Linguistic Relativity

Seeing the World Through Words

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    Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

    Idea that the structure and rules of a language influences how its speakers see the world. There are 2 different versions to this theory.



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    Strong Version

    Language determines thought --> linguistic categories limit/define cognitive categories

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    Weak Version

    Language influences thought and some non-linguistic behavior

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    For example...

    Do we see colors differently based on the number of color words we have in our language?

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    Does language shape how we think? Linguistic relativity & linguistic determinism -- Linguistics 101

    From the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" to modern psychology, get a quick feel for this ongoing debate. Is language about grammatical universals like nouns and verbs? What's the relationship between language and culture?

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    Data-driven support

    Some researchers have (sometimes inadvertently) found support for this theory in their research. There are multiple examples of this but a recent one is the Balinese language test by Wassman and Dasen (1998). "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 spatially orient themselves differently than Westerners do.


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    Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

    Since its inception in the 1920s and 1930s, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has caused controversy and spawned research in a variety of disciplines including linguistics, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and education. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf brought attention to the relationship between language, thought, and culture. Neither of them formally wrote the hypothesis nor supported...

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