Dr. Martin Thiering

Martin Thiering’s research is on spatial concepts and mental models of space in languages with a non-written tradition. The theoretical framework is embedded in cognitive linguistics and cognitive anthropology in order to approach the semiotics of space from a diachronic perspective. The idea is to survey the influence from culture upon language (and vice versa) and cognition. What is cultural or language-specific and what might be candidates for universals? These questions mirror discussions starting with Aristotle arguing that language expresses thoughts that are a priori given. Gottlob Frege and the early Ludwig Wittgenstein argue that all cognitive activity is linguistic. Wittgenstein claims in his Tractatus that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. Research on Amerindian languages introduced by Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, and Benjamin Lee Whorf built on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s idea of Weltansichten “world perspectives’, i.e., the idea that the structure of language influences the thought process. This concept is known as the linguistic relativity principle or Sapir-Whorf theory. Thiering subscribes to the idea that languages differ in the way they shape our world perspectives, but believes as others do that non-linguistic information has its impact upon language and categorization.