I enjoyed Lera Boroditsky’s essay in support of the Whorfian hypothesis. Denialist like to mention grapple. It’s is a kind of snow. Slightly melted and refrozen. So, see, English has lots of words for snow too. But I long ago picked a side in that argument: Language deeply effects your thinking. So for me her wonderful essay is preaching to the choir.
It’s a great read, with lots of really fun stories. There is a tribe which describes location via compass points. “There is a spot on your shirt’s southwest collar.” If you ask them to order a series of images in timeline order they orient them east to west; much as speakers of Mandarin speakers will order then vertically. Bridges have male gender in Spanish, and female in German. Asking and answering in English a people who’s native tongue is respectively Spanish or German will describe a bridge as – respectively: big, strong, sturdy, towering v.s. beautiful, elegant, slender.
Some languages, like English, aren’t really into gender, while others have lots. I can’t find anything to confirm this, but she reports that in some Australian Aboriginal languages have a gender used for shiny things. Which is notable given where I presume they got the name for Google Wave.
Of course, what Tim O’Reilly was trying to do when he gin’d up the term Web 2.0, the millionth word, was to shape the conversation. He may have set his sights too low.