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The idea of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (/ / sə-PEER WHORF), the Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language influences its speakers' worldview or cognition, and thus individuals' languages determine or shape their perceptions of the world.
The hypothesis has long been controversial, and many different, often contradictory variations have existed throughout its history. The strong hypothesis of linguistic relativity, now referred to as linguistic determinism, says that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and restrict cognitive categories. This was held by some of the early linguists before World War II, but it is generally agreed to be false by modern linguists. Nevertheless, research has produced positive empirical evidence supporting a weaker version of linguistic relativity: that a language's structures influence and shape a speaker's perceptions, without strictly limiting or obstructing them.
Although common, the term Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is sometimes considered a misnomer for several reasons: Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf never co-authored any works and never stated their ideas in terms of a hypothesis. The distinction between a weak and a strong version of this hypothesis is also a later development; Sapir and Whorf never set up such a dichotomy, although often their writings and their views of this relativity principle are phrased in stronger or weaker terms.
The principle of linguistic relativity and the relationship between language and thought has also received attention in varying academic fields from philosophy to psychology and anthropology, and it has also inspired and colored works of fiction and the invention of constructed languages.
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