Day sixty-one -- Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis revisited

After the construction of the "Super Unified Linguistic Theory", we can, now, revisit the issue of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

The detail of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis can be found online easily. Thus, I will only make some comments on the issue, including its history. The following are four quotes form Wikipedia.

a. "Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (linguistic relativity) is the idea that the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages affect the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think and behave differently because of it."

b. "... Universalist theory of language ... effectively arguing that all languages share the same underlying structure. ... also holds the belief that linguistic structures are largely innate and that what are perceived as differences between specific languages (the knowledge acquired by learning a language) are merely surface phenomena and do not affect cognitive processes that are universal to all human beings."

c. "This theory (Universalist theory) became the dominant paradigm in American linguistics from the 1960s through the 1980s and the notion of linguistic relativity fell out of favor and became even the object of ridicule."

d. "Current researchers accept that language influences thought, but in more limited ways than the broadest early claims. ... Current studies of linguistic relativity are neither marked by the naivistic approach to exotic linguistic structures and their often merely presumed effect on thought that marked the early period, nor are they ridiculed and discouraged as in the universalist period."

These four quotes mark a time span of 70 years, from 1940 to now (2009). After a long 70 year studies, no true winner, nor true loser. This is what I am going to comment on.

Their studies centered on the tests of two issues.

1. Vocabulary on color and the cognition on color perception from different languages.

2. Vocabulary on "time" and the cognition on time concept and perception from different languages.

From the test results of the two issues above, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis was discredited first and then vindicated second, and this trip takes 70 years to make a whole circle. In fact, this 70 years can be reduced into months if two questions were asked.

Question one:

1. Is the difference between vocabulary on color or time representing the essential difference between languages? If not, then all tests and test results have no relevancy for differentiating languages.

2. Is the difference between cognition on color or time perception representing the essential difference on the cognition of world view? If not, then all tests and test results have no relevancy for differentiating the ways of cognition.

Question two:

If both schools have fully developed theory with predicting power, will both theory predict (or encompass) those test results? If they will, then those tests have no power whatsoever to differentiate the difference between the two theories.

Now, we know that the language universe has three layers of hierarchy.

1. The pre-word layer (pw - sphere)

2. The word/sentence layer (ws - sphere) -- this sphere has three sub-layers

a. the word sphere

b. the phrase sphere

c. the sentence sphere

3. The post-sentence layer (ps - sphere) -- this sphere is context and culture laden or centered.

For Lx and Ly as two different languages with very different cultures and histories, it will be very obvious that Lx and Ly will be quite different in the ps-sphere. Different cultures have different traditions and different ways of doing business, that is, a different way of viewing and processing a "given" event. Of course, the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages (in ps-sphere) will definitely view a "given" event or object differently. Thus, if the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is defined in this ps-sphere, it is, of course, absolutely correct.

If the Universalists define their theory in this ps-sphere, then they are absolutely wrong. If they define their theory in the ws-sphere, then they are absolutely correct. Indeed, "that all languages share the same underlying structure" in the ws-sphere is verified by the "Super Unified Linguistic Theory".

In fact, both Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and Universalist theory are correct in their defined sub-domains. They are both valid theories with different domains and are not competing theories.

Signature -- PreBabel is the true universal language, it is available at

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