Linguistic Determinism Essay

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John B. Carroll, a contemporary and colleague of Whorf, who first edited Whorf’s essays into Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) (1955), in his introduction, gives us an insight into Whorf’s life which led to his theories of linguistic relativism and that of linguistic determinism. Carroll (1955) informs that Whorf was an MIT chemical engineer graduate, with no apparent linguistic training. Whorf went on to be an insurance fire prevention engineer which provided him with his first insight into how words and their meaning can lead to misleading actions in terms of fire prevention and safety. Furthermore, Whorf discovered the works of Antoine Fabre d’Olivet, a philologist who had studied the Hebrew language and had concluded that the Hebrew letters contained stand-alone root ideas. Whorf saw in this work the quest for inner meaning which contributes to his work on the study of language and its relationship with culture, and thought and conciseness (Carroll, 1955). A milestone in Whorf’s linguistic career was his collaboration with Edward Sapir (1884-1939) whom he met in 1928 when Whorf had enrolled onto Sapir’s course on American Indian linguistics at Yale University. It is this event which sparked Whorf’s interest in studying the Amerindian tribe Hopi and their language (an Aztec language). Whilst researching Hopi, Whorf developed a theory of linguistic relativity with Sapir, which was later known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (SWH). The Sapir Whorf Hypothesis (SWH) maintains that culture shapes the consciousness or world-view of the speaker which is revealed in language (Whorf, 1956). Alford (2002) quotes Lennenberg (1953) when he states that Whorf’s theory has in fact two hypotheses, differentiating between the relativism and determinism facets of it: “1. Structural differences between language systems

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