LINGUIST List 2.636

Thu 10 Oct 1991

Disc: Whorf

Editor for this issue: <>


  • Fan mail from some flounder?, Re: 2.632 Whorf
  • William McKellin, Re: 2.632 Whorf
  • Niko Besnier, Berlin & Kay vs Whorf
  • , RE: 2.632 Whorf
  • , Re: 2.632 Whorf
  • , Re: 2.632 Whorf
  • "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

    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

    Message 3: Berlin & Kay vs Whorf

    Date: Wed, 09 Oct 91 21:07:57 EDT
    From: Niko Besnier <UTTANUYALEVM.BITNET>
    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.