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Linguistic relativity

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❶As the environment changes, so too do the language constructs. Lakoff concluded that many of Whorf's critics had criticized him using novel definitions of linguistic relativity, rendering their criticisms moot.

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Sapir was explicit that the connections between language and culture were neither thoroughgoing nor particularly deep, if they existed at all:. It is easy to show that language and culture are not intrinsically associated. Totally unrelated languages share in one culture; closely related languages—even a single language—belong to distinct culture spheres. There are many excellent examples in Aboriginal America.

The Athabaskan languages form as clearly unified, as structurally specialized, a group as any that I know of. The speakers of these languages belong to four distinct culture areas The cultural adaptability of the Athabaskan-speaking peoples is in the strangest contrast to the inaccessibility to foreign influences of the languages themselves. Sapir offered similar observations about speakers of so-called "world" or "modern" languages , noting, "possession of a common language is still and will continue to be a smoother of the way to a mutual understanding between England and America, but it is very clear that other factors, some of them rapidly cumulative, are working powerfully to counteract this leveling influence.

A common language cannot indefinitely set the seal on a common culture when the geographical, physical, and economics determinants of the culture are no longer the same throughout the area. While Sapir never made a point of studying directly how languages affected thought, some notion of probably "weak" linguistic relativity underlay his basic understanding of language, and would be taken up by Whorf.

Drawing on influences such as Humboldt and Friedrich Nietzsche , some European thinkers developed ideas similar to those of Sapir and Whorf, generally working in isolation from each other.

Prominent in Germany from the late s through into the s were the strongly relativist theories of Leo Weisgerber and his key concept of a 'linguistic inter-world', mediating between external reality and the forms of a given language, in ways peculiar to that language. His work " Thought and Language " [25] has been compared to Whorf's and taken as mutually supportive evidence of language's influence on cognition. More than any linguist, Benjamin Lee Whorf has become associated with what he called the "linguistic relativity principle".

Whorf also examined how a scientific account of the world differed from a religious account, which led him to study the original languages of religious scripture and to write several anti- evolutionist pamphlets.

Critics such as Lenneberg , Black and Pinker attribute to Whorf a strong linguistic determinism, while Lucy , Silverstein and Levinson point to Whorf's explicit rejections of determinism, and where he contends that translation and commensuration is possible.

Although Whorf lacked an advanced degree in linguistics, his reputation reflects his acquired competence. His peers at Yale University considered the 'amateur' Whorf to be the best man available to take over Sapir's graduate seminar in Native American linguistics while Sapir was on sabbatical in — Indeed, Lucy wrote, "despite his 'amateur' status, Whorf's work in linguistics was and still is recognized as being of superb professional quality by linguists".

Detractors such as Lenneberg , Chomsky and Pinker criticized him for insufficient clarity in his description of how language influences thought, and for not proving his conjectures. Most of his arguments were in the form of anecdotes and speculations that served as attempts to show how 'exotic' grammatical traits were connected to what were apparently equally exotic worlds of thought.

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscope flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic systems of our minds.

We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way—an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language [ Among Whorf's best-known examples of linguistic relativity are instances where an indigenous language has several terms for a concept that is only described with one word in European languages Whorf used the acronym SAE " Standard Average European " to allude to the rather similar grammatical structures of the well-studied European languages in contrast to the greater diversity of less-studied languages.

One of Whorf's examples was the supposedly large number of words for 'snow' in the Inuit language , an example which later was contested as a misrepresentation. Another is the Hopi language 's words for water, one indicating drinking water in a container and another indicating a natural body of water.

These examples of polysemy served the double purpose of showing that indigenous languages sometimes made more fine grained semantic distinctions than European languages and that direct translation between two languages, even of seemingly basic concepts such as snow or water, is not always possible.

Another example is from Whorf's experience as a chemical engineer working for an insurance company as a fire inspector. He further noticed that while no employees smoked cigarettes in the room for full barrels, no-one minded smoking in the room with empty barrels, although this was potentially much more dangerous because of the highly flammable vapors still in the barrels.

