The principle is now best known from the works of Edward Sapir [1884–1939], professor of anthropology and linguistics in the Universities of Pennsylvania, Chicago, and Yale, and Benjamin Lee Whorf [1897–1941], a fire-prevention engineer in Hartford, Connecticut, by profession and a linguist by passionate avocation.
The tradition was taken up by the American linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir (1884-1939) and his pupil Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941), and resulted in a view about the relation between language and thought which was widely influential in the middle decades of this century....
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the that the structure of a shapes or limits the ways in which a speaker forms conceptions of the world. A weaker version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (sometimes called neo-Whorfianism) is that language influences a speaker's view of the world but does not inescapably determine it.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is named after the American Edward Sapir (1884-1939) and his student Benjamin Whorf (1897-1941). Also known as the theory of linguistic relativity, linguistic relativism, linguistic determinism, Whorfian hypothesis, and Whorfianism.
Studies about relationship between language and culture and between language and thought have a long history and have placed a much conferred proposal to modern linguistic: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis....
Whorf notes that in the Hopi language, “distance includes what we call time in the sense of the temporal relation between events which have already happened”(374).
Also during the 30’s and 40’s Benjamin Lee Whorf, one of Sapir’s students at Yale, was elaborating upon Sapir’s statements regarding the relationship of language to thought. In an article published in 1940 he wrote:
Whatever we may personally think of structural analysis as divorced from meaning or of the influence of grammatical categories on thought processes, we must certainly admit the close relationship between language and culture. Language cannot be properly treated except in terms of its status and function as a part, a process, and, to some degree, a model of culture, with a high degree of reciprocal reinforcement. Though one may not wish to go all the way with Whorf, nevertheless, one cannot escape the fact that language seems to provide the ‘grooves for thought’ in the same way that cultural patterns constitute the molds for more general modes of behavior.
Since the early 1990’s there has been a new surge of interest in linguistic relativity, and research conducted by John A. Lucy at the University of Chicago and by Stephen C. Levinson at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands has given additional scientific support to the concept. Lucy showed that as a consequence of peculiarities of one Mayan language in South America its speakers consistently categorized objects according to the material of which they were made, while English-speaking people categorized the same objects according to shape. Levinson showed that speakers of another Mayan language in Mexico remembered the arrangement of objects differently from Dutch-speakers because of differences of language. These studies were designed and conducted according to rigorous scientific methods. It is fair to say that the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis” has never been disproved by the Chomskyan linguists. Rather, it had simply evaporated as an object of serious study among those linguists who were intent upon developing the universalistic implications of Chomsky’s theories.