Give a brief account of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Give a brief account of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a principle that suggests that the structure of a language affects the worldview or cognition or knowledge of its speakers, and thus people’s perceptions are relative to their spoken language. 

To put it differently, the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis refers to the proposal that the particular language one speaks influences the way one thinks about reality. It is also known as the linguistic relativity hypothesis which stands in close relation to semiotic-level concerns with the general relation of language and thought, and to discourse-level concerns with how patterns of language use in cultural context can affect thought. 

Methods of Explanation 

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis can be described as consisting of two associated principles such as the strong hypothesis and the weak hypothesis.

The Strong Hypothesis

The strong hypothesis or linguistic determinism says that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories. This version is generally agreed to be false by modern linguists. 

The Weak Hypothesis

The weak hypothesis or linguistic relativism says that linguistic categories and uses of language only influence thought and decisions. Research on weaker forms has produced positive empirical evidence for a relationship. 

The Reason for the Criticism

The term “Sapir–Whorf hypothesis” is considered a misnomer by linguists for several reasons: Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf never co-authored any works, and never stated their ideas in terms of a hypothesis. The distinction between a weak and a strong version of this hypothesis is also a later invention; Sapir and Whorf never set up such a dichotomy, although often their writings and their views of this relativity principle are phrased in stronger or weaker terms. Modern research is divided into structure-centered, domain-centered, and behavior-centered types, depending on the manner of approach. 

Range of Demand

Although the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been criticized and somehow rejected by modern linguists, the principle of linguistic relativity and the relation between language and thought has also received attention in varying academic fields from philosophy to psychology and anthropology, and it has also inspired and colored works of fiction and the invention of constructed languages.

Read More: To what extent can Linguistics be considered a science?

Mr. Abdullah
Mr. Abdullah

Mr. Abdullah is a passionate love of Literature. Researcher and Lecturer of English Literature and Language.

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