He concluded that the use of the word empty in connection to the barrels had led the workers to unconsciously regard them as harmless, although consciously they were probably aware of the risk of explosion. This example was later criticized by Lenneberg [34] as not actually demonstrating causality between the use of the word empty and the action of smoking, but instead was an example of circular reasoning. Pinker in The Language Instinct ridiculed this example, claiming that this was a failing of human insight rather than language.

Whorf's most elaborate argument for linguistic relativity regarded what he believed to be a fundamental difference in the understanding of time as a conceptual category among the Hopi. He proposed that this view of time was fundamental to Hopi culture and explained certain Hopi behavioral patterns. Malotki later claimed that he had found no evidence of Whorf's claims in 's era speakers, nor in historical documents dating back to the arrival of Europeans.

Malotki used evidence from archaeological data, calendars, historical documents, modern speech and concluded that there was no evidence that Hopi conceptualize time in the way Whorf suggested.

Universalist scholars such as Pinker often see Malotki's study as a final refutation of Whorf's claim about Hopi, whereas relativist scholars such as Lucy and Penny Lee criticized Malotki's study for mischaracterizing Whorf's claims and for forcing Hopi grammar into a model of analysis that doesn't fit the data.

Whorf died in at age 44, leaving multiple unpublished papers. His line of thought was continued by linguists and anthropologists such as Hoijer and Lee who both continued investigations into the effect of language on habitual thought, and Trager , who prepared a number of Whorf's papers for posthumous publishing.

The most important event for the dissemination of Whorf's ideas to a larger public was the publication in of his major writings on the topic of linguistic relativity in a single volume titled Language, Thought and Reality. In , Eric Lenneberg criticised Whorf's examples from an objectivist view of language holding that languages are principally meant to represent events in the real world and that even though languages express these ideas in various ways, the meanings of such expressions and therefore the thoughts of the speaker are equivalent.

He argued that Whorf's English descriptions of a Hopi speaker's view of time were in fact translations of the Hopi concept into English, therefore disproving linguistic relativity. However Whorf was concerned with how the habitual use of language influences habitual behavior, rather than translatability. Whorf's point was that while English speakers may be able to understand how a Hopi speaker thinks, they do not think in that way.

Lenneberg's main criticism of Whorf's works was that he never showed the connection between a linguistic phenomenon and a mental phenomenon. With Brown , Lenneberg proposed that proving such a connection required directly matching linguistic phenomena with behavior. They assessed linguistic relativity experimentally and published their findings in Since neither Sapir nor Whorf had ever stated a formal hypothesis, Brown and Lenneberg formulated their own. Their two tenets were i "the world is differently experienced and conceived in different linguistic communities" and ii "language causes a particular cognitive structure".

Brown's formulations became widely known and were retrospectively attributed to Whorf and Sapir although the second formulation, verging on linguistic determinism, was never advanced by either of them.

Since Brown and Lenneberg believed that the objective reality denoted by language was the same for speakers of all languages, they decided to test how different languages codified the same message differently and whether differences in codification could be proven to affect behavior. They designed experiments involving the codification of colors. In their first experiment, they investigated whether it was easier for speakers of English to remember color shades for which they had a specific name than to remember colors that were not as easily definable by words.

This allowed them to compare the linguistic categorization directly to a non-linguistic task. In a later experiment, speakers of two languages that categorize colors differently English and Zuni were asked to recognize colors.

In this way, it could be determined whether the differing color categories of the two speakers would determine their ability to recognize nuances within color categories. Lenneberg was also one of the first cognitive scientists to begin development of the Universalist theory of language that was formulated by Chomsky in the form of Universal Grammar , effectively arguing that all languages share the same underlying structure.

