Sapir whorf theory language and thought relationship

Linguistic relativity - Wikipedia

sapir whorf theory language and thought relationship

Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. Abstract—The Sapir-Whorf's Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis provokes intellectual discussion about The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis proclaimed the influence of language on thought and perception. Sapir‟s views on the relationship between language and culture are clearly. To the followers of this idea, thought is dependant on language. Their collective theory, know as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis or more commonly the The experiment showed clearly the relationship between deaf children whose parents. Sapir's views on the relationship between language and culture are clearly Whorf's theory originated in his study of Eskimo vocabulary for snow. . The Chinese leader changed his mind and did not attack the aliens.

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 kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic systems in 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. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.

For more than fifty years researchers have tried to design studies that will support or refute this hypothesis. Support for the weaker version has been minimal.

Problems with the hypothesis begin when one tries to discern exactly what the hypothesis is stating. At some points, Sapir and Whorf appear to support the strong version of the hypothesis and at others they only support the weak version. Alford also notes that neither Sapir nor Whorf actually named any of their ideas about language and cognition the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. This name only appeared after their deaths. This has lead to a wide interpretation of what researchers consider to be the one and only hypothesis.

Another problem with the hypothesis is that it requires a measurement of human thought. Researchers settle for the study of behaviour as a direct link to thought. If one is to believe the strong version of linguistic determinism, one also has to agree that thought is not possible without language.

What about the pre-linguistic thought of babies? How can babies acquire language without thought? Also, where did language come from? Yet another problem with the hypothesis is that languages and linguistic concepts are highly translatable. Under linguistic determinism, a concept in one language would not be understood in a different language because the speakers and their world views are bound by different sets of rules.

Whorf uses language nuances to prove vast differences between languages and then expects his reader to infer those differences in thought and behaviour. He shows that while the Inuit use many different terms for snow, other languages transmit the same ideas using phrases instead of single words.

Despite all these problems facing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, there have been several studies performed that support at least the weaker linguistic relativity hypothesis. InBrown and Lenneberg tested for colour codability, or how speakers of one language categorize the colour spectrum and how it affects their recognition of those colours. English-speaking subjects were better able to re-recognize those hues which are easily named in English.

Schlesinger explains the path taken in this study from positive correlation to support for linguistic relativity: Lucy and Shweder found that influences on colour recognition memory is mediated exclusively by basic colour terms—a language factor. They found that language is a part of cognition. However, under certain conditions they found that universalism of colour distinction can be recovered.

They found that the use of an absolute reference system based on geographic points on the island in the Balinese language correlates to the significant cultural importance of these points to the people. They questioned how language affects the thinking of the Balinese people and found moderate linguistic relativity results.

sapir whorf theory language and thought relationship

There are, on the other hand, several studies that dispute the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Most of these studies favour universalism over relativism in the realm of linguistic structure and function. Roger Brown, who was one of the first researchers to find empirical support for the hypothesis, now argues that there is much more evidence pointing toward cognitive universalism rather than linguistic relativity Schlesinger They found that regardless of language or culture, eleven universal colour foci emerge.

Underlying apparent diversity in colour vocabularies, these universal foci remain recognizable. Even in languages which do not discriminate to eleven basic colours, speakers are nonetheless able to sort colour chips based on the eleven focus colours. Davies concluded that the data showed strong universalism. Whorf saw language and culture as two inseparable sides of a single coin. Indeed, deciding which came first the language or the culture is impossible to discern.

Schlesinger notes that Whorf recognized two directions of influence—from culture to language and vice versa. Language reinforces cultural patterns through semantics, syntax and naming.

Grammar and the forms of words show hierarchical importance of something to a culture. However, the common colour perception tests are not strongly linked to cultural experience. James Cooke Brown attempted to separate language and culture to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. He suggested the creation of a new language—one not bound to any particular culture — to distinguish the causes from the effects of language, culture, and thought. A strong version of the hypothesis holds that language determines thought that linguistic categories limits and determines cognitive categories.

