8 Responses

  1. mark
    mark September 3, 2010 at 6:33 am |

    I think you should also mention the following early publications by Levinson:

    Levinson, Stephen C. & Penelope Brown. 1994. Immanuel Kant among the Tenejapans: Anthropology as empirical philosophy. Ethos 22(1). 3-41.

    (Based on a 1992 working paper; winner of the Stirling Prize, see Anthropology Newsletter March 1993).

    Levinson, Stephen C. 1996. Relativity in spatial conception and description. In John J. Gumperz & Stephen C. Levinson (eds.), Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, 177-202. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  2. Linguistics » Blog Archive » Linguistic Relativity, Whorf, Linguistic Anthropology – Society for Linguistic Anthropology

    [...] Linguistic Relativity, Whorf, Linguistic Anthropology – Society for Linguistic Anthropology. Comment (RSS)  |  Trackback [...]

  3. hans.gerwitz » Blog Archive » Which came first, the word or the quale?

    [...] cogent theories that tease apart the influence of vocab­ulary from the whole of culture. see the SLA blog’s defense and Greg Downey’s overview. [↩]e.g. Haviland on Guugu Yimidhirr’s linguistic expression of a [...]

  4. Kit Woolard
    Kit Woolard September 14, 2010 at 10:02 pm |

    In response to my original posting on this website, I received the following email message a few days ago from the author of the NYT article, Guy Deutscher, who was concerned that he inadvertently offended linguistic anthropologists. Because Dr. Deutscher asked me to share his message with anyone who might have been offended, I’m posting it here:

    “Dear Prof. Woolard,
    Yesterday I was sent a link to your blog on the Linguistic Anthropology list, and I was saddened to see that my NYT article has caused offence to linguistic anthropologists. I had no intention whatsoever of characterising linguistic anthropology as the loony fringe of disrepute. I very much value the work done in this field. Indeed, much of the book from which this article was excerpted deals with central questions of linguistic anthropology, such as colour. What I meant was completely different, namely that for most linguists who consider themselves in the mainstream, and certainly for cognitive scientists, the influence of language on thought is nowadays almost a taboo subject, and any attempts to explore it are rejected out of hand. And my point was that this state of affairs is unsatisfactory.

    A few words about my criticism of Whorf. The article is an excerpt – highly condensed – from a book. In the book I make even stronger criticisms of Whorf’s argumentation and his representation of linguistic facts. But as opposed to the article, these criticisms are made in context, and are discussed with relation to particular examples that Whorf used and quotation from Whorf’s work, e.g. his claims about the alleged timelessness of the Hopi language and its alleged influence on the Hopi’s inability to understand the concept of time as we know it. I don’t think I caricaturized his position – I’m afraid he doesn’t need much caricaturizing there.

    I certainly agree that Whorf was inspiring, and that one can inspire good work even if one’s actual claims are untenable. But I hope that readers of the book will not think that the criticism of Whorf’s own argumentation and factual claims was unfair.

    In any case, let me just repeat that nothing was further from my purpose than to belittle the insights and achievements of linguistic anthropology.

    Please feel free to share this with anyone who was offended.

    With best wishes,
    Guy Deutscher”

  5. Justin B. Richland
    Justin B. Richland October 21, 2010 at 11:49 am |

    I find it interesting that even in his gracious note to linguistic anthropologists, Deutscher still manages to misconstrue Whorf’s characterization of Hopi notions of time, in precisely the way in which you critique him for in your excellent comment, Kit. As a linguistic anthropologist who has researched Hopi discourse for over 15 years, I have had occasion to pore over Whorf’s published analyses of Hopi, as well as those that appear in some of his posthumously published papers(see the appendix in Lee 1994). Nowhere do I see Whorf making the kind of claims to linguistic determinism in reference to Hopi notions of time, or their “inability to understand the concept of time as we know it,” that Deutscher describes in the letter above.