The Chomskyan school also holds the belief that linguistic structures are largely innate and that what are perceived as differences between specific languages are surface phenomena that do not affect the brain's universal cognitive processes. This theory became the dominant paradigm in American linguistics from the s through the s, while linguistic relativity became the object of ridicule.

Examples of universalist influence in the s are the studies by Berlin and Kay who continued Lenneberg's color research. They studied color terminology formation and showed clear universal trends in color naming. For example, they found that even though languages have different color terminologies, they generally recognize certain hues as more focal than others.

They showed that in languages with few color terms, it is predictable from the number of terms which hues are chosen as focal colors, for example, languages with only three color terms always have the focal colors black, white and red. Other universalist researchers dedicated themselves to dispelling other aspects of linguistic relativity, often attacking Whorf's specific points and examples. For example, Malotki's monumental study of time expressions in Hopi presented many examples that challenged Whorf's "timeless" interpretation of Hopi language and culture.

Today many followers of the universalist school of thought still oppose linguistic relativity. For example, Pinker argues in The Language Instinct that thought is independent of language, that language is itself meaningless in any fundamental way to human thought, and that human beings do not even think in "natural" language, i.

Pinker and other universalists have been accused by relativists of misrepresenting Whorf's views and arguing against strawmen. Joshua Fishman argued that Whorf's true position was largely overlooked. In , he suggested that Whorf was a "neo- Herderian champion" [47] and in , he proposed "Whorfianism of the third kind" in an attempt to refocus linguists' attention on what he claimed was Whorf's real interest, namely the intrinsic value of "little peoples" and "little languages".

But to restrict thinking to the patterns merely of English […] is to lose a power of thought which, once lost, can never be regained. It is the 'plainest' English which contains the greatest number of unconscious assumptions about nature. Where Brown's weak version of the linguistic relativity hypothesis proposes that language influences thought and the strong version that language determines thought, Fishman's 'Whorfianism of the third kind' proposes that language is a key to culture.

In the late s and early s, advances in cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics renewed interest in the Sapir—Whorf hypothesis.

He argued that language is often used metaphorically and that languages use different cultural metaphors that reveal something about how speakers of that language think. For example, English employs conceptual metaphors likening time with money, so that time can be saved and spent and invested, whereas other languages do not talk about time in that way. Other such metaphors are common to many languages because they are based on general human experience, for example, metaphors likening up with good and bad with down.

Lakoff also argued that metaphor plays an important part in political debates such as the "right to life" or the "right to choose"; or "illegal aliens" or "undocumented workers". In his book Women, Fire and Dangerous things: He concluded that the debate had been confused.

He described four parameters on which researchers differed in their opinions about what constitutes linguistic relativity:. Lakoff concluded that many of Whorf's critics had criticized him using novel definitions of linguistic relativity, rendering their criticisms moot. The publication of the anthology Rethinking Linguistic Relativity edited by Gumperz and Levinson began a new period of linguistic relativity studies that focused on cognitive and social aspects.

The book included studies on the linguistic relativity and universalist traditions. Levinson documented significant linguistic relativity effects in the linguistic conceptualization of spatial categories between languages. Separate studies by Bowerman and Slobin treated the role of language in cognitive processes. Bowerman showed that certain cognitive processes did not use language to any significant extent and therefore could not be subject to linguistic relativity.

Slobin described another kind of cognitive process that he named "thinking for speaking" — the kind of process in which perceptional data and other kinds of prelinguistic cognition are translated into linguistic terms for communication.

These, Slobin argues, are the kinds of cognitive process that are at the root of linguistic relativity. Researchers such as Boroditsky , Lucy and Levinson believe that language influences thought in more limited ways than the broadest early claims.

Researchers examine the interface between thought or cognition , language and culture and describe the relevant influences. They use experimental data to back up their conclusions.

Psycholinguistic studies explored motion perception, emotion perception, object representation and memory. Recent work with bilingual speakers attempts to distinguish the effects of language from those of culture on bilingual cognition including perceptions of time, space, motion, colors and emotion.

