Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis Edit

The linguistic relativity hypothesis, also known as the principle of linguistic relativity, states that words, the structure of a language, affect the way in which we perceive and conceptualize our world. Our thinking is influenced by the words we know and use.

The strong version of the hypothesis states that since our thinking is influenced by our thinking, the limits of our language our also the limits to our thinking - a notion related to linguistic determinism. The weak version of the hypothesis simply states that our language influences our thought process.

Linguistic and Philosophical Thinkers

The notion that languages defines or at least influences thought goes back as far as Plato, who argued against sophist thinkers that the world consisted of pregiven eternal ideas, which required language to be accurately described and understood. More recent philosophical and linguistic thinkers include Wilhelm von Humboldt, who proposed that our thought is constructed out of language, Franz Boas, who saw language as an inseparable part of culture and stated that language should be interpreted through that lens, and Edward Sapir, who claimed that languages cannot be completely similar as to interpret the world in the same fashion. The thinker most commonly associated with the linguistic relativity principle is Benjamin Lee Whorf.

Examples / applications

Naming the Cows

'But that's [Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis; sic.] nothing special, it's just naming the cows!' - Anonymous grandmother

An example used in class to illustrate that as long as you look at cows as just cows, one cow cannot be distinguished from the other. As soon as you start naming the cows, you start to see them as separate entities, and you will start to appreciate the differences between the cows. Only through the naming of the cows do we see the cows for the separate entities that they are, instead of one specimen of a larger species

26 Kinds of Snow

A widespread idea about language states that the Eskimo language contains 26 words for snow. This idea is an application of the linguistic relativity hypothesis in the sense that Eskimo's distinguish between a variety of snow, as they are so often confronted by snow and their lives largely depend on how they deal with different types of snow. Where for most people one definition of snow suffices to completely capture the phenomenon, Eskimo's need to discern more characteristics in order to adequately deal with snow.

One may find a similar notion regarding rain, where for most people it can either rain, pour, storm, drip and drizzle, although for Londoners it simply always rains.

External links

· Wikipedia -

· How does our language shape the way we think?