Evaluate The Evidence For And Against The Sapir Whorf Hypothesis.

1029 words - 4 pages

“The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (SWH) states that there is a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it”. (Wikipedia) The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was created by two American linguists, Edward Sapir and his student Edward Lee Whorf, in the early 1930’s. It is considered to be a mould language theory, which “represents language as a mould in terms of which thought categories are cast”. (Bruner et al. 1956). At a very basic level, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis consists of two linked ideas, that of linguistic relativity, where the language you speak will influence your outlook on the real world, and a stronger idea of linguistic determination, where our thinking and interpretation of the world around us is established by the language we speak.It was Edward Sapir who theorized that our viewpoint on the world is affected by the language. Whorf’s theory was drawn from a study of Hopi Indians, which stated that their language has no concept of time as an objective being. From this, Whorf attempted to prove the linguistic relativity theory by looking at the way the Hopi rely on preparation, such as planning events in advance, does show a concept of time. In this case it is just time continuing along instead of matching the western way of dividing up time. He claimed that this concept of time matched their linguistic differences, which in turn shows language determining thought. Sapir and Whorf agreed that it is ones culture which determines language, which then determines the way our thoughts and experiences of the world are categorized.One of the main problems with Whorf’s theory is the idea of causality. Whorf cannot prove if the language determined the thought, or if it was in fact the other way around, with the thought determining the language. Another criticism of Whorf’s theory is that of the concept of transferability. Here the problem if that if language does in fact affect thought, as Whorf stated, then logically some concepts would only be understandable in their original language, yet this has not been found to be the case when studying Indian languages, or translated poetry.Stephen Pinker was one of the main critics of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, arguing that it is no more then a myth. 'No one is really sure how Whorf came up with his outlandish claims, but his limited, badly analysed sample of Hopi speech and his long-term leanings towards mysticism must have helped' (Pinker 1994). Pinker points out that there have been studies by the anthropologist Malotki which show that the Hopi’s do in fact have a concept of time similar to the Western World’s, with a calendar. Whorf also never met an Indian, and his analysis is wholly based on his translation of their language, meaning he cannot generalize his argument.If Whorf’s hypothesis that language determines thought is taken as fact, then...

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