The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states language and culture is so intertwined that one defines the other. For example, Margaret Mead highlighted South Pacific people do not have a word for “war” in their lexicon. Coincidentally, these people have not engaged in wars. So, the hypothesis is that we must be able to think of some phenomenon before we can name it or experience it.

George Orwell’s novel 1984 exemplifies this notion through “newspeak.” The state-promoted media which removes words resembling freedom or individuality. So, if communities don’t have ideas to express these emotions, concepts would disappear from the language.

One of the central tenets of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is that language affects our perception of the world. If we don’t have a word or phrase to describe something, it may go unnoticed or unfelt. As such, phrases like je ne sais quoi (French for “I don’t know what”) have entered our vocabulary. My favorite example and one I use quite often is Faux Pas.

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