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Language, Thought, and Reality

Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf

Benjamin Lee Whorf
John B. Carroll
Stephen C. Levinson
Penny Lee
introduction by John B. Carroll
foreword by Stephen C. Levinson
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Language, Thought, and Reality
    Book Description:

    The pioneering linguist Benjamin Whorf (1897--1941) grasped the relationship between human language and human thinking: how language can shape our innermost thoughts. His basic thesis is that our perception of the world and our ways of thinking about it are deeply influenced by the structure of the languages we speak. The writings collected in this volume include important papers on the Maya, Hopi, and Shawnee languages, as well as more general reflections on language and meaning. Whorf's ideas about the relation of language and thought have always appealed to a wide audience, but their reception in expert circles has alternated between dismissal and applause. Recently the language sciences have headed in directions that give Whorf's thinking a renewed relevance. Hence this new edition of Whorf's classic work is especially timely.The second edition includes all the writings from the first edition as well as John Carroll's original introduction, a new foreword by Stephen Levinson of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics that puts Whorf's work in historical and contemporary context, and new indexes. In addition, this edition offers Whorf's "Yale Report," an important work from Whorf's mature oeuvre.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30584-6
    Subjects: Linguistics, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xxiv)
    Stephen C. Levinson

    This little book has had an extraordinary career.¹ Initially admired, then reviled, then rehabilitated, then once again attacked, it has proved unsinkable. This is all the more surprising given the contents: a handful of rather dated papers on Amerindian linguistics, a couple on ancient Mesoamerican writing systems (also now dated), four papers for a general audience about language differences, and some unfinished manuscripts found among the papers of the author after his premature death. This is not the kind of material that one would have expected to inflame the passions or rouse phlegmatic scholars of linguistics and psychology from their...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-44)
    John B. Carroll

    The career of Benjamin Lee Whorf might, on the one hand, be described as that of a businessman of specialized talents—one of those individuals who by the application of out-of-the-ordinary training and knowledge together with devotion and insight can be so useful to any kind of business organization. On the other hand, his career could be described as that of an unusually competent and diligent research worker in several otherwise almost completely neglected fields of inquiry—the study of the lost writing system of the Mayas and the study of the languages of the Aztecs of Mexico and the...

  5. 1 On the Connection of Ideas (1927)
    (pp. 45-50)

    320 Wolcott Hill Road

    Wethersfield, Conn.

    July 12, 1927

    Dear Dr. English:

    I have been intending to write you in regard to your little dictionary and especially to ask you for a name by which to denote a certain psychological concept, but I have not found a chance until the present, and I don’t know whether this season will find you at your Middletown address. I must say that I appreciate that dictionary; it is not only actually interesting—a rare thing for a dictionary—but valuable as well. But I have not been able to find in it or...

  6. 2 On Psychology (date unknown)
    (pp. 51-54)

    Psychology has developed a field of research that may no doubt be useful or valuable in itself, but it throws little or no light on problems of the normal human mind or soul. The person who wishes to understand more fully the laws and, so to speak, topography, of the inner or mental life is as much thrown back on his own difficultly acquired store of wisdom and his native judgments, intuitions, sympathies, and common sense as though the science of psychology did not exist. Such a one, for instance, is the teacher, educator, sociologist, anthropologist, trainer, coach, salesman, preacher,...

  7. 3 A Central Mexican Inscription Combining Mexican and Maya Day Signs (1931)
    (pp. 55-64)

    When in Mexico during the winter of 1930, engaged in Nahuatl linguistic research, I visited the village of Tepoztlan in the state of Morelos and while there made the accompanying sketch (Figure 3.1) of a band of sculptured figures in the ruined temple of the Tepoztecatl, the ancient tutelary deity, which stands on a great rock pinnacle overlooking the town.

    The temple has been described by Saville,¹ Seler,² and Novelo,³ but nowhere do any of them discuss the figures dealt with herein. The structure bears indications⁴ of dating from the reign of the Aztec king Ahuitzotl, who died in 1502;...

