Linguistic Relativity: Language and Thought

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Linguistic Relativity: Language and Thought

<p>What is the relationship between language and thought? Does language determine our thoughts? To what extent are our cultural values and beliefs encoded, enacted and instantiated in our language?

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What is the relationship between language and thought? Does language determine our thoughts? To what extent are our cultural values and beliefs encoded, enacted and instantiated in our language? These questions arose in the late 19th and early 20th Century when three brilliant anthropological linguists of European descent found themselves confronted with very different cultures and languages. Rather than dismissing Indigenous North American cultures and languages as ‘primitive’, Boas, Sapir and Whorf studied them in full acknowledgement of their richness and complexity and in the process gave rise to the ‘Sapir-Whorf’ hypothesis about linguistic relativity.


COURSE OUTLINE

  • Introducing Franz Boas, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf and a very different take on the ‘Indians’ of the wild west.
  • Explanation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?
  • What do we mean by language and thought? What is the difference?
  • Sapir’s ideas and Whorf’s work
  • The difficulties of testing the relationship without using language.
  • Some more recent work on linguistic relativity.
  • Australian languages and linguistics– the new relativist context?


PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Discuss the work of Boas, Sapir and Whorf and understand the unique context in which they found themselves and its influence on their ideas about language, thought, and culture.
  2. Explain the basic concept of linguistic relativity and distinguish between strong and weak claims about the relationship between thought and language.
  3. Discuss some of the key ideas from the writings of Sapir and Whorf.
  4. Cite some recent experiments into linguistic relativity.
  5. Discuss some examples from contemporary linguistics study of Australian indigenous languages.