What Is The Role of Sapir Whorf hypothesis In Linguistics

Sapir Whorf hypothesis is very important concept in linguistic study. In the hypothesis he said that  language is not only to determine the pattern of culture, but also determine the manner and the way the human mind work. The idea that the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think and behave differently because of it. Roger Brown has drawn a distinction between weak linguistic relativity, where language limits thought, and strong linguistic relativity, where language determines thought.

The idea that linguistic structure influences the cognition of language users has bearings on the fields of anthropological linguistics, psychology, sociolinguistics, neurolinguistics, cognitive science, linguistic anthropology, sociology of language and philosophy of language, and it has been the subject of extensive studies in all of these fields. The idea of linguistic influences on thought has also captivated the minds of authors and creative artists inspiring numerous ideas in literature, in the creation of artificial languages and even forms of therapy such as neuro-linguistic programming.

According to Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, language is not only acts as a mechanism for ongoing communication, but also as a guide in the direction of social reality.  In other words, the language does not only reflect the perceptions, thoughts and experiences, but also be able to determine and shape, With another meaning people of different languages: Indonesian, English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and others are likely to see the same reality in a different way as well. The implication languages ​​can also be used to give a particular accent to an event or action, such as an emphasis, sharpen, soften, exalting, harassing, etc

Linguistics Facts You Must Know About Sapir Whorf hypothesis


It has often been claimed that linguistic relativity is a weaker form of linguistic determinism. But the strong–weak distinction oversimplified the more complicated picture that is emerging in recent research on the relationship between language and thought. Linguistic relativity can now be said to comprise a ‘family’ of related proposals that do not necessarily fall along a single strong-to-weak continuum. In this article, we examine the arguments and evidence for several branches of the ‘family tree’ shown in Figure 1. Our overall conclusion will be that the proposals we call language as language-of-thought and linguistic determinism can be rejected on both theoretical and empirical grounds, but that recent findings support a range of alternative ways in which language might have significant effects on thought, leading to possible differences in thought across language communities.

Development of this idea

The idea was first expressed clearly in the German national romantic thought of the early 19th century where language was seen as the expression of the spirit of a nation, as put particularly by Wilhelm von Humboldt. It was later embraced by figures in the incipient school of American anthropology such as Franz Boas and Edward Sapir. Sapir’s student Benjamin Lee Whorf added observations of how he perceived these linguistic differences to have consequences in human cognition and behaviour. Whorf has since been seen as the primary proponent of the principle of linguistic relativity. Whorf’s insistence on the importance of linguistic relativity as a factor in human cognition attracted opposition from many sides. Psychologists Roger Brown and Eric Lunenburg decided to put Whorf’s assumptions and assertions to the test.

They formulated the principle of linguistic relativity as a testable hypothesis and undertook a series of experiments testing whether traces of linguistic relativity could be determined in the domain of color perception. In the 1960s the idea of linguistic relativity fell out of favor in the academic establishment, since the prevalent paradigm in linguistics and anthropology, personified in Noam Chomsky, stressed the universal nature of human language and cognition. When the 1969 study of Brent Berlin and Paul Kay showed that color terminology is subject to universal semantic constraints, the Sapir Whorf hypothesis was seen as completely discredited. From the late 1980s a new school of linguistic relativity scholars, rooted in the advances within cognitive and social linguistics, have examined the effects of differences in linguistic categorization on cognition, finding broad support for the hypothesis in experimental contexts. Effects of linguistic relativity have been shown particularly in the domain of spatial cognition and in the social use of language, but also in the field of color perception.

Recent studies have shown that color perception is particularly prone to linguistic relativity effects when processed in the left brain hemisphere, suggesting that this brain have relies more on language than the right one. Currently a balanced view of linguistic relativity is espoused by most linguists holding that language influences certain kinds of cognitive processes in non-trivial ways but that other processes are better seen as subject to universal factors.

 The formulation of the linguistic relativity, for which Whorf is famous, was the result of his prolonged study of the Hopi language (an American Indian language). His first attempts at interpreting the Hopi grammar according to the usual indo-European categories were abandoned when they produced unexplainable irregularities. The linguistic structures that he found were very different from those of his mother tongue, English. Whorf argues that this implies a different way of thinking. Since thought is expressed through language, it follows that a differently structured language must pattern thought along its lines, thus influencing perception.


Whorf may not have been right on all counts, but he was not wrong either. The fact that language plays a role in shaping our thoughts, in modifying our perception and in creating reality is irrefutable. Gipper phrased the question properly when he asked; to what extent does language influence us? In view of the positive (favorable to the hypothesis), or neutral results which the different tests have yielded, it would seem that the question of linguistic relativity is still a subject of controversy today. Although the search for linguistic universals has been intensified, it will be impossible to determine what is universal, if we don‟t know what is particular. Linguistic forms and grammatical categories need not appear so different, if their functions are similar.

by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

Leave a Comment