Readers, Writers, Texts

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

“We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. Language is not simply a reporting device for experience, but a defining framework for it.”

Benjamin Lee Wharf, Language Thought and Reality (1956)

Whorf was a linguistics enthusiast and through his amateur fascination with language, and under the tutelage of the American linguist Edward Sapir, Whorf came to the conclusion that the languages we speak affect the way we think in the same way that a straitjacket affects the way we move. If he is correct, our thinking patterns can only be understood relative to our speaking patterns. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is therefore known as ‘linguistic relativity’ or ‘linguistic determinism.’ 

In this section you can read more about the way your thoughts are determined by the language you speak and decide for yourself if you believe your thoughts are controlled by your language, or whether the way you think about the world is influenced by the words that you use to express those thoughts:

Class Activity:


Learner Portfolio

Do you agree with the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis? Record your learning from this section, along with your own thoughts on the idea that thinking is defined by the language you speak, in a one-two page journal entry.

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