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Ceren Açıkel


Language is a kind of philosophy. The etymologic history of the word "Philosophy" as follows;

Middle English: from Old French philosophie, via Latin from Greek philosophia ‘love of wisdom’. Wisdom also means mind and where there is mind there is thought. In other words, the foundation of philosophy is thought. What we call "thought" demands to be known thus being the most common way of connection between thoughts and communication, language is a kind of philosophy. In order to use language, the first thing to do is deciding on what we will say. During this decision session, we think - after a process with vocal organs - thoughts come out through our mouth. This is the real reason why language is philosophy itself. Where there is language there is thought.

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is a theory named after American anthropological linguist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf. This hypothesis -basically- claims that "An individual's thoughts and actions are determined by the language or languages that individual speaks." This hypothesis is combined from two different perspectives and these two perspectives have their own point of views. "Linguistic Relativity" and "Linguistic Determinism".

Linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects the way in which individuals conceptualize their world and it says language shapes concepts and ways of thinking so that an individual who speaks significantly different languages views the world differently. For instance, in English we use "Present Perfect Tense" in order to indicate an action, which is done in the past, however, still affects the present moment whereas in Turkish there is no grammatical case for that kind of specification.

Linguistic determinism claims that language and its structures limit and determine human knowledge and thought. It basically says our language determines how we see the world and we cannot see things in another way. On the other side, it is not testable and makes bilingualism and translation impossible. For the very reason, we may say linguistic determinism is an extreme form of relativity. To set an example, The Inuits' language contains much more sophisticated and subtle words - than any other language does - distinguishing various forms of the word "snow" which is why they can think much more intelligently about it. In a sense, we can never understand the differences completely between those words.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is basically saying, - with Ludwig Wittgenstein's words - "The limits of our language are the limits of our thoughts." In other words, Sapir and Whorf are saying that language shapes how people think -yes it does.- but in other respects, there are some opposing views, just as every philosophic topic has. Some linguists are saying "People shape their languages." It is also true. We do shape our languages by the way of needs, developments, and alterations. Just as every philosophic topic, this theory is a controversial point as well.

In philosophy, there is not a single truth and where there is language there is philosophy.


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How to Cite
Açıkel, C. 2019. SAPIR&WHORF PHILOSOPHY & LANGUAGE. Journal of English Language and Literature Club. 1, 1 (Jan. 2019), 90-91.


Bernard COMRIE (-) Language and Thought accessed: 14.04.2018
An unknown linguist (-) The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis accessed: 14.04.2018
Unknown writer (-) Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis accessed: 14.04.2018
Karen P.L. HARDISON (-) What is the difference between linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity? accessed: 14.04.2018