LINGUIST List 2.636

Thu 10 Oct 1991

Disc: Whorf

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Fan mail from some flounder?, Re: 2.632 Whorf
  2. William McKellin, Re: 2.632 Whorf
  3. Niko Besnier, Berlin & Kay vs Whorf
  4. , RE: 2.632 Whorf
  5. , Re: 2.632 Whorf
  6. , Re: 2.632 Whorf
  7. "Barbara.Abbott", 2.632 Whorf

Message 1: Re: 2.632 Whorf

Date: Wed, 9 Oct 1991 15:03 EST
From: Fan mail from some flounder? <>
Subject: Re: 2.632 Whorf
There's a nice discussion by Roger Brown of the Brown & Lenneberg work
in his old book "Words & Things", in 2 different chapters separated by
another chapter. There is one article I know of that provides some evidence
for the strong version of the hypothesis, by Carroll & Casagrande on
object classification by Navaho vs. Boston suburban kids. It's in an
early psycholinguistics anthology (Saporta's??)
Susan Fischer
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Message 2: Re: 2.632 Whorf

Date: Wed, 9 Oct 91 19:40:33 PDT
From: William McKellin <>
Subject: Re: 2.632 Whorf
An earlier posting asked if there was any connection between Whorf and
von Humboldt. Though I don't have direct evidence that such is the case,
it is worth noting that Sapir, who offered Whorf some guidance was very
familiar with the Germanic tradition - his M.A. thesis was on
Herder's Origin of Language which opened the door for von Humboldt.
Prof. Bill McKellin
Department of Anthropology and Sociology
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C.
V6T 1Z1
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Message 3: Berlin & Kay vs Whorf

Date: Wed, 09 Oct 91 21:07:57 EDT
Subject: Berlin & Kay vs Whorf
Berlin & Kay's (1969) study of color-term universals was indeed a
real breakthrough, although I also believe again that it attacked
what Whorf did not maintain, but rather what was imputed to Whorf.
However, there has been work since then which has examined Berlin
& Kay (1969) closely, and has come up with some pretty damning
evaluations. One of the main problems with the study is the
inaccurate data that it used (but then again Whorf has been shown
to have misunderstood the structure of Hopi), and the criteria used
in determining when a color term is *basic* and when it's not, and
when a color is *focal* or not. Chapter 4 of Geoffrey Sampson's
(1980) _School of Linguistics_ (Stanford U P) is one reference that
comes to mind.
There are also pretty careful experimental studies on the
recognition of and memory for color terms which have come out in
favor of both Whorfian relativism and determinism. See:
Lucy, John and Richard Shweder. 1979. Whorf and his critics:
 Linguistic and nonlinguistic influences on color memory.
 _American Anthropologist_ 81:581-615.
Lucy, John and Richard Shweder. 1988. The effect of incidental
 conversation on memory for focal colors. _American
 Anthropologist_ 81:923-931.
The first paper was critiqued by Linda Garro (reference below), and
the second paper is an answer to Garro.
Garro, Linda. 1986. Language, memory, and focality: A
 reexamination. _American Anthropologist_ 88:128-136.
The long and short of all this is that whether or not color-term
universals present counter-evidence to the SWH is the subject of a
lively debate, rather than a foregone conclusion.
Niko Besnier
Department of Anthropology
Yale University
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Message 4: RE: 2.632 Whorf

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1991 14:03:06 +0800 (SST)
Subject: RE: 2.632 Whorf
Thankyou Niko Besnier for the posting re Whorf! I can't agree more.
I have been laying bets against myself at how long it would be before
Whorf hit the little screen, and hoping that when he did we would not
see the shocked amazement that people actually seemed to think he was
anything other than a turkey. Oh well, I lost that bet!
Sure, Berlin and Kay, as every intorductory textbook knows, is a killer
for the strong deterministic version of somebody's hypothesis.
But I don't remember reading quite this version in Whorf myself :>
Alan Dench
Department of Anthropology (there's your cop out if you want it)
University of Western Australia
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Message 5: Re: 2.632 Whorf

Date: Wed, 9 Oct 91 17:43 EST
From: <KINGSTONcs.umass.EDU>
Subject: Re: 2.632 Whorf
Re: Charles Laughlin on Berlin and Kay.
Berlin and Kay have not had the last words on the relativism of color
terminology; Harold Conklin in particular has offered trenchant criticism
of their conclusions, based on more detailed investigation of the use
and interpretation of color terms in various speech communities. What may
be at work in color terminology is a kind of tug-of-war between universal
tendencies, which probably reflect the way color is perceived, and the
encoding of these tendencies in speech events, which is subject to the
particularities of those events, the culture (linguistic and otherwise) of
the speaker, and other pressures which might render the interpretation of
these terms quite relativistic.
John Kingston
University of Massachusetts
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Message 6: Re: 2.632 Whorf

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 91 14:38 +0800
Subject: Re: 2.632 Whorf
Charles Laughlin mentions Berlin & Kay's classic work as being
the best empirical tests done of the SWH and as disconfirming it.
A follow-up study by Kay and Kempton is discussed in the Relativity
chapter of Lakoff's "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things." The
experiment involved chips ranging from blue to green, and found
that (not) having a word for green in one's native language does
affect how one rates the similarity of such items. Lakoff's
wide-ranging discussion sees this as evidence of an area where
relativity is found.
 Another attempt at an empirical test is Alfred Bloom's book
"The Linguistic Shaping of Thought." He found that Chinese speakers
had more difficulty comprehending a text full of counterfactual
conditionals than English speakers, and attributed this to the lack
of explicit coding of counterfactuals in Chinese. However, Terry Au
and Lisa Garbern Liu in "Cognition" (1985?) replicated the experiment
trying to avoid cultural bias, and found no significant difference.
This case would appear to support the view that cultural, rather
than linguistic differences are often responsible for apparent
relativity effects. Stephen Matthews, U. of Hong Kong
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Message 7: 2.632 Whorf

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 91 12:29 EDT
From: "Barbara.Abbott" <>
Subject: 2.632 Whorf
A more recent reference on Whorf and color terms is a paper by
Paul Kay and Willet Kempton called "What is the Sapir Whorf hypothesis?"
in American Anthropologist vol. 86, 1984.
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