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Language and Thought: The “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis” Revisited

November 16, 2021 at 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm EST

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Join linguist Colin Gorrie in the first in a series of salons investigating language for an exploration of the thorny relationship between language and thought.

Does language affect, constrain, or merely represent thought? How would we even go about finding out?

Sometimes known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, the idea that we might be limited in what we can think by the languages we speak has provided fertile ground for scientists and philosophers, not to mention authors of science fiction. Whether and how language influences thought has been one of the most controversial questions of modern linguistics. And it remains unresolved to this day, as new evidence continues to amass from experimental work in the cognitive sciences.

In this salon, we’ll trace the long and often acrimonious debate over the relationship between language and thought from the 1930s down to the present, from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to Steven Pinker. Along the way we’ll wonder about the gender of bridges, meet a culture who supposedly can’t count, and learn how speaking English might be raising our insurance premiums.


Pinker, Steven (1994). Chapter 3. Mentalese. In The Language Instinct: 55–82. Read online (1 hr rental). Most of the important stuff is at the beginning; feel free to skim!

Boroditsky, Lera (2018). How language shapes the way we think. TED Talk.


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November 16, 2021
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm EST
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