Linguistic Relativity Essay

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The principle of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the ways in which its speakers are able to conceptualize their world, i.e. their world view. Popularly known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is generally understood as having two different versions: (i) the strong version that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories and (ii) the weak version that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behavior.
The idea was first clearly expressed by 19th century thinkers, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, who saw language as the expression of the spirit of a nation. The early 20th century school of American Anthropology headed by Franz Boas and Edward Sapir also embraced the idea. Sapir's student Benjamin Lee Whorf came to be seen as the primary proponent as a result of his published observations of how he perceived linguistic differences to have consequences in human cognition and behavior. Harry Hoijer, one of Sapir's students, introduced the term "Sapir–Whorf hypothesis",[1] albeit infelicitously due to Sapir's non-involvement with the idea and the term's misleading use of hypothesis in a colloquial (i.e. non-scientific) sense.[2] Whorf's ideas were widely criticized, and Roger Brown and Eric Lenneberg decided to put them to the test. They reformulated Whorf's principle of linguistic relativity as a testable hypothesis and conducted experiments designed to find out whether color perception varies between speakers of languages that classified colors differently. As the study of the universal nature of human language and cognition came into focus in the 1960s the idea of linguistic relativity fell out of favor. A 1969 study by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay claimed to demonstrate that color terminology is subject to universal semantic constraints, and hence to discredit the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.
From the late 1980s a...

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