You are on page 1of 4

Language 2017

Annotated Bibliography

Rory Dempsey
Linguistic Relativity

The theory of linguistic relativity propounds that our experience of the world around us is

fundamentally influenced and determined by the language we speak. A native speaker of one

language, it argues, will view the world in a completely different way to a native speaker of another

language. The hypothesis is based on the idea of language as a series of arbitrary associations

between abstract words and physical objects that, ostensibly, have no logical connection.

Accordingly, there exists a discrepancy between not only the different languages and their

respective classifications of objects, but the speakers experience of these objects and the world in

which they occur.

Deutscher, Guy, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other

Languages, London, Random House, 2016.

This text sets out to prove the theory of linguistic relativity by looking at the three key concepts

of colour, space and gender. Deutscher is able to use these areas to create an incredibly thorough

analysis of the idea of language influencing our perception and experience of the world. The

culture of a society, Deutscher argues, is reflected in its language. His ability to employ the

assistance of countless historical writers and academics from Homer to Chomsky, Sapir and

Whorf to Levinson not only heightens this texts credibility but provides astute and

enlightening discussion. He bases his hypothesis not on conjecture or personal opinion but on

empirical evidence and only the best research studies. The book does only consider the linguistic

relativity theory through these three areas, which is a bit limited given the magnitude of the

question at hand. Despite this, Deutschers work is balanced, partisan and, above all, well-

McWhorter, John H., The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language,

Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

In this text, McWhorter contradicts the ideas that many linguists such as Deutscher put forward

and attempts to debunk the linguistic relativity theory altogether. He approaches this is by

analysing the question of whether or not our language influences our worldview in a more

holistic sense; rather than looking at different languages individually, McWhorter looks at them

simultaneously in his attempt to prove that it is not culture that reflects language, but the other

way round. Using a number of well-researched case studies and examples, McWhorter not only

argues passionately that the theory of linguistic relativity is wrong, but that it is also dangerous;

the idea of someones language influencing their capabilities and inabilities to experience the

world connotes an implicit hierarchy amongst nationalities and therefore can promote

xenophobia and racism (in the most extreme of cases, but there exists nevertheless a certain risk).

The benefits of this source are manifold, not least that, when analysed in conjunction with a

source that argues for the linguistic relativity theory, it is able to provide a comprehensive and

unbiased understanding of the issue.

Livingstone, J. Relatively speaking: do our words influence how we think?, The Guardian, 29

January 2014,


This article explores the concept of linguistic relativity in a real-world context, exploring in

depth the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which has formed the foundation of the linguistic

relativity theory since its inception in the early 1900s. While more exploratory than

definitive, the article provides great insight into the theory through its prolific use of
examples of the theorys application in the real world. The articles discussion of the

Namibian Himba people and their classification of colours is particularly compelling, and

could be used as a case study in an essay or assignment. Also of particular interest is the

articles dismantling of the pseudo-racist undertones of the Sapir-Whorfand, by

association, the linguistic relativitytheory, which provides a balanced, comprehensive