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The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

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TOK Essay The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (Language Determinism) Salwa Alamir 11 IB Edward Sapir and, his pupil, Benjamin Lee Whorf, were two linguists studying language determinism in the first quarter of the twentieth century. They eventually joined forces and founded a hypothesis known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Their research led to one question of vital importance; does language determine the way we think? This question was later on morphed into claims which then resulted in further discussion of the matter. The hypothesis itself was divided into two parts; the strong version, stating that language determines the way we think, and the weaker version, which states that while language does not determine absolutely how we think, it does influence how we perceive the world, how we approach problems, and how we remember. Evidence supporting the weaker version of the hypothesis is a number of studies that "showed that when asked to remember nonsense shapes, people who had been given a name for that shape remembered it better than those people who had not been given a name for it. ...read more.


The stronger version of the hypothesis, which approaches the idea of language determining the way we think, also has numerous amounts of evidence. There is recent work in linguistics and cognitive science that supports the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. "Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought", is a collection of papers describing the hypothesis and focusing on the accuracy of the strong version of the theory. The claim supporting this division of the hypothesis was said by Shelley in his "Prometheus Unbound", he wrote: "He gave men speech and speech created thought". "He" here is in reference to God. This claim is considered a religious script and therefore cannot be measured as sufficient support to the hypothesis, but for religious people, another religious script maintaining the strong version of the hypothesis and the claim is in the opening of St. John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the word". More appropriate evidence involves the works of John R. ...read more.


Chandler admits that language influences thought but doesn't believe that it determines thought. The supporters of this position recognize the value of the Sapir-Whorf theory despite finding critical errors in its makeup. "Terwilliger and his supporters believe that it is difficult to critically analyze the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis because Benjamin Whorf was broad in his definitions, leaving excessive opportunity for interpretation. Terwilliger feels that the hypothesis must be clearly defined before it can be proven or disproven. Terwilliger sees many contradictions within the hypothesis that are caused by incomplete definition. He points to examples that support the hypothesis, but he is equally adept at finding examples that show that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis isn't applicable to all situations." In conclusion, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is composed of two parts, the strong part and the weaker part. There is evidence supporting both parts so the debate about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis will likely continue to be a struggle between opposing viewpoints. This debate will probably never be settled because the hypothesis can be interpreted in many ways. Resources: * http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/4110/whorf.html * http://apperceptual.wordpress.com/2007/02/25/sapir-whorf-hypothesis/ * Worksheet from class. ...read more.

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