Benjamin Lee Whorf

Benjamin Lee Whorf (hwôrf), 1897–1941, American linguist and anthropologist, b. Winthrop, Mass. Although he was trained in chemical engineering and worked for an insurance company, Whorf made substantial contributions to Mayan and Aztec linguistics. He collaborated with Edward Sapir at Yale Univ. in anthropological linguistics, and helped to develop the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. Also known as the linguistic relativity principle, the theory argues against the view that the categories and distinctions of any given language are natural and given by external reality. Instead, it posits language as a finite array of formal (lexical and grammatical) categories that group an infinite variety of experiences into usable classes, vary across cultures, and, as a guide to the interpretation of experiences, influence thought.

See Whorf's selected writings, Language, Thought, and Reality (1959).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Culture in Crisis: A Study of the Hopi Indians
Laura Thompson.
Harper & Brothers, 1950
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Time, Space, and Language" by Benjamin Lee Whorf
History and Theory in Anthropology
Alan Barnard.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "The Linguistic Relativism of Whorf" begins on p. 108
On the Plurality of Actual Worlds
Andrew L. Blais.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "Updating Protagoras Whorf and Quine"
Language, Culture & Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology
Zdenek Salzmann.
Westview Press, 1998 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "The Whorf Hypothesis of Linguistic Relativity and Linguistic Determinism" begins on p. 42
Contextualism and Understanding in Behavioral Science: Implications for Research and Theory
Ralph L. Rosnow; Marianthi Georgoudi.
Praeger, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Speaking Practically: Whorf, the Formative Function of Communication, and Knowing of the Third Kind"
What We Do with Language-What It Does with Us
Kodish, Bruce I.
ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 60, No. 4, Winter 2003
Mind, Brain, and Language: Multidisciplinary Perspectives
Marie T. Banich; Molly Mack.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "The Linguistic Relativity Paradigm: Boas, Sapir, and Whorf" begins on p. 25
Man, Mind, and Science: A History of Anthropology
Murray J. Leaf.
Columbia University Press, 1979
Librarian’s tip: "Linguistics: Back to Language and Mind" begins on p. 304
Language: The Basics
R. L. Trask.
Routledge, 1999 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis begins on p. 63
Introduction to Semantics
Adam Schaff; Olgierd Wojtasiewicz.
Pergamon Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis begins on p. 341
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