A weaker version states that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour. The idea was first clearly expressed by 19th century national romantic thinkers, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt who saw language as the expression of the spirit of a nation. As the study of the universal nature of human language and cognition came in to focus in the s the idea of linguistic relativity fell out of favor.

A study by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay showed that colour terminology is subject to universal semantic constraints, and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was seen as completely discredited. From the late s a new school of linguistic relativity scholars have examined the effects of differences in linguistic categorization on cognition, finding broad support for weak versions of the hypothesis in experimental contexts. Recent studies have shown that colour perception is particularly prone to linguistic relativity effects when processed in the left brain hemisphere, suggesting that this brain half relies more on language than the right one.

Current research is focused on exploring the ways in which language influences thought and determining to what extent.

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis | i love english language

The idea that language and thought are intertwined goes back to the classical civilizations, but in the history of European philosophy the relation was not seen as fundamental. Augustine for example held the view that language was merely labels applied to already existing concepts. For Immanuel Kantlanguage was but one of several tools used by humans to experience the world.

Von Humboldt argued that languages with an inflectional morphological typesuch as German, English and the other Indo-European languages were the most perfect languages and that accordingly this explained the dominance of their speakers over the speakers of less perfect languages. The German scientist Wilhelm von Humboldt declared in The diversity of languages is not a diversity of signs and sounds but a diversity of views of the world.

The American linguist William Dwight Whitney for example actively strove to eradicate the native American languages arguing that their speakers were savages and would be better off abandoning their languages and learning English and adopting a civilized way of life. In contrast to Humboldt, Boas always stressed the equal worth of all cultures and languages, and argued that there was no such thing as primitive languages, but that all languages were capable of expressing the same content albeit by widely differing means.

Boas saw language as an inseparable part of culture and he was among the first to require of ethnographers to learn the native language of the culture being studied, and to document verbal culture such as myths and legends in the original language. According to Franz Boas: It does not seem likely […] that there is any direct relation between the culture of a tribe and the language they speak, except in so far as the form of the language will be moulded by the state of the culture, but not in so far as a certain state of the culture is conditioned by the morphological traits of the language.

In his writings he espoused the viewpoint that because of the staggering differences in the grammatical systems of languages no two languages were ever similar enough to allow for perfect translation between them. Sapir also thought because language represented reality differently, it followed that the speakers of different languages would perceive reality differently. According to Edward Sapir: The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.

While Sapir never made a point of studying how languages affected the thought processes of their speakers the notion of linguistic relativity lay inherent in his basic understanding of language, and it would be taken up by his student Benjamin Lee Whorf. Instead of merely assuming that language influences the thought and behavior of its speakers after Humboldt and Sapir he looked at Native American languages and attempted to account for the ways in which differences in grammatical systems and language use affected the way their speakers perceived the world.

However, his not having a degree in linguistics cannot be taken to mean that he was linguistically incompetent. 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.

sapir whorf theory language and thought relationship

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 […] all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated.

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 like snow or water, is not always possible.

Another example in which Whorf attempted to show that language use affects behavior came from his experience in his day job as a chemical engineer working for an insurance company as a fire inspector [13].

On inspecting a chemical plant he once observed that the plant had two storage rooms for gasoline barrels, one for the full barrels and one for the empty ones. 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 due to the highly flammable vapors that still existed in the barrels.

This example was later criticized by Lenneberg [14] as not actually demonstrating the causality between the use of the word empty and the action of smoking, but instead being an example of circular reasoning. Steven Pinker in The Language Instinct ridiculed this example, claiming that this was a failing of human sight rather than language.

He proposed that this view of time was fundamental in all aspects of Hopi culture and explained certain Hopi behavioral patterns. Whorf died in at age 44 and left behind him a number of unpublished papers. His line of thought was continued by linguists and anthropologists such as Harry Hoijer and Dorothy D.

