Maxim Two: Loglan was designed to test the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
This would be the sexy metaphysical SWH of the 1920s into the 60s. Although it was never formulated very precisely, the general idea was that the structure of the language you spoke conditioned the way you viewed the world, giving you a naïve metaphysics which pervaded your thoughts and culture. Over the years there were a number of more detailed positions about how strongly to take “condition”, from “nudging you in a direction” to “totally determining your world view.” The strongest position was hard to hold in view of the numerous expositions of metaphysics of incompatible sorts in languages of a certain type (process philosophy in plug-and-socket English, for example, or the fact that both Plato and Aristotle wrote Greek). The weakest claims hardly came up to the level of a hypothesis rather than a casual observation, since nothing really counted as a counterexample. But somewhere in the middle there seemed to be a significant thesis.
The roots of this discussion lay in the change around the beginning of the 20th century, from “civilizing” (deculturating) or killing tribal people to learning how that lived and viewed the world (empirical anthropology). And with that came studying the tribal languages in there own terms, rather than merely finding how they expressed various things from Latin (or Hebrew or, for a really scientific approach, English) grammar. And, as these studies piled up, it became clear that people spoke languages radically different from one another and especially from English (and the rest of the Indo-European European languages). And it was equally clear that how they described the components and structure of the world were very different from the familiar categories of naïve Euro-Americans , and, indeed, from the theories of not so naïve philosophers.
The familiar languages, which came to be called Standard Average European (SAE), were plug and socket affairs of nouns, which filled holes in adjectives to make bigger nouny things, and verbs, holey things which eventually had their holes filled by the nouny things to make sentences. Now there were languages which seemed to have no nouns at all, only verbs, say. Even people names were verbs. And then there were languages that had only nouns (or maybe they were adjectives) and no verbs. And words that could not be described in familiar European grammatical categories.
These strangenesses extended to vocabulary also. Beyond the apochryphal tales of the twenty-seven Eskimo words for snow, there were facts like that some languages had no color words except “black” and “white” or that they used the same word for blue and green (or different one for dark blue and light blue). These were less surprising, since there were occasional differences of this sort among the languages of Europe (or even within some one of them). But they tested out as genuinely affecting how people perceived the world (told to put all the blocks of the same color together, Navajo children regularly but the blues and the greens in the same pile, say). And there was other evidence that what you called a thing affected how you behaved in relation to it (Whorf on empty oil drums, for example, or, more significantly, word choice in propaganda). But the most interesting such differences came in the details of the language, the essential categories, like (loosely speaking from an SAE perspective) tense and case. Many languages did not have tense at all, even when they had verbs, and what they had instead (i.e., to deal with time relations) were elaborations on aspects and the like from the richest of Indo-European grammars and far beyond. Similarly, what happened to nouns, when there were some, bore little relation to familiar cases, even to the complex constructions on Finnish nouns. They even overlapped with tenses in some cases. And these differences seemed to have metaphysical significance, since they spoke to how the world of space and time (or whatever, it must be said at this point) was organized.
And now that the anthropologist-linguists could interview their subjects directly, rather than through an interpreter (or string of interpreters), they could get direct information about they viewed the world. And what they found, turned out to be a range of different metaphysics, of views about what is in the world and how it is put together. Although there are different details for each group, they came to be grouped together into a few broad categories, There was, of course, the “natural” view of individual independent things which took on properties and engaged in activities, but remained essentially the same throughout. Time and space are linear and are the framework within which things operate. By contrast, there is the world as a giant activity (maybe a process), involving countless subactivities and and subprocesses which flow into one another, or pass away or start up, with little vortices which are now part of one process, now of another and are counted as one only because of spatio-temporal continuity. Space and time are relative to particular processes and often circular as a result. Then there were the views that held that what there really were were enormous entities, various spelled out as masses and universals, and events were simply the collocation of chunks (or projections) of these archetypes, which were the primary individuals. Time and space derivative notion, if they played a role at all. (There actually several other language classes and metaphysics discovered, but these three were the most discussed and developed and they show the essentials of process.)
Comparing their language data and their metaphysical data, anthropologists discovered some interesting connections. It seemed that speakers of SAE languages (even if spoken far from Europe) were inclined to view the world as independent things entering into activities and so on, and to speak languages with tenses and take time and space as fame works. And conversely. Similarly, process metaphysics and a relativist view of times went with languages which were virtually all verbs – most opf which had aspects. And archetypes metaphysics went with all-noun languages. Correlation is not causation, of course, and here it might go either way, so for several decades there was a search for a test to find whether there was causation (preferably from language to metaphysics).
So, in 1955, James Cooke Brown, a newly minted Social Psychologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Florida, hit upon the idea of constructing a language, Loglan, that was not like any other – certainly not like that of the students who would be his subjects – and running some experiments with it: test subjects in a range of psychological and cultural traits, teach them the language thoroughly, then test them again to see what changes (if any) appeared (teaching other students some familiar language as a control group). But constructing the language turned out to be more complicated than planned as new ideas kept arising to be incorporated – and old one needed to be discarded. So the experiment was never performed. But the idea of the experiment – and the language that was to embody it – gained some public notice (Scientific American, June, 1960) and people asked about it. Brown had by then invented Careers, a popular board game, and left academia, but from time to time encouraged those interested in Loglan, getting some grants for developing the language and self-publishing various books about the language, giving enough details for people to manage intelligible utterances in it. In 1975, he started a major effort, publishing the most thorough books so far and starting an organization to promote the language (with many goals beyond that of a hypothesis test), including a journal for discussion of an in the language. In the classic politics of international auxiliary languages (which Loglan always officially denied it intended to be, but …) Loglan spawned Lojban, a virtual clone (remembering that clones differ markedly in outward appearance) which, after an unpleasant lawsuit, proceeds on its independent way, diverging ever more from the original, as it too has developed. Neither language still says much about SWH, but each pursues other sorts of goals. The test of SWH, for which Loglan was started, has never been performed or seriously attempted.
