Linguistic-Relativity Hypothesis

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  • Posits that language use influences thought and perception. The earlier, more rigid version of this hypothesis, also known as linguistic determinism, or the Whofian hypothesis (after Benjamin Whorf, the amateur linguist who developed the theory), claimed that language actually determined the structure of thought and the perception of reality. Whorf (1956) argued, for example, that the number of words that Inuit Eskimos used for the English word snow caused them to develop a greater perceptual ability to discriminate among varieties of snow. However, studies by Rosch (1975) and others showed that perceptual ability is not determined by specificity of language use. Recently, some psychologists have recognized the merits of weaker versions of the Whorfian hypothesis. They recognize that while language does not determine what we ...

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