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Punchinello writes...

<< (if you infact cannot speak Russian). In fact the communication would very much be like that between man and an animal.>>

I'm not confident of this, Vanity. I think you need to be more careful in the way you treat the issue. What are you basing this similarity on?

<<When he wants a drink and says (whatever in Russian means 'I want to drink your water'); you will overtime perhaps reckognize what he wants through mere repitition. Never though be able to ask him if he liked the water, describe the compositional qualities that make up the glass, or how the purification system(s) in your water plant makes that water safe for you and your family to drink. >>

I don't understand what your point is here, Vanity. What are you trying to say?

<<You can say it he won't know it.
Yet he can still make the moral judgement on his own princibles that he understands in his own language as to if he will leave the toilet seat up or not. >>

Moral judgement? What relationship do moral judgements have with your thesis on thought and language? This tangent about morality doesn't seem to be anything you could reasonably infer from a theory about language. I confess that I'm a little uncomfortable with this avenue of argument. I suspect that by injecting your thesis with reference to moral principles, you're attempting to take what should be a purely normative argument and turn it into a prescriptive one. I'm anticipating that you're going to advocate the application of some kind of value system down the road, and that you're going to take the position that what you say here demonstrates the validity of that system.

You're going to need to demonstrate the legitimacy of the Wharf hypothesis in this thesis if you want to use it as a prescription for moral behavior. Right now, it would be premature. Even unethical. Of course, your point isn't entirely clear to me. I have to guess at your meaning. What I'm guessing you intend is that the Russian's internal self, his "moral principles," are based in a faculty for language. This would be a strange position to take. I think you're confusing the idea of values with the idea of thoughts.

Maybe it would help to clarify your meaning if you considered the following.
1. Assuming that the Russian's "moral principles" have a foundation in language faculty, does this mean anything? It doesn't seem to reinforce any argument you make.
2. Do you assume that moral principles depend on language? It is not apparent that this is so. But if it were apparent, what would it mean? Would it mean sentience was dependent on language? I don't think so.

<<His sentience is still very much intact as is yours, but in communication most of what we consider humanesque intelligible relay of thought is lost. >>

Why don't you just say..."we don't understand someone when they are speaking an unfamiliar language."
I'm bothered by the way you treat this statement as though you have provided a demonstration of the Russian's intact sentience. I think you're implying that we can agree that his sentience is unique among species and incontestable, but nothing you have written demonstrates that the Russian's experience of awareness is even marginally different from a non-human.

<<He can learn but he may not learn English just as you can but may not learn Russian. Words are words, but diction, structural differences, and phonetic discrepencies between the two languages make changing your thinking process from thinking as an Englishmen(English speaking man not man born on England) to thinking as a Russian quite likely impossible.>>

What do you mean by "changing your thinking process?" I can't make sense of the above statement . Is it a linguistic relativist position? It sounds like maybe you're proposing there is a unique type of deep structure in the mind for every native language? The thesis that thought is dependent on language is frequently attributed to Noam Chomsky's theory of deep universal generative grammar, but you need to understand that Chomsky is referring to the basic universal structures that language emerges from. He is not correlating thinking with regional languages. People who attribute that position to him wildly misunderstand his intent. There is no school of linguistics or cognitive science which advances the notion that there are different deep structures for Russian and English. Wharf and Humboldt have attributed different structure to various cultures. But I don't think any of this amounts to deep structure, and certainly not structure based upon language.

<<Even if you learn Russian as to be able to go to Moscow and fool everyone into thinking that you are indeed a native Russian. Your nueral networking will still under most serious probability process thought in English>>

What is "neural networking?"

I think your position hinges upon this notion of how thought is processed. This is where I fundamentally disagree with you.

Thought is not "processed" in English. Or Russian. I'm supposing you borrow this notion from linguistic relativism even though you seem to subscribe to theories of innate language faculty. I would emphasize that even Chomsky, who is the most prominent proponent of deep structure for language, has explicitly conceded that we also think _without words_ in his response to John R. Searle's critique of his theory. Introspection is not a narrative process.

You should consider that it's probably not appropriate to be treating concepts of deep structure in language as linguistic relativist concepts. Eric H. Lenneberg is a deep structurist, and in his study of the biological basis for language he explicitly defends the antithesis of linguistic relativism. He states clearly "that cognitive function is a more basic and primary process than language, and that the dependence-relationship of language on cognition is incomparably stronger than vice versa."

If it begins to sound like deep structurists consider language independent of thought, that's probably because they do. Their position is a much more realistic one. They regard language as a product and expression of thought. But only one of many such products.

Greg responds...

Okay, I think I followed all that... but I have nothing worthwhile to add. The whole question of language differences doesn't seem to impinge on the original question of sentience a bit.

Response recorded on April 05, 2005