Explain and evaluate claims made by linguistic relativists regarding the relationship between language, thought and culture

Topics: Linguistic relativity, Linguistics, Benjamin Lee Whorf Pages: 8 (2202 words) Published: March 12, 2014


HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY 香港理工大學
Department of Applied Social Science

Anthropology and Language
Assignment

C. Explain and evaluate claims made by linguistic relativists regarding the relationship between language, thought and culture

Submitted by
KEUNG Man Yan Leona 姜汶昕

18th December, 2012

Word Count:

HONG KONG POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY 香港理工大學
Department of Applied Social Science

Anthropology and Language
18th December, 2012
This is to certify that the work submitted in this document represents the work of the candidates alone.

Submitted by
KEUNG Man Yan Leona 姜汶昕

The relationship between language, culture and thought has been a controversial discussion over decades. Many linguists and thinkers have argued that language lead to large differences in culture and thoughts. Some argue that language controls people’s view and thought of the world, where language embodies worldview, and some argue the otherwise. Language, culture and thought may always refer as together, but any one of them implies the other two. In this essay, I am going to focus on linguistic relativism and I will evaluate claims made by linguistic relativists.

Linguistic relativism is a weaker interpretation of linguistic determinism. It is “a window through which to view the cognitive process, not as an absolute. It’s set forth to be used in looking at a phenomenon differently than one usually would.” (Badhesha, 2001) Linguistic categorize and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behavior.

Linguistic relativity hypothesis has always been a controversial and serious topic. In late-eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Boas claimed that there’s no intrinsic relationship between culture and language. (Boas, 1911) Acquainted with Boas, Edward Sapir was impressed with Boas’ statement. Later, he proposed a theory which becomes the most famous attempt in demonstrating relationship between language, culture and thoughts, “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis” (Whorfian Hypothesis).

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis can be broken into two simple concepts: Linguistic Determinism and Linguistic Relativism. Linguistic determinism holds a stronger view. It refers to “the concept that what is said has only some effect on how concepts are recognized by the mind”, “A strict view that what is said is directly responsible for what is seen by the mind.” (Badhesha, 2002) This stronger point is supported by Sapir.

Sapir: “language and culture are not intrinsically associated” but “language and our thought-grooves are inextricably interwoven, [and] are, in a sense, one and the same” (1921: 228, 232) Sapir believes that language and culture are not explicitly related but language, culture and thoughts are interwoven that cannot be unwoven each other. Sapir also expressed his view that language affects how we perceive the world, “Even comparatively simple acts of perception are very much more at the mercy of the social patterns called words than we might suppose. … We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.” (1929, p. 210) Sapir here explained that language determines our thoughts and culture, it affects our views of the world and culture is a product of language.

Sapir’s student, Benjamin Lee Whorf supported and made his theory stronger. Whorf’s claims are both to the extreme, strongest but to the weaker and more cautious at the same time. The extreme perspective is linguistic determinism, where the weaker is linguistic relativism. In fact, linguistic relativism is widely spread through Whorf’s work.

Whorf: “The background linguistic system of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas.” (1940, “Science and Linguistics,” Technology Review 42:...

Bibliography: Boroditsky L (2001) Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology 43(1):1-22
Boroditsky L Linguistic Relativity, Intermediate article P
John A. Lucy (1997) Annual review of Anthropology, Vol 26 (1997), P. 291-312
Dr
Z. Salzmann (1993) Language, Culture and Society, An introduction to linguistic anthropology P. 152-155
P
D. Hicks, M. A. Gwynne (1996) Cultural Anthropology, P. 115-123
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