The Whorf Theory Complex

A critical reconstruction

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At last — a comprehensive account of the ideas of Benjamin Lee Whorf which not only explains the nature and logic of the linguistic relativity principle but also situates it within a larger ‘theory complex’ delineated in fascinating detail. Whorf’s almost unknown unpublished writings (as well as his published papers) are drawn on to show how twelve elements of theory interweave in a sophisticated account of relations between language, mind, and experience. The role of language in cognition is revealed as a central concern, some of his insights having interesting affinity with modern connectionism. Whorf’s gestaltic ‘isolates’ of experience and meaning, crucial to understanding his reasoning about linguistic relativity, are explained. A little known report written for the Yale anthropology department is used extensively and published for the first time as an appendix. With the Whorf centenary in 1997, this book provides a timely challenge to those who take pleasure in debunking his ideas without bothering to explore their subtlety or even reading them in their original form.

Subjects: Cognition and language; Anthropological Linguistics; History of linguistics

  • Affiliations: 1: The University of Western Australia

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