The Prolonged Debate About Culture Influences Categorization – OpEd


Living in one culture all our life limits our perception of reality; it motivates us to think that rest of the world is the same way we are accustomed to it; the degree to which culture shapes the way w.e categorize the world around us has been debated for many years, with each camp back up his argument with observations and interpretations, this scientific debate, while could be hard to be settled, provides us with a fascinating window into how we think and reason as humans. 

Consider the concept of time: Many of us are familiar with the dominant Georgian calendar that divides the year into 365 days. This calendar was introduced by  Pope Gregory XIII and gradually adopted in many parts of the world, but there are other ways humans categorize time; the Chinese, for instance, have their five-element calendar, 365 days divided into 73 days. By contrast, the Babylonian calendarwas lunisolar, a system that combined the solar and lunar calendars with 12 months. This list details many different calendars from around the world. The most striking example of how humans differ in categorizing time is the Hopi language, the  Uto-Aztecan language spoken by the Hopi people of northeastern Arizona, United States. This language was reported to have no words, grammar forms, and construction of time; instead, the language employs concepts such as duration of time, whether the event ended or not,  though many linguists argued that this claim might not be that strong and that the language contains some expression of the time but categorize tenses as future and non-future.  

Not all of us also perceive and categorize colors in the same way; the Dani tribe in Australia has only two categorizations of colors, one for cool colors and the other for dark ones. Similarly, the Bassa language in Libera also has two colors hui which corresponds to black, violet, blue, and green, and ziza, which represents white, yellow, orange, and red. By contrast, in the Congo area, the  Bambara language has three categories of colors. Another example is the categorization of blue and green, which are not unified in all languages. An extreme case in color categorization is the Australian language Warlpiri and Warlpiri, which was shown to have no color talks and instead have rich discourse for colors. 

The way different languages categorize gender is not always female and masculine; some languages use animate and inanimate. Moreover, not all categorizations are binary. Some languages, such as german, include common neutral.  The Dyirbal language has even four genders. There are also exist languages that are genderless with no categorization. When looking at different categorization languages, we notice that a thing could be categorized as masculine in one language and feminine or neutral in others. 

We find differences in categorization even in telling the direction; when we are interested in referring to any object, we use left, right, in front, and back; this categorization is somehow egocentric. It places the speaker at the center and then points to any object in relation to them, but this is not the case for the  Guugu Yimithirr; this Australian tribe uses the cardinal system when talking about direction. They would say, for example, move to the west rather than to my left. 

Numbers are the quantified way to categorize things; while we assume it’s natural and intuitive for all of us to use the numerical system that starts with zero, then one and two to infinity, anthropologists who studied the  Pirahã tribe language found that speakers of this language use only three numbers to count things ( one, two, many) instead of the known numerical system to categorize and estimate items. 

The differences are not only in what could be considered abstract categorizations but also in some practical areas; for instance, the way animals are categorized as pets and non-pets is not always the same, and cultures are different in how they assign animals to each category, dogs could be pets in one culture and the opposite in another. Another example is the garbage bins; in some countries, they could be one. In others, they could be two or even three. 

Advocates of so-called linguistic determinism, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis argue that humans perceive the world based on how the language they use is structured; A research study found that Chinese are more likely to categorize objects based on the relationship, while Americans rely upon similarity. But this study has its limitations and hard to be generalize for all humans. By contrast, scholars who disagree with this view think that the differences are only at the surface and not cognition itself. 

There is still no final answer to the question of categorizing and culture. Occasionally, a new finding would refute or show the limit of an earlier study. But regardless of the conclusion, exploring how different cultures create and adopt multiple categorization frameworks not only fulfills any theoretical needs, it has a practical reward by helping us expand our findings, understand the richness of human diversity and become more tolerant. 

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