Relativizing linguistic relativity Investigating underlying assumptions about language in the neo-Whorfian literature

Detta är en avhandling från Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Sammanfattning: This work concerns the linguistic relativity hypothesis, also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which, in its most general form claims that ‘lan-guage’ influences ‘thought’. Past studies into linguistic relativity have treated various aspects of both thought and language, but a growing body of literature has recently emerged, in this thesis referred to as neo-Whorfian, that empirically investigates thought and language from a cross-linguistic perspective and claims that the grammar or lexicon of a particular language influences the speakers’ non-linguistic thought.The present thesis examines the assumptions about language that underlie this claim and criticizes the neo-Whorfian arguments from the point of view that they are based on misleading notions of language. The critique focuses on the operationalization of thought, language, and culture as separate vari-ables in the neo-Whorfian empirical investigations. The neo-Whorfian stud-ies explore language primarily as ‘particular languages’ and investigate its role as a variable standing in a causal relation to the ‘thought’ variable. Tho-ught is separately examined in non-linguistic tests and found to ‘correlate’ with language.As a contrast to the neo-Whorfian view of language, a few examples of other approaches to language, referred to in the thesis as sociocultural appro-aches, are reviewed. This perspective on language places emphasis on prac-tice and communication rather than on particular languages, which are vie-wed as secondary representations. It is argued that from a sociocultural per-spective, language as an integrated practice cannot be separated from tho-ught and culture. The empirical findings in the neo-Whorfian studies need not be rejected, but they should be interpreted differently. The findings of linguistic and cognitive diversity reflect different communicational practices in which language cannot be separated from non-language.