Sapir- Whorf Hypothesis

About Edward Sapir

Edward Sapir was an American- Jewish Anthropologist and linguist, he was born on 26 January, 1884 in Lebork, in Poland. He developed a basic statement on the genetic relationship of Native American language. He is best known for classification of native American language, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and Anthropological linguistic.

Sapir’s Linguistic background

He become the one such student of Boas (Franz Boas, who inspire Sapir to work on Native American language) to develop most completely the relationship between linguistics and anthropology. So, Sapir studied the ways in which language and culture influence each other and that is how he became interested in the relation between linguistic differences and differences in cultural world’s view. This part of his thinking further developed by his student name Benjamin Lee Whorf.  Whorf developed the principle of linguistic relativity, which is later known as “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis”, this is how this theory came into being.

Sapir is also known as an early proponent of the importance of psychology to anthropology maintaining that studying the nature of relationship between different individual personalities is important for the ways in which culture and society develop.

Before Sapir, the method of historical linguistics to language of indigenous people considered impossible to apply, the reason being the indigenous people were believed to be more primitive than the Indo-European language. Hence, Sapir was the one who first proved that comparative linguistics methods will be equally valid if it will be applied to indigenous language.

According to Sapir in 1929, human beings do not live in the society alone. Language of the society predisposed certain choices of interpretation about how we view the world.

Whereas according to Whorf in 1930, we dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. We categorize objects in the scheme laid by the language and if we do not subscribe to these classifications we cannot talk or communicate.

What is Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is the theory which is determined by an individual’s thoughts and actions through the language spoken by an individual. This theory is led by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf.

Aspects of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has two aspects and i.e.

  1. Linguistic determinism (it is known as strong version given by Sapir)
  2. Linguistic relativity (it is known as weak version given by Whorf)

Language determinism – it determines our thinking patterns, like the way we view and think about the world. According to linguistic determinism, language provides the framework for our thoughts and it is impossible to think outside of this frame. So, Sapir felt that people were at mercy of their language.

Linguistic relativity – the less similar the language the more divers their conceptualization, like different languages view the world differently. Therefore, the linguistic relativity interprets that different people see the world in different ways. For example; some people see only one kind of water, whereas, the other may see five different kind of water. Also, one community may be happy with ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’, while another may have ten different words in this domain of kinship words.

Thus, we can say that there is no natural or absolute way of labelling the world around us.

Advantage of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • Linguistic determinism does exert the great influence on patterns of thinking and culture.
  • Language may reinforce certain ideas and push them into attention.
  • In Linguistic relativity, there can be differences in the semantic association of concepts.
  • Coding of life experience in language is not exclusively accessible to everyone but only to members of that certain social group.
  • Linguistic structure does not constrain, what people think but only influence what they routinely think.
  • Language reflects cultural preoccupations.

Disadvantage of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

  • Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is self- conflicting. It claims that language determines thought and there is no limit to diversity of language.
  • If there is no limit to diversity, language cannot determine thought to a great extent and hence, it is called determination rather than influence.
  • And many universal claims that human thoughts are universal.

Therefore, according to Sapir it is quiet often an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The matter of fact is that the real world is to a large extent and unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. We see and hear and experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretations.

While, according to Whorf we dissect nature along with lines laid down by our native language. The categories and the types that we isolate from the world phenomena we do not find here because they stare every observer in the face. On the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds and this means largely by the linguistic system in our minds.

We cut nature up, organize it into concepts and ascribe significance, as we do largely because we are parties to an agreement which organize in the way that an agreement which holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is of course an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory. we can not talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

S.T Coleridge was a philosopher, a critic and a romantic poet. He had the most vigorous mind among all the romantic poets.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a leader of English Romantic poet, born on 21st October, 1772 in Otter, Devonshire England. His father being a clergyman moved to London with family when Coleridge was young. S.T Coleridge, here attended school, he later attended Cambridge but left without completing his study.  During the politically charged atmosphere of the late 18th century, Coleridge made a name for himself both as a political and radical as an important young poet.

After a while Coleridge befriends with William Wordsworth and became one of the most important Romantic poets along with William Wordsworth. Collaborating with Wordsworth on the revolutionary Lyrical Ballads of 1798 he helped to inaugurated Romantic era in England. Lyrical Ballads turned the established conventions of poetry upside down, privileging natural speech over poetic ornament, simply stated themes over- elaborated symbolisms, emotions over abstract thought and the experience of natural beauty over urban sophistication, the book paved the way for two generations of poets and stands as one of the milestones of European Literature.

Coleridge became the poet of imagination, exploring the relationships between nature and the mind as it exists as a separate entity. Poems such as “The Rime of Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan” demonstrate Coleridge`s talent for concocting bizarre, unsetting stories full of fantasy, imagery and magic; in poems such as “Frost at Midnight” and “Dejection: An Ode” he muses explicitly on the nature of the mind as it interacts with the creative source of nature.  

S.T Coleridge married Sarah Fricker but always repented so separated after a while. S.T Coleridge was opium addicted, therefore his most of the poem is written in a vision of a dream. It is said that Coleridge as opium addicted wrote his poetry after waking up half asleep.

Poems of Coleridge:

Coleridge was the most fragmentary and unsystematic poet among all the poets of 19th century. His most of the poems are incomplete because of his opium addiction habit, only The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is complete. Christabel and Kubla Khan are merely fragmentary, apart from these poems he wrote The Lime- Tree Bower My Prison is a poem of hope and joy experienced by the poet.  His poem Frost at Midnight is a presence of divine spirit in nature, Dejection: An Ode and Youth and Age expresses poet`s sense of failure of creative powers. Apart from these, he also composed political poems like; France: An Ode, which underlines the disgust caused by the failure of the French revolution and subsequent reign of terror. Another poem The Destruction of Bastille extols the event where The Ode on the Departing Year fears the fall of England.

