. Specifically, he suggested that all linguis­tically significant uses of intonation in all languages could be reduced to a distinction between 'marked breath group' and 'unmarked breath group' (corresponding roughly to phrasefinal rise and fall respectively), plus local prominence for accent on individually informative words; lexical tone was seen as overlaid on the two breath group types.

3. Glimpses of what the distinction might be about

So far, I have been able to put some pieces together from various online sources, most of which where non-linguistic and none actually discussed the essence of the difference. My current understanding, then, is very roughly as follows:

  1. Strong hypotheses are simply strong claims, perhaps too strong, as they include a lot of details and particular assumptions, making the hypotheses as wholes difficult, if not impossible, to test and defend.

  2. Weak hypotheses are more careful and focused more narrowly on a single aspect of a phenomenon - one that is easier to test, before one ever moves on to the other aspects.

4. Interpretation of the text by Ladd

Now, it seems that Lieberman's position is to be seen as strong, because he makes a lot of untestable (?) assumptions at once. If that is the case, what would a weak version of his hypothesis look like?


I will be extremely grateful for a fully-fledged answer, but I will also appreciate any comments, references, examples anyone can offer. And if someone can even come up with appropriate Czech equivalents, it will be just perfect! On the other hand, I won't object to migrating this question to another, more appropriate forum, if necessary.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.