Do We Know More About Whorf?

Yanlong Wang


The idea that different languages foster different world views in their speakers is part of a tradition popularized by Wilhelm von Humboldt in the 18th century long before it became associated with Whorf.  In this long process, another two American linguists, Boas and Sapir, are also well-known for their great contributions to this notion.  This paper tries to trace the linguistic relativity back to its origin and contextualize its diachronic developments from Europe to America.  It is true, however, that it was Benjamin Lee Whorf, the chemical engineer and fire-insurance by profession and the linguist by avocation, who had undertaken extensive research into the language Hopi during 1932-1935 and Maya in late 1930s, and it was he who went further in indicating the relationship between language and thought.  As a core part of Whorf’s theory complex, the linguistic relativity was once interpreted in two ways: linguistic determinism which means that language determines the way people think and linguistic relativism which implies that language influences the way people think. 


Whorf, Whorf’s theory, linguistic relativity

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