[Laura Mills] Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf

This text was produced by Laura Mills while the person was a student at Macalester. It was distributed for in-class review. Any use of this text necessitates you to contact the person directly for copyright purposes.

From: “Laura Mills”
Sent: Monday, October 11, 2004 5:54 AM
Subject: Sapir and Whorf Crib Sheet

Edward Sapir (1884 – 1939)

· Principal work was in linguistic anthropology; also interested in psychiatry, psychology, sociology, ethnology, folklore, and religion.
· Studied with Boas, research assistant of Alfred Kroeber. Had a strong influence on the anthropology of Ruth Benedict.
· Emphasized the importance of the individual in the study of culture; interested in relationship of personality to culture. Objected to inadequate generalizations, as often found in conventional ethnographic statements. Advocated individual psychology and psychotherapy.
· One of the founders of the science of linguistics.
· Linguistics is a social science, rather than a natural science, because although it has connections to biology through physiology and regular/typical processes (similar to “scientific laws”; thus it is important for the methodology of social science), it is “primarily a cultural or social product and must be understood as such.”
· No language is primitive – all are fully develop within their own cultural goals.
· No causal link between language and culture. Culture is what a social group does and thinks. Language is a way of thinking, the “symbolic guide to culture” and a “guide to social reality.” Language “powerfully conditions all our thinking about social problems and process.” Human beings are “at the mercy” of their particular language.
· The worlds of different cultures are “distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.”
· All activities may be thought of as functional, symbolic, or a blend of the two – primary symbols (shove door open) vs. secondary or referential symbols (knock).
· Emphasizes the value of linguistics for other areas of study, including anthropology, cultural history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and even physics and physiology, as well as its value as a guide to the scientific study of a given culture. Correctness of speech – ‘social style’ – is a symbol of how society arranges itself; important for sociology.






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