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276whorf_and_linguistic_relativityr

276whorf_and_linguistic_relativityr - How Languages Code...

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How Languages Code Ideas Part II: BENJAMIN LEE WHORF AND LINGUISTIC RELATIVITY
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Benjamin Lee Whorf 1897-1941
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Whorf and Linguistic Relativity Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) Trained at MIT as an engineer; his day job was as an insurance specialist with The Hartford Fire Insurance Company. He studied with Edward Sapir (1884-1939) (who had received his doctorate under Boas in 1909) during Sapir’s years at Yale (1931-39). The paper assigned in this class is from a volume compiled in memory of Sapir and is one of the very few papers that Whorf wrote for a professional linguistic audience. Many of his works on language were written for the MIT alumni magazine. However, while Whorf had no degrees in linguistics he was clearly accepted by Sapir, who invited Whorf to teach his course while he was on leave from Yale, and by the other Sapir students who include major figures in 20 th century linguistics. His work is known mainly through a collection of his writings, Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf , edited by John Carroll (MIT Press)
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Whorf and Linguistic Relativity Perhaps the most famous and compact statement of the so-called “Humboldt-Sapir-Whorf” (sometimes just “Sapir-Whorf”, sometimes just “Whorf Hypothesis”) was made by Sapir in a brief essay in The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: “Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.” (Sapir 1949 [1929]: 162)
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Whorf and linguistic relativity Proposed effects of language on thought and behavior are often called “Whorfian effects”. But what did Whorf himself think? 1) He hedged his views: “The cue to a certain line of behavior is often given by the analogies of the linguistic formula in which the situation is spoken of, and by which to some degree it is analyzed, classified, and allotted its place in that world which is “to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.” 2) He insisted that “Whorfian effects” occur in all languages: “And we always assume that the linguistic analysis made by our group reflects reality better than it does.” 3) He emphasized “large-scale patterning” as the source of “Whorfian effects”: “Single words, phrases, and patterns of limited range” are not as important, or as “compulsive,” as “ large-scale patterning of grammatical categories .”
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