Using the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis to Explore Wittgenstein

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Using the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis to Explore Wittgenstein

In the mid-1900's the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was introduced to the world of linguistic studies. It was the brainchild of two generations of linguists, Edward Sapir and his student, Benjamin Lee Whorf. The hypothesis was comprised of two distinct principles. The first, linguistic determinism, says that the language humans speak determines the way they think about the world. The second, linguistic relativity, says that the differences in human languages are reflected in the different worldviews of the people who speak those languages. We can use the ideas encompassed in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to explore Ludwig Wittgenstein's argument, "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world."

Wittenstein was a prominent philosopher of the early 1900's - the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis emerged around the time of his death. The ideas and beliefs of Wittgenstein's can each be related to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. On language, Wittgenstein believed that humans learn to use words in certain situations for certain purposes. Human language can be separated into categories of communication for different types of situations. For example, in a professor/student conversation, the student would not use the same type of words, phrases, or sentence structure that one would use when talking to family or friends. In the early days of human existence, this occurred in the band/tribe/chiefdom social organization where one would talk to a superior with respect and admiration. The evolution into an industrialized society where humans have to work for a living and are generally subordinate to higher positions of power during their workday has further added to this example.

Wittgenstein is known for having defined meaning as use. He also believed that the grammar of everyday language has been shaped by the practical and meaningful concerns of everyday life, and that the...