    Now, I admit I haven’t read the book from which Dr. Deutscher NYT piece derives, or which he references above, so I look forward to seeing the evidence he puts forth for this. That being said, Deutscher would not be the first critic of Whorf’s Hopi analyses to make this kind of overstatement. Indeed, as Penny Lee, John Lucy, Leanne Hinton, and others (notably Michael Silverstein) have already pointed out, Whorf is often set up as a straw man in a debate that is more often about the broader claims of linguistic relativity more generally, than they are about Whorf’s particular formulation of the theory, or the capacity of Hopi people, past or present, to “understand” time. This is certainly the case in the most elaborate analysis of Hopi temporal linguistics (indeed, much more elaborate than Whorf’s), Ekkehart Malotki’s “Hopi Time”, (The Hague: Mouton, 1983), an enormous 677 page volume, which seems to have the debunking of Whorf’s claim to the “timelessness” of Hopi language as its prime impetus.

    As Lucy and Hinton both point out, however, Whorf’s point was never that Hopis were unable to conceptualize “time” as it is conceptualized by speakers of Standard Average European (to use Whorf’s term) languages, but rather that the Hopi language doesn’t grammaticalize time in the way it is grammaticalized in SAE languages, and that this would shape habits of thought in those who only spoke Hopi language, habits of thought that are echoed in many of the norms, structures and practices that inform traditional Hopi ceremonial and social life. Whorf is clear that this doesn’t mean that Hopi are thus “unable” to relate events to each other in the ways that English speakers would refer to by the temporal adverbs “later” or “earlier”. Indeed, as Malotki’s careful presentation of his Hopi data show, Hopis are describing such relationships all the time. But as Hinton points out, when we read the Hopi, a literal translation has these relations figured in spatial rather than temporal, terms. When Malotki glosses a Hopi phrase in English as “There is not enough time,” the interlineral lexeme by lexeme translation he offers of the same phrase is actually closer to “There is not enough space.” It is thus Malotki who supplies the metaphorical reading of space as time here. It remains unclear whether Hopi need the metaphor, or if their concept of “space” does the trick all on its own.

    Does this mean that Hopi cannot “understand” what we in English understand when we say “There is not enough time?” I don’t think so. Nor do I think Whorf was making that claim, though it is so often attributed to him. At the same time (!), I do think Whorf is right when he finds it “gratuitous” to assume that the habits of thought regarding “time” of English speakers should be presumed to be shared by someone who “only knows the Hopi language and the cultural ideas of his own society” (Carroll 1956, 56). When read in this way, as Lee, Lucy, and others do, Whorf’s claims seem much more within the realm of what most contemporary linguistic anthropologists would agree, that languages and their particular structures and practices shape the beliefs about, perceptions of, and actions in the world of those who speak them. I grant that this is a much less controversial claim today, but it seems to me that it hews more closely to what Whorf was after.

    I just find it so interesting, and not a little ironic, that someone who has been accused by so many for misunderstanding and misrepresenting the force of language has his own language misunderstood and misrepresented so often as well. Here is my small contribution to perhaps moving the conversation beyond this hurdle.

    Finally, In addition to the Lucy (1992) and Silverstein (2000) already provided by Kit above, here are some further readings specifically on the Hopi material that I have found helpful:

    Hinton, Leanne (1988) “Book Review of Ekkehart Malotki’s Hopi Time.” American Indian Quarterly 12 (4) 361-364.

    Lee, Penny (1996) “The Whorf Theory Complex: A critical reconstruction.” (Johns Benjamins, Amsterdam).

    Malotki, Ekkehart (1983) “Hopi Time: A linguistic analysis of the temporal concepts in the Hopi language.” (Mouton, The Hague).

  6. SLA Web Guru
    SLA Web Guru February 12, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  7. It’s really a problem of journalism itself | TEMP Minds

    [...] Log. I should also mention that Guy Deutscher responded to Kathryn Woolard’s initial post on the Society for Linguistic Anthropology blog: In the book I make even stronger criticisms of [...]

  8. Neil Samuels
    Neil Samuels October 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm |

    One of the great unexplored or insufficiently addressed ironies and fascinations for time immemorial is why the inescapable compulsion to define Whorf has always been the conundrum of such rigid terms (while he was clearly speaking relativistically regarding the organic matrix of cultural-linguistic habits/patterns. The bars of either camp have always been stuck in the mire of their own resplendent and naive blindness. Is not such rigid defining of the “strong or the weak case” made for the last seventy five years brilliantly and unconsciously symptomatic of an embedded language/cultural matrix dualism that cannot escape the gravity of its distorted lens and therefore, ironically and amusingly proves Whorf’s thesis?

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