Monday, February 06, 2023

High-context language

"Cultivation fiction"/xianxia is a popular genre that I haven't dipped into. Writer Benjamin Cheah is fed up with sloppy pastiches of it. He tries to connect Sapir-Whorf, high-context languages, and Daoism/Buddhism, along the lines that a high-context language tends to demand a more integrated/embedded understanding, with more indirect communication--and that this makes internal-oriented religions easier, and forms the framework for real "cultivation" and "cultivation fiction."

Strictly speaking, Buddhism was devised in Sanskrit and not Chinese, and from the fact that the oldest grammar is of Sanskrit I suspect it is a "low-context" (more explicit) language.

And poetic and mystical forms are, as far as I can tell, found in all languages, so I'd say that "high-context" forms can be used to describe the numinous in any language.

Still, it's an interesting take on languages.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The evidence that Sapir-Whorf has anything to do with reality is minuscule. It's one of those cool ideas people keep hoping is going to be true, and is brought out in exactly this sort of context most frequently: I have this idea that People A are superior to People B and I want the theory to show that this is true right down to the level of what language they speak.

In the original, it was believed that the Hopi language was superior in terms of discussing quantum mechanics. That did not prove out, nor has anything else predicted. The Russian language has separate words for light blue and dark blue, and people who grew up with it show a barely-measurable ability to discern them more quickly. People who grew up with languages that have few numbers have trouble with math even when they learn other languages or have numbers introduced into theirs. But it is even then not clear that it is the language that is holding them back, but the exposure to concepts.