Whorf, Benjamin Lee

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Whorf, Benjamin Lee

(hwôrf), 1897–1941, American linguist and anthropologist, b. Winthrop, Mass. Although he was trained in chemical engineering and worked for an insurance company, Whorf made substantial contributions to Mayan and Aztec linguisticslinguistics,
scientific study of language, covering the structure (morphology and syntax; see grammar), sounds (phonology), and meaning (semantics), as well as the history of the relations of languages to each other and the cultural place of language in human behavior.
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. He collaborated with Edward SapirSapir, Edward
, 1884–1939, American linguist and anthropologist, b. Pomerania. Sapir was brought to the United States in 1889. After teaching at the Univ. of California and the Univ.
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 at Yale Univ. in anthropological linguistics, and helped to develop the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. Also known as the linguistic relativity principle, the theory argues against the view that the categories and distinctions of any given language are natural and given by external reality. Instead, it posits language as a finite array of formal (lexical and grammatical) categories that group an infinite variety of experiences into usable classes, vary across cultures, and, as a guide to the interpretation of experiences, influence thought.


See Whorf's selected writings, Language, Thought, and Reality (1959).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee


Born Apr. 24, 1897, in Winthrop, Mass.; died July 26, 1941, in Wethersfield, Conn. American linguist and anthropologist.

Whorf graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1918 as a chemical engineer. In 1926 he began to study the relationship between language and thought, as well as the American Indian and Semitic languages. His early works dealt with the decipherment and linguistic interpretation of the Maya writing system, which in his innovative view was based partly on a phonetic principle. Under the influence of E. Sapir and as a result of his own studies of the Uto-Aztecan languages (especially Hopi), Whorf formulated a hypothesis of linguistic relativity that became known as the Whorfian hypothesis. Whorf contributed to the theory of grammatical categories in that he was the first to differentiate overt and covert categories in language.


The Phonetic Value of Certain Characters in Maya Writing. Cambridge, Mass., 1933.
Language, Thought, and Reality, 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1966.


Zvegintsev, V. A. “Teoretiko-lingvisticheskie predposylki gipotezy Sepira-Uorfa.” In the collection Novoe v lingvistike, fasc. 1. Moscow, 1960.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Whorf, Benjamin Lee

(1897–1941) linguist, chemical engineer; born in Winthrop, Mass. After receiving his B.S. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1918), he began a lucrative lifelong career at the Hartford Fire Insurance Company (1919–41), where he specialized in fire hazards and prevention. In 1925 he renewed a childhood interest in Central America and in 1930 he traveled to Mexico. In 1931 he enrolled in Edward Sapir's American Indian linguistics course at Yale University. Through his work in comparative linguistics in studies of Hebrew, Mayan, Aztec, and Hopi languages and cultures, he developed the "Whorf-Sapir hypothesis"—that the grammatical structure of a language affects the culture of its speakers by conditioning the ways in which they think.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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To quote: 'Users of markedly different grammars are pointed by their grammars towards different types of observations and different evaluations of externally similar acts of observation, and hence are not equivalent as observers but must arrive at somewhat different views of the world.' (2) Thus Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941), whose name is one part of the duo of linguist and scholar from whose work was developed what is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
As a result he came to believe that the culture and lifeways of a people were reflected in the language that they spoke." (1) Further, Benjamin Whorf asserted that, "we dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages ...
Rejecting the doctrine of linguistic determinism, Benjamin Whorf's belief that "We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages," Josef Skvorecky rationalizes that "There is more to works of fiction than just language." However, most of the other contributors to The Genius of Language, insisting on the incommensurability of their languages, suggest that multilingualism enriches with multiple worldviews and multiple worlds.
It's not necessarily groundbreaking: Benjamin Whorf's linguistic relativity, which Halfin neglects to cite, encompasses many of the ideas in this book, as do many of the themes and questions dealt with by Noam Chomsky, ordinary-language philosophers, and other analytic philosophers in the United States and Britain.
Sociolinguist Benjamin Whorf, best known for his theories regarding the way language shapes how people think, demonstrated that vague or misleading terms have the potential to be dangerous.
Arsuzi's theory, namely, that the structure of Arabic determines how the native speaker of Arabic thinks and that Arabic expresses our underlying world view, finds support in the controversial theories of Benjamin Whorf, who posited that the grammar of any given language determines how the native speaker of that language thinks about, perceives, and analyzes his environment.(18) Arsuzi's theory of Arabic linguistics needs to undergo the scrutiny of scientific linguistics, in order to distinguish the true from the purely metaphysical in his Arabic linguistics.
You hear it in the structure of his sentences, the deep grammar that mirrors what we cannot see, if Benjamin Whorf is right that a view of nature and the universe is implicit in the structure of language.
Firth, Benjamin Whorf, and Edward Sapir, Hunt studies the plays chronologically.
For example, Loftin notes that the "timelessness" of Hopi culture is not to be found in language, as Benjamin Whorf so mistakenly thought and as linguist Ekkehart Malotki sought to correct in several publications.
The first theme includes works by Benjamin Whorf; Richard Nisbett; and Larry Samovar, Richard Porter, and Lisa Stefani.
This CD-ROM contains book and article-length works plus a number of unpublished writings by Benjamin Whorf, the student and colleague of linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir who along with Whorf formulated the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (also known as the theory of linguistic relativity) which postulates that a particular language's nature influences the habitual thought of its speakers: different language patterns yield different patterns of thought.