Article

Whorfian Hypothesis

Daniel Casasanto

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0058
Whorfian Hypothesis

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The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (a.k.a. the Whorfian hypothesis) concerns the relationship between language and thought. Neither the anthropological linguist Edward Sapir (b. 1884–d. 1939) nor his student Benjamin Whorf (b. 1897–d. 1941) ever formally stated any single hypothesis about the influence of language on nonlinguistic cognition and perception. On the basis of their writings, however, two proposals emerged, generating decades of controversy among anthropologists, linguists, philosophers, and psychologists. According to the more radical proposal, linguistic determinism, the languages that people speak rigidly determine the way they perceive and understand the world. On the more moderate proposal, linguistic relativity, habits of using language influence habits of thinking. As a result, people who speak different languages think differently in predictable ways. During the latter half of the 20th century, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was widely regarded as false. Around the turn of the 21st century, however, experimental evidence reopened debate about the extent to which language shapes nonlinguistic cognition and perception. Scientific tests of linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity help to clarify what is universal in the human mind and what depends on the particulars of people’s physical and social experience.

Article.  6456 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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