LANGUAGE, THOUGHT AND
A HUNDRED YEARS OF
He was an American anthropologist .
He was considered the "Father of
HIS RESEARCH WORK
Franz Boas main research involved disproving
some racist assertions about the existence of
so-called “primitive” languages , races and
Franz Boas was an anthropologist whose main
work was devoted to prove the inexistence of
some racist interpretations regarding
language, thought and culture. He affirmed
that all human beings were essentially equal.
He claimed that language might facilitate certain type of
thinking and would provide elements to understand
some unconscious patterns of culture and thought,
but it would not prevent people from developing
certain advanced ways of thinking.
He was an American anthropologist-linguist, who is
considered one of the most important figures in the
early development of the discipline of linguistics.
He was a student of Boas and he worked upon
his teacher’s theories, but
he also developed his own theories.
• Sapir pointed out a strong influence of language on
thought and culture.
• “Grammatical categories result in the tyrannical hold
that linguistic form has upon our orientation of the
• “Humans are at the “mercy "of the language they
• “No two languages are exactly the same in the way
they provide speakers with unconscious categories”.
• “Language is a guide to social reality.”
BENJAMIN LEE WHORF
Whorf was born in the United States. He was a student
of Edward Sapir and he developed the insight of his
two predecessors: Boas and Sapir.
During his entire life Whorf was a chemical engineer
by profession, but as a young man he took up an
interest in linguistics. At first this interest drew him
to the study of Biblical Hebrew, but he quickly went
on to study the indigenous languages of
Mesoamerica on his own. Professional scholars were
impressed by his work and in 1930 he received a
grant to study in Mexico; on his return home he
presented several influential papers on the language
at linguistics conferences. This led him to begin
studying linguistics with Edward Sapir at Yale
University while he still continued working as an
engineer at the Hartford Fire Insurance Company.
THE SAPIR-WHORF HYPOTHESIS
Even though Boas, Sapir and Whorf wrote about the
relationship among language, Thought and Culture,
they never developed a theory or hypothesis together.
• Most of the linguistic anthropologists believe that the
language you speak may predispose you to think in a
certain way or to engage in certain cultural practices
• The relation among language – thought - culture is
mutually influential and flexible.
Some linguistic anthropologists, like Hill and Mannheim
say that the relationship among language , thought
and culture is multidirectional and could be
conceived as an axiom rather a than an empirically
The supporters of the axiom point of view think that :
Everything is linguistically mediated so it is
impossible to separate something called language
from the two “non-linguistic” entities called thought