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Humboldt, Worldview and Language$
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James Underhill

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780748638420

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748638420.001.0001

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(p.33) Chapter 6 Whorf
Humboldt, Worldview and Language

W. Underhill James

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter investigates the unfortunate way in which linguists have tended to focus upon Whorf's more radical pronouncements: this has led to polarization in the debate over whether language determines thinking or whether thinking people ‘use’ language to express ideas. This chapter pays tribute to the richness and originality of Whorf's thought. Nonetheless, it argues that by concentrating on grammar, and supposedly ‘deeper’ levels of language, Whorf drew attention away from individual speech and creative use of language. Sapir, as a poet, was never guilty of this. This chapter appraises to what extent Whorf believed that languages were ‘houses of consciousness’, and it concludes that Sapir's conception of language was more flexible. Where Whorf thinks of limits and boundaries, Sapir thinks of grooves, patterns carved out by individuals thinking together in language. While Whorf seeks to escape the confines of English by investigating other exotic languages, Sapir, like Humboldt considers all languages to be creative spaces in which the adventure of a linguistic community is played out.

Keywords:   Linguistic Determinism, Houses of Consciousness, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Thought World

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