Lucy identified three main strands of research into linguistic relativity. The "structure-centered" approach starts with a language's structural peculiarity and examines its possible ramifications for thought and behavior.

The defining example is Whorf's observation of discrepancies between the grammar of time expressions in Hopi and English. More recent research in this vein is Lucy's research describing how usage of the categories of grammatical number and of numeral classifiers in the Mayan language Yucatec result in Mayan speakers classifying objects according to material rather than to shape as preferred by English speakers.

The "domain-centered" approach selects a semantic domain and compares it across linguistic and cultural groups. It centered on color terminology, although this domain is acknowledged to be sub-optimal, because color perception, unlike other semantic domains, is hardwired into the neural system and as such is subject to more universal restrictions than other semantic domains.

Space is another semantic domain that has proven fruitful for linguistic relativity studies. Speakers rely on the linguistic conceptualization of space in performing many ordinary tasks. Levinson and others reported three basic spatial categorizations. While many languages use combinations of them, some languages exhibit only one type and related behaviors.

Speakers define a location as "north of the house", while an English speaker may use relative positions, saying "in front of the house" or "to the left of the house". The "behavior centered" approach starts by comparing behavior across linguistic groups and then searches for causes for that behavior in the linguistic system.

Whorf attributed the occurrence of fires at a chemical plant to the workers' use of the word 'empty' to describe the barrels containing only explosive vapors. Bloom noticed that speakers of Chinese had unexpected difficulties answering counter-factual questions posed to them in a questionnaire. He concluded that this was related to the way in which counter-factuality is marked grammatically in Chinese. Other researchers attributed this result to Bloom's flawed translations.

He concluded that cognitive differences between the grammatical usage of Swedish prepositions and Finnish cases could have caused Swedish factories to pay more attention to the work process while Finnish factory organizers paid more attention to the individual worker.

Everett's conclusions were met with skepticism from universalists [68] who claimed that the linguistic deficit is explained by the lack of need for such concepts. Recent research with non-linguistic experiments in languages with different grammatical properties e.

The study focused on three groups, those who spoke only Swedish, those who spoke only Spanish and bilingual speakers who spoke both of those languages. Swedish speakers describe time using distance terms like "long" or "short" while Spanish speakers do it using volume related terms like "big" or "small".

The researchers asked the participants to estimate how much time had passed while watching a line growing across a screen, or a container being filled, or both. The studies showed a correlation between color term numbers and ease of recall in both Zuni and English speakers. Researchers attributed this to focal colors having higher codability than less focal colors, and not with linguistic relativity effects. Researchers such as Lucy, [74] Saunders [75] and Levinson [76] argued that Berlin and Kay's study does not refute linguistic relativity in color naming, because of unsupported assumptions in their study such as whether all cultures in fact have a clearly-defined category of "color" and because of related data problems.

Researchers such as Maclaury continued investigation into color naming. Like Berlin and Kay, Maclaury concluded that the domain is governed mostly by physical-biological universals. Linguistic relativity inspired others to consider whether thought could be influenced by manipulating language. The question bears on philosophical, psychological, linguistic and anthropological questions. A major question is whether human psychological faculties are mostly innate or whether they are mostly a result of learning, and hence subject to cultural and social processes such as language.

The innate view holds that humans share the same set of basic faculties, and that variability due to cultural differences is less important and that the human mind is a mostly biological construction, so that all humans sharing the same neurological configuration can be expected to have similar cognitive patterns.

Multiple alternatives have advocates. The contrary constructivist position holds that human faculties and concepts are largely influenced by socially constructed and learned categories, without many biological restrictions. Another variant is idealist , which holds that human mental capacities are generally unrestricted by biological-material strictures. Another is essentialist , which holds that essential differences [ clarification needed ] may influence the ways individuals or groups experience and conceptualize the world.

