Sapir had a profound influence on Whorf's thinking. Sapir's earliest writings had espoused views of the relation between thought and language stemming from the Humboldtian tradition he acquired through Franz Boas, which regarded language as the historical embodiment of volksgeist, or ethnic world view. But Sapir had since become influenced by a current of logical positivism, such as that of Bertrand Russell and the early Ludwig Wittgenstein, particularly through Ogden and Richards' The Meaning of Meaning, from which he adopted the view that natural language potentially obscures, rather than facilitates, the mind to perceive and describe the world as it really is. In this view, proper perception could only be accomplished through formal logics. During his stay at Yale, Whorf acquired this current of thought partly from Sapir and partly through his own readings of Russell and Ogden and Richards. As Whorf became more influenced by positivist science he also distanced himself from some approaches to language and meaning that he saw as lacking in rigor and insight. One of these was Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski's General semantics, which was espoused in the US by Stuart Chase. Chase admired Whorf's work and frequently sought out a reluctant Whorf, who considered Chase to be "utterly incompetent by training and background to handle such a subject." Ironically, Chase would later write the foreword for Carroll's collection of Whorf's writings.
In his last year Whorf also published three articles in the MIT Technology Review titled "Science and Linguistics",[w 2] "Linguistics as an Exact Science" and "Language and Logic". He was also invited to contribute an article to a theosophical journal, Theosophist, published in Madras, India, for which he wrote "Language, Mind and Reality".[w 3] In these final pieces, he offered a critique of Western science in which he suggested that non-European languages often referred to physical phenomena in ways that more directly reflected aspects of reality than many European languages, and that science ought to pay attention to the effects of linguistic categorization in its efforts to describe the physical world. He particularly criticized the Indo-European languages for promoting a mistaken essentialist world view, which had been disproved by advances in the sciences, whereas he suggested that other languages dedicated more attention to processes and dynamics rather than stable essences. Whorf argued that paying attention to how other physical phenomena are described in the study of linguistics could make valuable contributions to science by pointing out the ways in which certain assumptions about reality are implicit in the structure of language itself, and how language guides the attention of speakers towards certain phenomena in the world which risk becoming overemphasized while leaving other phenomena at risk of being overlooked.
Today many followers of universalist schools of thought continue to oppose the idea of linguistic relativity, seeing it as unsound or even ridiculous. For example, Steven Pinker argues in his book The Language Instinct that thought exists prior to language and independently of it, a view also espoused by philosophers of language such as Jerry Fodor, John Locke and Plato. In this interpretation, language is inconsequential to human thought because humans do not think in "natural" language, i.e. any language used for communication. Rather, we think in a meta-language that precedes natural language, which Pinker following Fodor calls "mentalese." Pinker attacks what he calls "Whorf's radical position", declaring, "the more you examine Whorf's arguments, the less sense they make." Scholars of a more "relativist" bent such as John A. Lucy and Stephen C. Levinson have criticized Pinker for misrepresenting Whorf's views and arguing against strawmen.[n 5]
Whorf's views have been compared to those of philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and the late Ludwig Wittgenstein, both of whom considered language to have important bearing on thought and reasoning. His hypotheses have also been compared to the views of psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky, whose social constructivism considers the cognitive development of children to be mediated by the social use of language. Vygotsky shared Whorf's interest in gestalt psychology, and he also read Sapir's works. Others have seen similarities between Whorf's work and the ideas of literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, who read Whorf and whose approach to textual meaning was similarly holistic and relativistic. Whorf's ideas have also been interpreted as a radical critique of positivist science.
Whorf and Wittgenstein are perhaps the most famous names in linguistics and philosophy associated with the assumption that language plays a decisive role in shaping our view of reality. After a critical discussion of Whorf's linguistic relativity principle I conclude that it is not language as a system, but the use of language according to the rules of language games which connects language thought and world view, especially if some particular usage becomes the commonly accepted norm. This traditional norm also enters argumentative discourse in the form of background assumptions occuring in the premises of arguments. Thus, traditional points of view and prevailing ideologies in a society, even if challenged in discussions, can become reinforced and stabilized. This is illustrated with a critical analysis of the role and function of tautological utterances in argumentative discourse, which only apparently are compelling means of argumentation.
speakers always describe locations and directions using the Guugu Yimithirr words for north, south, east, and west. So, they would never say that a boy is standing in front of a house; instead, they'd say he is standing (for example) east of the house. They would also, no doubt, think of the boy as standing east of the house, while a speaker of English would think of him as standing in front of the house. Has our language affected our way of thinking? Or has a difference in cultural habits affected both our thoughts and our language? Most likely, the culture, the thought habits, and the language have all grown up together.
Much of the time, yes. But not always. You can easily conjure up mental images and sensations that would be hard to describe in words. You can think about the sound of a symphony, the shape of a pear, or the smell of garlic bread. None of these thoughts require language.
In other words, the influence of language isn't so much on what we can think about, or even what we do think about, but rather on how we break up reality into categories and label them. And in this, our language and our thoughts are probably both greatly influenced by our culture.
Dear Prof. Woolard,Yesterday I was sent a link to your blog on the Linguistic Anthropology list, and I was saddened to see that my NYT article has caused offence to linguistic anthropologists. I had no intention whatsoever of characterising linguistic anthropology as the loony fringe of disrepute. I very much value the work done in this field. Indeed, much of the book from which this article was excerpted deals with central questions of linguistic anthropology, such as colour. What I meant was completely different, namely that for most linguists who consider themselves in the mainstream, and certainly for cognitive scientists, the influence of language on thought is nowadays almost a taboo subject, and any attempts to explore it are rejected out of hand. And my point was that this state of affairs is unsatisfactory. 2b1af7f3a8