Geoffrey Chaucer (The Father of English poetry)


Geoffrey Chaucer was the most famous poet of English literature, he was considered the father of English literature, John Dryden called him the father of English poetry. Geoffrey Chaucer was born about 1343- 44 in London (England) in a merchant family his father John Chaucer had a relation to the royal family, so he easily entered at the age of 17 in royal court and worked as counters ulster. His name Chaucer is derived from French word `Chaussier` means-`shoemaker`. Geoffrey Chaucer in his time, saw king like; Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV. Geoffrey Chaucer was the poet of medieval age.

Before working on his poetry, he served Edward III and Joined his English Army. There was 100- year war was going between England and France. France Army captured him in 1360, Edward III released him by paying 16 pound fine. When Geoffrey Chaucer returned, he became member of royal court and worked for king Edward III. In 1366 he got married to Phillipa who was an employee of royal court and daughter of Payne Roet, but had no record of how many children they had.

Geoffrey Chaucer was really influenced by French poets like Deschamps and Froissart, therefore his early work is often referred to as his `French` period. His Italian period begins with The House of Fame then he enters in English period begins with the work like; Troilus and Cressida and The Canterbury Tales. Also, he translated one of the most famous French work `Roman de la Rose`, but could not complete it, because of his friend`s wife sudden demise, so Geoffrey Chaucer first wrote `The Book of Duchess` for his friend John Gaunt in 1369 which was an elegy.

Later he traveled to many European Countries and gathered ideas. But when he visited Italy for the first time in 1372- 73 he influenced by Italian language and wrote some notable work like Parliament of Fowls, The House of fame, Legend of Good women. Legend of Good Women made him popular in the field of literature. By the time some contemporary poets like; John Gower, William Langland and John Wycliffe were also working.  In 1388 Geoffrey Chaucer began his most famous work The Canterbury Tales, he wanted to write 120 stories but due to his sudden demise in about 1400, only 24 stories completed. The Canterbury Tales is the most famous work of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Notable Work:

  • Parliament of Fowls
  • House of Fame
  • Anelida and Arcite
  • Legend of Good Women
  • Troilus and Cressida
  • The Book of Duchess
  • The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer was the first poet who introduced Rhyme Royal in his poetry, which is a seven- line stanza poem and used Iambic pentameter which is a five- line stanza poem. He was the first poet who wrote generally became well- known in common audience- in medieval English, he made English popular in medieval period.

Geoffrey Chaucer saw many ups and downs during his career but he also made huge contribution to English literature. Many poets of his time admire his work and called him the father of English poetry.

George Herbet

  • George Herbert was born on 3rd April, 1593 in Wales.
  • George Herbert was an orator, poet and the priest of a Church in England.
  • George Herbert was a metaphysical poet and his poetry is associated with writing of the metaphysical poets.
  • George Herbert is recognized as one of the foremost brilliant devotional Lyricist.
  • Henry Vaughan called him a most glorious saint and seer.
  • He received education from Trinity college, Cambridge.
  • His mother was Magdalen Newport and father was Richard Herbert.
  • He married to Jane Danvers.
  • John Donne was his godfather.
  • John Donne dedicated his holy sonnets to Herbert`s mother Magdalen Newport.
  • Herbert was a skilled lutenist who set his own lyrics and sacred poems.
  • George Herbert`s chief work `The Temple` consist of over 150 short poems.
  • Herbert wrote his poetry in English.
  • In 17th century Richard Baxter said, “Herbert speaks to God” like one that really believe in God.
  • George Herbert`s The Church is the longest poem of his collection.
  • Herbert was a collector of proverbs, his outlandish proverbs published in 1640 listing over 1000 aphorism in English.
  • Herbert`s only prose work `A Priest to the Temple` published in 1652 (usually known as the country parson) offers practical advice to rural clergy.
  • Izzak Walton wrote biography of George Herbert.
  • George Herbert was described as the finest place in the university.
  • In 1624- 1625, Herbert was elected as a representative of Parliament.
  • His poet is characterized by a deep religious.
  • George Herbert was the finest religious metaphysical poet.
  • S.T Coleridge wrote of Herbert diction that “Nothing can be pure”.
  • He died on March 1st 1633 of Tuberculosis in England.

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson was a great poet, a dramatist and an English playwright of Elizabethan age.

His full name is Benjamin Jonson and born on 11, July 1572 Westminster, London.

Ben Jonson was the well mannered and classically educated man of Renaissance period.

Ben Jonson, being born in a poor family, he completed his study

He studied in Westminster, and his school fee is paid by his family friend.

Ben Jonson studied Greek and Roman classical literature.

Ben Jonson was the second most famous and important English dramatist after Shakespeare during the reign of James- I.

He became poet Laurette in 1616.

He wrote number of different masques for king James- I

The mosque of blackness (1605), Beauty (1608), Queens (1609), Love Restored (1612), and Christmas (1616) and The Satyr (1603).

His best part was that he didn’t mix tragedy with comedy.

He popularized comedy of humors.

He is best known for his satirical plays in work like Volpone (1605) or The Fox, Every Man in his Humors (1598) and The Alchemist (1610).

His two tragic drama Sejanus (1603) and Catiline(1611) failed to impress the Renaissance audience.

He married to Anni Lewis in 1594.

Ben Jonson died on August 6, 1637 in London.

Notable work:

Volpone (1605), based on greed, and gullibility

The Alchemist (1610) is based on study of quackery

Epiceane or The Silent Women (1609), prose comedy

Tragic Plays-

Sejanus (1603)

Catiline (1611)

Comedy Play-

A Tale of a Tub (1596- 1633)

The Isle of Dogs (1597) etc.