  8. 4 The Punctual and Segmentative Aspects of Verbs in Hopi (1936)
    (pp. 65-72)

    Verbs in the Hopi language are noteworthy for their very rich and expressive development of verbal aspects and voices. I shall say nothing in this paper of the nine voices (intransitive, transitive, reflexive, passive, semipassive, resultative, extended passive, possessive, and cessative); and of the nine aspects (punctual, durative, segmentative, punctual–segmentative, inceptive, progressional, spatial, projective, and continuative) I shall deal with only two. It may be noted that there are no perfective and imperfective aspects; in fact Hopi does not in any way formalize as such the contrast between completion and incompletion of action. Its aspects formalize different varieties of...

  9. 5 An American Indian Model of the Universe (circa 1936)
    (pp. 73-82)

    I find it gratuitous to assume that a Hopi who knows only the Hopi language and the cultural ideas of his own society has the same notions, often supposed to be intuitions, of time and space that we have, and that are generally assumed to be universal. In particular, he has no general notion or intuition of time as a smooth flowing continuum in which everything in the universe proceeds at an equal rate, out of a future, through a present, into a past; or, in which, to reverse the picture, the observer is being carried in the stream of...

  10. 6 A Linguistic Consideration of Thinking in Primitive Communities (circa 1936)
    (pp. 83-112)

    The ethnologist engaged in studying a living primitive culture must often have wondered: “What do these people think? How do they think? Are their intellectual and rational processes akin to ours or radically different?” But thereupon he has probably dismissed the idea as a psychological enigma and has sharply turned his attention back to more readily observable matters.

    This paper was found by me [JBC] in handwritten manuscript form, undated, among the papers left by Whorf to his wife and recently turned over to his son, Robert Whorf. The manuscript appeared to be complete (except for certain footnotes), but it...

  11. 7 Grammatical Categories (1937)
    (pp. 113-130)

    The very natural tendency to use terms derived from traditional grammar, like verb, noun, adjective, passive voice, in describing languages outside of Indo-European is fraught with grave possibilities of misunderstanding. At the same time it is desirable to define these terms in such a way that we can avail ourselves of their great convenience and, where possible, apply them to exotic languages in a scientific and consistent way. To do this, we must re-examine the types of grammatical category that are found in languages, using a worldwide view of linguistic phenomena, frame concepts more or less new, and make needed...

  12. 8 Discussion of Hopi Linguistics (1937)
    (pp. 131-142)

    320 Wolcott Hill Road,

    Wethersfield, Conn.

    Dear John:

    You will be interested to hear that I have been appointed to a part-time lectureship at Yale for the term January to June 1938, Department of Anthropology, to give one 2-hour lecture a week on Problems of American Linguistics. During the fall term my colleague George L. Trager will have the same group in Phonetics, so that I do not plan to devote much of any time to phonetic or phonemic problems per se. I am going to orient my lectures largely toward a psychological direction, and the problems of meaning, thought,...

  13. 9 Some Verbal Categories of Hopi (1938)
    (pp. 143-158)

    In the earlier stages of work on the Hopi language, I had the pleasant feeling of being in familiar linguistic territory. Here, wondrous to relate, was an exotic language cut very much on the pattern of Indo-European: a language with clearly distinct nouns, verbs, and adjectives, with voices, aspects, tense-moods, and no outré categories, no gender-like classes based on shape of objects, no pronouns referring to tribal status, presence, absence, visibility, or invisibility.

    But, in course of time, I found it was not all such plain sailing. The sentences I made up and submitted to my Hopi informant were usually...

  14. 10 Language: Plan and Conception of Arrangement (1938)
    (pp. 159-172)

    Editor’s note: In 1938, Whorf circulated this table and accompanying outline in manuscript form among selected colleagues. It was written as a supplement to theOutline of cultural materialsprepared by George P. Murdock and his colleagues at the Department of Anthropology at Yale University as a guide to ethnological field workers, and is referred to in the brief “Language” section of that outline.

    In several places in his writings Whorf mentions the desirability of a “world-survey” of languages; this outline was doubtless intended by him as a suggested standard framework for collecting the information on particular languages which would...

  15. 11 The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language (1939)
    (pp. 173-204)

    There will probably be general assent to the proposition that an accepted pattern of using words is often prior to certain lines of thinking and forms of behavior, but he who assents often sees in such a statement nothing more than a platitudinous recognition of the hypnotic power of philosophical and learned terminology on the one hand or of catchwords, slogans, and rallying cries on the other. To see only thus far is to miss the point of one of the important interconnections which Sapir saw between language, culture, and psychology, and succinctly expressed in the introductory quotation. It is...