Lee who both continued investigations into the effect of language on habitual thought, and George L. In psychologist Eric Lenneberg published a detailed criticism of the line of thought that had been fundamental for Sapir and Whorf.

sapir whorf theory language and thought relationship

He did not address the fact that Whorf was not principally concerned with translatability, but rather with how the habitual use of language influences habitual behavior. Together with his colleague, Roger BrownLenneberg proposed that in order to prove such a causality one would have to be able to directly correlate linguistic phenomena with behavior.

They took up the task of proving or disproving the existence of linguistic relativity experimentally and published their findings in Structural differences between language systems will, in general, be paralleled by nonlinguistic cognitive differences, of an unspecified sort, in the native speakers of the language.

They designed a number of 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 correlate the linguistic categorization directly to a non-linguistic task, that of recognizing and remembering colors. In a later experiment, speakers of two languages that categorize colors differently English and Zuni were asked to perform tasks of color recognition. 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 which was finally formulated by Noam Chomsky in the form of Universal Grammareffectively 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 — the knowledge acquired by learning a language — are merely surface phenomena and do not affect cognitive processes that are universal to all human beings.

This theory became the dominant paradigm in American linguistics from the s through the s and the notion of linguistic relativity fell out of favor and became even the object of ridicule.

Berlin and Kay studied color terminology formation in languages 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.

For more information regarding the universalism and relativism of color terms, see Universalism and relativism of color terminology.

Other universalist researchers dedicated themselves to dispelling other notions of linguistic relativity, often attacking specific points and examples given by Whorf. Today many followers of the universalist school of thought still oppose the idea of linguistic relativity.

But to restrict thinking to the patterns merely of English […] is to lose a power of thought which, once lost, can never be regained. Indeed language does have an affect on thinking and the Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis very pragmatically presents this.

The first concept provided within the theory, linguistic determination, makes sense when applied to reality. In actual thought one does indeed perceive concepts and objects in accordance to the words used to describe them.

This showed me that although all of the responses I received had specific names dining table, coffee table, etc. After determining that this portion did indeed make good sense to me I continued my inquiry into the second portion of the theory, linguistic relativity.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis addresses the criteria that are set forth for evaluation and meets them very well. The first of these criteria is that of the theoretical scope. This criterion refers to the comprehensiveness of a theory. When looking at what is included in the possible factors of analysis for this theory, one can see that there are many possibilities: Everything that is encoded and decoded and the language used by society and cultures used all are encompassed in this theory.

Appropriateness is also achieved by this theory. The theory expects that the language by which one is surrounded has an affect on how they decode and that encoding differs from language-to-language and cannot always be translated. In experimentation this has been tested and then shown.

This was then proven when I actually asked the question. This experiment also supports the heuristic value of the theory. At the time of my experiment I had not even thought of the heuristic value of the hypothesis. The theory so interested me that I just did the experiment as a means of personally verifying its validity.

This validity, which was tested and found to be supported, is the next of the criteria. From the experiment as well as from earlier, more notable ones it can be noted that this theory holds great value. It also accomplishes correspondence validity because the theory is very observable and has been observed numerous times.

Linguistic relativity

Furthermore, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is very simple and logically sound. Referring back to the elderly Punjabi, they did not grow up with coffee tables; therefore, it did not come to mind. Likewise, in research done by the authors of the theory, many Indian tribes do not have word for certain objects because they do not exist in their lives. The logical plainness of this idea of relativism clearly provides parsimony. Finally, the Theory of Linguistic Relativity also achieves openness successfully.

The theory is shown as a window through which to view the cognitive process, not as an absolute. It is set forth to be used in looking at a phenomenon differently than one usually would. Pragmatically the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis makes sense. It has the potential to be used in describing a great many misunderstandings in everyday life.

This notion of relativity, passes beyond dialect boundaries, and delves into the world of language--from county-to-country and consequently from mind-to-mind. Is language reality truly a ward of thought or is it thought which occurs because of language. The Sapir Wharf Hypothesis very transparently presents a view of reality being expressed in language and thus forming in thought.