Yet another is relativist Cultural relativism , which sees different cultural groups as employing different conceptual schemes that are not necessarily compatible or commensurable, nor more or less in accord with external reality. Another debate considers whether thought is a form of internal speech or is independent of and prior to language. In the philosophy of language the question addresses the relations between language, knowledge and the external world, and the concept of truth.

Philosophers such as Putnam , Fodor , Davidson, and Dennett see language as representing directly entities from the objective world and that categorization reflect that world. Wittgenstein, Quine , Searle, Foucault argue that categorization and conceptualization is subjective and arbitrary. Another question is whether language is a tool for representing and referring to objects in the world, or whether it is a system used to construct mental representations that can be communicated.

Korzybski's thinking was influenced by logical philosophy such as Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica and Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Hayakawa was a follower and popularizer of Korzybski's work, writing Language in Thought and Action. I know that they are both part of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but I cannot understand the exact difference between them.

The central difference between linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity is the idea that world-view concepts and thoughts cannot be altered versus can be altered. Edward Sapir, a linguist, studied indigenous languages. These are languages of indigneous people who are the first peoples occupying a given land. For instance, Native Americans, Inuit, and Aboriginals are three groups of indigenous peoples from the North American continent, extreme northern climates, and Australia, respectively.

In his studies, Sapir was In his studies, Sapir was surprised at the contrasts between how indigenous people and European people spoke about the order of the world. This discovery led him to the conclusion that the language we are born into determines in a fixed and unalterable way the way in which we perceive objects, manipulate object, understand abstractions and our relationships to abstractions. Here's an example about feasting from his work. The English thought is six separate words focused on the person HE , while the Nootka thought is one word with five suffixes focused on the action BOIL:.

Sapir's student, Benjamin Whorf, dedicated himself to proving and examining Sapir's hypothesis. In his studies, he discovered that while there are deterministic constructions of reality imposed on our cognition and perceptions through our birth-language, there are also cultural factors cultural-linguistic factors that can override aspects of the deterministic strictures of our original language or languages, if bi- or multi-lingual , and thus can enlarge our perceptions and cognition relevant to the world we experience.

According to Whorf, since there is an opportunity to broaden and enlarge the deterministic structure of language at least in degrees , then the deterministic nature of language is relativistic: As an example, the Japanese have an expression that is given as a sort of blessing when someone leaves home to go anywhere, to work, to school, to the market, anywhere. The person departing says what is loosely translated into English as "I go come back.

The person staying at home says, loosely in English, "Off you go. In English, there is no continuity between going and coming back: We don't assume a coming back; we can only hope sometimes in anguish if a parent for a coming back. When an English speaker learns this cultural-linguistic element of Japanese world-view, it comprises different cognition and can be liberating.


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The central difference between linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity is the idea that world-view concepts and thoughts cannot be altered versus can be fast-tri-29.cf Sapir, a linguist.

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Among the strongest statements of this position are those by Benjamin Lee Whorf and his teacher, Edward Sapir, in the first half of this century—hence the label, 'The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis', for the theory of linguistic relativity and determinism.

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3 Implications of Sapir-Whorf hypothesis • Part of challenge to theories of unilineal social evolution (which posited that simple societies evolve into complex ones). In its strongest expression, linguistic relativity - the idea that viewpoints vary from language to language - relies on linguistic determinism - the idea that language determines thought. In other words, how people think doesn't just vary depending on their language, but is actually grounded in, determined by, the specific language of their.

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Put simply, linguistic determinism (the strong version of the hypothesis) is based on the argument that language shapes the speakers’ way of thinking and how they conceptualize the world. A well known example of this is the people of Piraha, who have only three numbers in their language: one, . A form of linguistic determinism is "linguistic relativity" (Sapir–Whorf hypothesis; discussed in Kay&Kempton ). The known example of this is the claim that it is easier for people to recognise and remember shades of colours for which they have a specific name in their own language (a claim discredited later by Berlin&Kay ).