sapir-whorf hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis萨丕尔-沃尔夫假设主要内容

The Am erican anthropologist-linguist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf proposed a sweeping, two-pronged hypothesis concerning language and thought.


Whorf proposed first that all higher levels of thinking are dependent on language. Or put it more bluntly, language determines thought, hence the strong notion of linguistic determinism. Because languages differ in many ways, Whorf also believed that speakers of different languages perceive and experience the world differently, that is, relative to their linguis tic background, hence the notion of linguis tic relativism.


If follows from this strong version of the hypothesis that there is no real translation and that it is impossible to learn the language of a different culture unless the learner abandons his or here own mode of thinking and acquires the thought patterns of the native speakers of the target language.


Arguments against the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis 对萨丕尔-沃尔夫假设的批判

Words and meaning. It is widely accepted that theλvocabulary of a language consists of nothing more than meaningless labels which are manipulated by language users to elicit emotional reactions or behavioral responses, to impart information or to direct the lis tener’s attention. The meaning of a word or phrase depends largely on the communicative context. As the context of a word or sentence changes, its effect and meaning also change.


Grammatical s tructure. The s yntactic s ys tem of aλlanguage and the perceptual s ys tem of the speakers of that language do not have the kind of interdependent relationship that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claimed to have. Many grammatical features of a language are purely superficial aspects of linguistic structure.


Translation. Another major argument agains t theλhypothesis comes from the fact that successful translation between languages can be made. The translation argument is supported by the very fact that conceptual uniqueness of a language such as Hopi can nonetheless be explained in English.

翻译。对萨丕尔-沃尔夫假设的另一批判来自于语言间可以有成功的翻译这一事实。我们可以用英语来解释如霍皮语这样的语言的概念上的独特性,这一事实可以证明翻译批判的观点。Second language acquisition. If languages haveλdifferent conceptual s ys tems, then someone who speaks one language will be unable to learn the other language because he lacks the right conceptual s ys tem. However, s ince people can learn radically different languages, those languages couldn’t have different conceptual s ystems.


Language and world views. The language s ystem doesλnot necessarily provide specifics of one’s world views. On the one hand, people speaking the same language may have different world views, including political, social, religious, scientific and philosophical views. On the other hand, people speaking different languages may share similar political, social, religious, scientific or philosophical views. Moreover, one language can describe many different world views, as is evident in the case of successful translation.