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In Search of Lexical Whorf: A Comparison Between the Lexical Influence on Thought in the Standard View of Whorf and Whorf’s own Writings in the Light of Empirical Evidence

Maí 2012

The name Whorf has become synonymous with Linguistic Relativism and strong linguistic determinism. Today, the views of Benjamin Lee Whorf are generally known in the form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (SWH) and selected passages from his writings. This standard way of presenting Whorf fails to distinguish adequetly between lexical and grammatical influences on thought in his writings and his views are therefore considered to be extreme. This leads to a false standard image of the lexical aspect of Whorf’s theories, a false lexical Whorf. In chapter 1 the theoretical roots of Whorf’s views are explored, as well as the standardization of those views. Early empirical evidence in support of the SWH which led to wide acceptance of Whorf will then be reviewed. Chapters 2 and 3 describe the rejection of linguistic relativism and linguistic determinism which marginalized Whorf. Chapters 4,5 and 6 reveal the rebirth of Whorf’s theories in the form of Neo-Whorfianism and a host of studies that followed which investigated the relationship between terminologies of number, spatial orientation and colour and cognition. Chapter 7 then offers an interpretation of the results of those studies which showed considerable support for a weak influence on thought. Chapter 8 reveals the differences between grammatical and lexical influences in Whorf’s view where the former are strong and the latter are weak. The real lexical Whorf is then a weak kind of linguistic determinism and is therefore in considerable agreement with the empirical evidence reviewed in chapters 4-6. In chapter 9 the growing interest in Whorf’s actual writings is described and three areas of future research explored.


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