  16. 12 Gestalt Technique of Stem Composition in Shawnee (1939)
    (pp. 205-220)

    C. F. Voegelin has accomplished the difficult and signal work of analyzing an immense number of baffling stem compounds of Shawnee into their component lexemes (stems) and other morphemes (formatives), classifying them according to formal categories of Shawnee grammar, and discovering an important native semantic relation, that of the occurrent, a lexeme that has some pervasive semantic influence that induces the native to cling to translation of the occurrent even when he neglects specific translation of the other lexemes in the compound.

    Voegelin has asked me to illustrate the application of a different aspect of linguistic method, which can be...

  17. 13 Decipherment of the Linguistic Portion of the Maya Hieroglyphs (1940)
    (pp. 221-254)

    The Maya were the only fully literate people of the aboriginal American world. The buildings and monuments of stone that they left are covered with their writings—writings of which little has yet been read except the dates with which they begin. Moreover, they wrote many books and manuscripts, and three such books of fairly late period have been preserved. These are the famous three Maya codices, and I propose, before the end of this paper, to read a very brief extract from one of them, and to show, in a very plain and simple way, what the Maya writing...

  18. 14 Linguistic Factors in the Terminology of Hopi Architecture (1940)
    (pp. 255-264)

    The common material of Hopi buildings is stone. Adobe, the usual building material of the Rio Grande country, is rarely used. The stone is quarried and roughly dressed by the Hopi themselves, and set up without mortar. Walls are stone, roofs and floors above ground are tamped earth or clay several inches thick on a layer of close-set poles laid across cylindrical timbers or beams ledged in the walls. Interior surfaces of walls and ceilings are usually finished with a clay plaster or stucco, and then whitewashed with a fine white clay; exteriors are sometimes stuccoed, usually left in bare...

  19. 15 Science and Linguistics (1940)
    (pp. 265-280)

    Every normal person in the world, past infancy in years, can and does talk. By virtue of that fact, every person—civilized or uncivilized—carries through life certain naïve but deeply rooted ideas about talking and its relation to thinking. Because of their firm connection with speech habits that have become unconscious and automatic, these notions tend to be rather intolerant of opposition. They are by no means entirely personal and haphazard; their basis is definitely systematic, so that we are justified in calling them a system of natural logic—a term that seems to me preferable to the term...

  20. 16 Linguistics as an Exact Science (1940)
    (pp. 281-298)

    The revolutionary changes that have occurred since 1890 in the world of science—especially in physics but also in chemistry, biology, and the sciences of man—have been due not so much to new facts as to new ways of thinking about facts. The new facts themselves of course have been many and weighty; but, more important still, the realms of research where they appear—relativity, quantum theory, electronics, catalysis, colloid chemistry, theory of the gene, Gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis, unbiased cultural anthropology, and so on—have been marked to an unprecedented degree by radically new concepts, by a failure to...

  21. 17 Languages and Logic (1941)
    (pp. 299-314)

    In English, the sentences ‘I pull the branch aside’ and ‘I have an extra toe on my foot’ have little similarity. Leaving out the subject pronoun and the sign of the present tense, which are common features from requirements of English syntax, we may say that no similarity exists. Common, and even scientific, parlance would say that the sentences are unlike because they are talking about things which are intrinsically unlike. So Mr. Everyman, the natural logician, would be inclined to argue. Formal logic of an older type would perhaps agree with him.

    If, moreover, we appeal to an impartial...

  22. 18 Language, Mind, and Reality (1941)
    (pp. 315-344)

    It needs but half an eye to see in these latter days that science, the Grand Revelator of modern Western culture, has reached, without having intended to, a frontier. Either it must bury its dead, close its ranks, and go forward into a landscape of increasing strangeness, replete with things shocking to a culture-trammeled understanding, or it must become, in Claude Houghton’s expressive phrase, the plagiarist of its own past. The frontier was foreseen in principle very long ago, and given a name that has descended to our day clouded with myth. That name is Babel. For science’s long and...

  23. Appendix: The ʺYale Reportʺ: Report on Linguistic Research in the Department of Anthropology of Yale University for the Term September 1937–June 1938
    (pp. 345-376)
    B. L. Whorf and G. L. Trager
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 377-396)
  25. Name Index
    (pp. 397-400)
  26. Subject Index
    (pp. 401-418)