And this is just as well, since Loglan is totally misdesigned for that purpose. Loglan is based on First Order Predicate Logic (FOPL) and, though it has come to not look much like it, it retains that basic structure. But FOPL is the product of over 2000 years of European development, put into final form around the beginning of the 20th century by English and German logicians (with significant help from French and Italian and eventually Polish); its entire history is in SAE languages. Not surprisingly, then, it is a paradigm case of an SAE language, terms plugging the holes in predicates to make sentences. As a result, teaching it to English speakers (the likely test subjects, but any Euro-Americans would do as well) would be merely exposing them to another language of the same type, presumably merely reenforcing their existing metaphysics rather than introducing a new one. I suppose one might try to find a group of speakers of, say, a process language and teach them a Loglan. But the process of devising appropriate tests for the new language and culture is prohibitive.
And futile. SWH in the metaphysical form dropped out of academic interest shortly after Loglan started up. Its underpinnings were made questionable (at least) by developments in the 1950s and 60s in Linguistics and the other social sciences. On the one hand, the differences between languages were found to be very superficial, with a basic common core across all languages. On the other hand, the way that people viewed the world and their place in it turned out, on more thorough examination, to be pretty much the same at the basic level. The great metaphysical differences proved to be merely a linguistic construct, made of inadequate analysis and incomplete observation.
In particular, in one major division in theoretical linguistics, sentences were seen as built up from particles very like terms and predicates into basic units, which then combined and were transformed through a series of processes resulting eventually in an utterance. The stages at which an utterance came to take on the peculiar surface structure of a given language were very late in process, in some versions even just the last step before phonetic realization. While these theories are not universally accepted (or even respected), their analytic and explanatory power make them a major force in the field. Even their opponents, those who point out, for example, that the process is too complex to allow for creating individual sentences on the fly in real time or that they cannot account for changing sentences in midutterance or that finding the same structure at the root in all languages looks suspiciously like an artifact of the procedures of analysis, still make use of some of the results. To be sure, some branches of this general pattern, like the claim that the basic structure just is FOPL – or, rather, an updated intensional version – are less widely held (or understood or developed) but are especially interesting to the Loglans, since they place its creation in the mainstream of linguistic research.
On the other side of the issue, the 1950s and 60s saw a new drive to put more science in the social sciences (well, the linguistic developments were part of that, too). In particular, there was a growing interest for creating objective tests for characteristics that the various social sciences were interested in. A report on what a subject actually did in certain situations was generally considered more significant than what the subject said it was doing. Indeed, language moderated data generally required some care in use, both from the subject and from the interpretations of the observers. So it was seen that people with different languages behaved very similarly in a variety of situations which were created (it was thought) to test the subject's view of itself and of the world around it. The result seemed to be that people everywhere behaved as though they were separate entities, not vortices in a stream nor chunks of greater whole and that they interacted with other things which were also independent, separate, objects. While all manner of challenges have been raised to the interpertation of these results and not all have been met successfully, the basic likeness of the non-verbal responses to situations remains, whatever its explanation. So, the final word (you wish!) on SWH is just that, when speaking about their world view, speakers spoke languages which their examiners took literally: process language speakers were viewed as having a process view of the world because they reported that view in a process language. But non-verbally they did nothing different that fit with the supposed view.
SWH had two other versions which persist after the metaphysical one disappeared. One is the New Age version that grows out of the metaphysical. In the 1950 to'70s (at least), when people were seeking some sort of mental/spiritual experience of a different world view, the suggestion (little understood in detail) that coming to speak a radically different language would produce this effect led many people (well, dozens) to learn the language of their particular path, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese, mainly, with no particular effect that could be traced to the language. Others, wanting to get away from all linguistic/cultural conditioning sought to transcend language by meditating on sounds or meaningless phrases or expressing themselves in glossolalia, again with effects that did not seem to be particularly related to the unlanguage involved. But the idea moved to the science fiction and hence conlang world, where it thrives. Starting a little early (1948) with Orwell's NewSpeak, that will make its speakers unquestioning servants of the grammarian state, there have been languages constructed – or at least described – to manage all manner useful traits: intelligence, happiness, spirituality, attractiveness and so on. Aside from some doubts about how well these languages are designed for their intended purposes (one popular one aimed at promoting a positive attitude is overloaded, more than two to one, with negative terms), the results have not been confirmatory of the general plan.
The other SWH that survives is the vocabulary version, which was dismissed as uninteresting and trivial in the early days. This version actually received some support from the more objective tests that harmed the metaphysical version. To be sure, it was not all success: where the old test, telling Navajo and Anglo children to put blocks of the same color together, led to the Navajo putting blue and green blocks in the same pile, the new test, which omitted reference to color (but forced that as the deciding factor), resulted in all the children creating virtually identical piles. But at the micro level, those same Navajo children are slower to identify colors as like sample one or sample two when both samples are in the turquoise range of the Navajo word. The differences are microscopic, but enough to show that some features – i.e., vocabulary – of a language do affect the way we see the world. The result most often seen touted as demonstrating SWH is the fact that Russian speakers, who have two words for blue, one for lighter and one for darker shades, are 0.17 seconds faster at identifying a sample flashed on a screen as being light or dark. I note this triumph without comment.