Whorf for the 21st century: From interactive processing to linguistic relativity


The crux of the Whorfian thesis is that our thought and behavior are influenced in deep ways by the language we use. In recent years we have seen a wave of rigorous and creative investigations of this thesis (Boroditsky, 2010; Wolff & Holmes, 2011 for reviews). Yet, many researchers remain highly skeptical of findings purporting to support Whorfian claims (Gleitman & Papafragou, 2005), and much confusion remains about how to integrate these find-ings into existing theories of cognition. A major barrier to understanding the degree to which various aspects of human cognition may be affected by speaking different languages is understanding the relationship between language—any language—and the rest of cognition. To remove this barrier we need to address a fundamental question: To what degree is normal human cognition actually language-augmented cognition? I will argue that a surprising variety of behavior previously assumed to be “nonverbal” shows signs of being influenced by linguistic factors and I will outline a theory of language-augmented thought that offers a mechanistic account of where we might expect to find effects of language on “nonverbal” cognition (Lupyan, 2012a, 2012b, for reviews).

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