Edward Sapir (1884-1936)

  • American linguist and anthropologist.
  • Sapir (1929). The Status Of Linguistics As A Science, 69.

@Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached ... We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.@


  • Student of Sapir.
  • p213-4 in Whorf, B. L. (1940). Science and Linguistics. Technology Review 42(6): 229-31, 247-8. Also in B. L. Whorf (1956). Language, Thought and Reality (ed. J. B. Carroll). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

@We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds - and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way - an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.@

  • Hopi has no reference to time
  • Hopi speakers have no concept of time


Relevant discussion

  • Gelman, R., & Gallistel C.R. (2004). Language and the origin of numerical concepts. Science, 306(5695), 441–443.
  • Gordon, P.F. (2004). Numerical cognition without words: Evidence from Amazonia. Science, 306(5695), 496–499.

Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left

Published online before print December 30, 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0509868103 PNAS | January 10, 2006 | vol. 103 | no. 2 | 489-494

Aubrey L. Gilbert, Terry Regier, Paul Kay, and Richard B. Ivry

The question of whether language affects perception has been debated largely on the basis of cross-language data, without considering the functional organization of the brain. The nature of this neural organization predicts that, if language affects perception, it should do so more in the right visual field than in the left visual field, an idea unexamined in the debate. Here, we find support for this proposal in lateralized color discrimination tasks. Reaction times to targets in the right visual field were faster when the target and distractor colors had different names; in contrast, reaction times to targets in the left visual field were not affected by the names of the target and distractor colors. Moreover, this pattern was disrupted when participants performed a secondary task that engaged verbal working memory but not a task making comparable demands on spatial working memory.