Vygotsky and Linguistic Relativity: The Case of Chinese and English Reading
John F. Ehrich
Research Fellow, School for Social and Policy Research
Charles Darwin University, Australia
John Ehrich has worked for over ten years as an ESL teacher and teacher of English to native speakers. He has also worked as a curriculum designer for primary school social studies student and has recently completed a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Queensland University of Technology.
This paper argues the case of linguistic relativity through a Vygotskyan socio-cultural perspective. A major tenet of Vygotskyan socio-cultural theory is that sign systems (e.g., language) are psychological tools, which after a period of internalization, result in a transformation of inner processing. The logical extension of Vygotskyan socio-cultural theory is that the internalization of different sign systems, such as Chinese logographic characters or English alphabetic script, should invariably result in the development of distinct types of inner processing. This argument is essentially one of linguistic relativity, or the idea that the nature of language itself can impact on cognitive processing. Evidence to support this argument is found in behavioural and neuroanatomical studies. Finally, some implications to ESL pedagogy are discussed within a relativist framework.
Keywords: Vygotsky, linguistic relativity, Chinese reading, orthography, socio-cultural theory