Sapir whorf hypothesis and the relationship between language culture

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sapir whorf hypothesis and the relationship between language culture

The hypothesis of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers' world view or cognition. Also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is . Sapir was explicit that the connections between language and culture were neither thoroughgoing nor particularly deep, if they. The movie portrayed the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in three different ways: Sapir's views on the relationship between language and culture are. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf brought attention to the relationship They found that regardless of language or culture, eleven universal colour foci.

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?

Language and Culture and Sapir- Whorf Hypothesis Flashcards by Brooke Bingham | Brainscape

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. 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.

sapir whorf hypothesis and the relationship between language culture

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

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. 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.

sapir whorf hypothesis and the relationship between language culture

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.

sapir whorf hypothesis and the relationship between language culture

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. 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 different languages use different cultural metaphors that reveal something about how speakers of that language think.

For example, English employs metaphors likening time with money, whereas other languages may not talk about time in that fashion. Other linguistic metaphors may be common to most languages because they are based on general human experience, for example, metaphors likening up with good and bad with down.

In his book Women, Fire and Dangerous things: He concluded that the debate on linguistic relativity had been confused and resultingly fruitless. He identified four parameters on which researchers differed in their opinions about what constitutes linguistic relativity. One parameter is the degree and depth of linguistic relativity. Some scholars believe that a few examples of superficial differences in language and associated behavior are enough to demonstrate the existence of linguistic relativity, while other contend that only deep differences that permeate the linguistic and cultural system suffice as proof.

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.

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. Drawing on influences such as Humboldt and Friedrich Nietzschesome 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.

Benjamin Lee Whorf[ edit ] Main article: Benjamin Lee Whorf More than any linguist, Benjamin Lee Whorf has become associated with what he called the "linguistic relativity principle".

sapir whorf hypothesis and the relationship between language culture

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 LucySilverstein 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".

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 languagean example which later was contested as a misrepresentation. 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.

sapir whorf hypothesis and the relationship between language culture

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.

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 Tragerwho 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. Eric Lenneberg[ edit ] InEric 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. 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". 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.

The structure of anyone's native language strongly influences or fully determines the worldview he will acquire as he learns the language. 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. Universalism and Universalism and relativism of color terminology 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 Grammareffectively arguing that all languages share the same underlying structure.

Language and Culture and Sapir- Whorf Hypothesis Flashcards Preview

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. 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.