Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

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					        Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
       The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis revolves
       around the idea that language has
       power and can control how you see the
       world. Language is a guide to your
       reality, structuring your thoughts. It
       provides the framework through which
       you make sense of the world.


See the article “The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Worlds Shaped by Words”
To understand the S-W Hypothesis, it helps to
be aware that there are two opposing ideas
about language and culture. The S-W
Hypothesis is in line with the second idea
listed here:
1. Language mirrors reality: People have thoughts
  first, then put them into words. Words record
  what is already there. All humans think the
  same way, but we use different words to label
  what we sense.
     This is an example of the cloak theory: that
     language is a cloak that conforms to the customary
     categories of thoughts of its speakers

     *This is NOT the S-W Hypothesis
To understand the S-W Hypothesis, it helps to
be aware that there are two opposing ideas
about language and culture. The S-W
Hypothesis is in line with the second idea
listed here:

2. Language dictates how we think. The
  vocabulary and grammar (structure) of a
  language determines the way we view the
  world (“worlds shaped by words”).

    This is an example of the mold theory: that
    language is a mold in terms of which thought
    categories are cast.

    *This IS the S-W Hypothesis
The S-W Hypothesis consists of
      2 paired principles:
  a) Linguistic determinism: the
     language we use to some extent
     determines the way in which we view
     and think about the world around us.

  b) Linguistic relativity: people who
     speak different languages perceive
     and think about the world quite
     differently from one another.
•Example 1: Gasoline barrels
•Example 2: Inuit words for snow &
Apache place-names (Basso reading)
•Example 3: Hopi conceptions of time
•Example 4: Color words
•Example 5: Piraha lack of number words
Implications of the Strong Version of the S-W Hypothesis:
*note that these implications are controversial, which is why many do
not accept the strong version of the S-W Hypothesis

•A change in world view is impossible for speakers of one language. For
this reason, some speak of the “prison-house of language,” or call
language a “straightjacket”

•True cross-cultural communication and translation are impossible
    --case of Pablo Neruda – refuses to allow his poetry to be translated
    from Spanish
    --case of Ngugi Wa Thiongo – refused, for a long time, to write in any
    language but Swahili

•Language is powerful–it can stimulate strong, emotional responses and
shape how people think about morally and socially important issues.
    --This is why we use euphemisms.
    --This is why groups like the “language police” try to intervene and
    control what words people use.

				
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posted:11/6/2012
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