Viewing this gem from the “thinking allowed” archives; found it amusing how Herr Mishlove’s peculiar smile and enquiring expression invited the then young professor Pinker to engage in max lucidity. The argument chains appeared to be so clear that I fancied an impromptu objection. At some point (@ 19:07) they came to discuss, if “cadence” may affect the environment in which we think. Pinker mentioned lines from Woody Allen adding that “there is something about the rhythm and the cadence of Spanish that puts us in the mood, perhaps, of more romantic thoughts. But I think that's probably the extent of it…”
If as Pinker states,“The sounds of the language might make (it) more appropriate to express (it) in kinds of emotion that might resonate more with certain kinds of experience” then should not a ranking be possible? One that would rank each such assemblage of sounds (Cadences of a language) according to how well they lend themselves to expressing “kinds of emotion”. Where the ease with which say the prosody of a Bengali dialect may put us in a melancholic mood would out compete that of Icelandic.
There's the rub I guess for if we assume a correlation between emotions and moods with such sounds, pitches or timbres; it would by definition be a subjective resonance not available to investigation. The cadence of Finnish appears not to lend itself to “my softer thoughts”. But since their respective qualia cannot be analyzed, their “lack of resonance” with vowel harmonies of that language as perceived by me is not measurable. The data for our ranking would be no more than reports by subjects about the resonance between two sets of qualia. There is no reason to believe that the subjective experience of a set of sounds are the same for different people, nor that of what they may label melancholia.
Had it been possible then languages could be assessed as regimes of repression. With let’s say Bengali allowing for easier expressions of certain "thoughts and their accompanying emotions" whilst those same would find far fewer available propositions with appropriate sound and timber in Icelandic. Such comparative assessments can be done by a single person with results that may serve to amuse at least him or her. Each language on the other hand will, during this subject’s lifespan, adopt or invent thousands of new terms or phrases with varied intonations. Possible witty anecdotes on the deficiency or superiority of Bengali over Icelandic for "creamy hatred which I would like to spread on my enemies as when I imagine them to be air bound intrusions" then, will never stand to be true even for a single subject. Unless each such assemblage of sounds (languages) in its capacity for borrowing or adopting new sounds (not words or terms) were more conservative. Take the mandatory vowels at the end of Poliisi and Posti in Finnish. Do these suggest that the mood or character that inhabits a language in an era; which cannot be objectively analysed has a self-preserving character? Such an aspect should limit the mutation of Finnish intonation into hip-hop prosody or Caribbean drawl within a few decades.
At an earlier section (@3:52) of this interview were cadence is discussed, Pinker talks of translations. Since translations are possible at all he explains “There has got to be something, I think, underneath it, something like a set of propositions that don't really have sounds, that don't have any left-to-right linear order the way language does, but that has a web of connections between concepts, and that are also connected with other aspects of experience -- with visual images, with body sensations.” But why not sounds? If this set of propositions (mentalese) is a web of connections between concepts and aspects of experience, then why does he limit these and not couple them with sounds too. The sonic aspects of these mental propositions can hypothetically be in disharmony with a staccato set of sounds of that proposition in say Dutch.
It seems then to some tiny extent as Lacan would put it “signifier’s displacement” does determine the “subjects’ acts, destiny, refusals, blindnesses, success, and fate, regardless of their innate gifts and instruction, and irregardless of their character or sex;”. Tiny since that juicy quote knows no limit; as success, fate and destiny and many more notions are at risk. The disharmony I imagined under each such regime of repression or displacement was far less and if anything not noticeable by less expressive subjects. But if it can add up to create a more acute sense of entrapment, it would be intriguing.