Month: June 2013

Ask-A-Linguist: Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

Answers for this blog excerpt were researched and provided by the Ask-A-Linguist panelists. For a full response, please see the Ask-A-Linguist FAQ section about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

What is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the theory that an individual’s thoughts and actions are determined by the language or languages that individual speaks. The strong version of the hypothesis states that all human thoughts and actions are bound by the restraints of language, and is generally less accepted than the weaker version, which says that language only somewhat shapes our thinking and behavior. Following are quotes from the two linguists who first formulated the hypothesis and for whom it is named, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf :

“Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached… We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.” -Sapir (1958:69)

“We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds – and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way – an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.” -Whorf (1940:213-14)

What are some criticisms of the hypothesis?

While linguists generally agree that the weaker Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as linguistic relativism, can be shown to be true to some extent, there are criticisms of the stronger form of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as linguistic determinism. Among the criticisms of the strong form of the Hypothesis are:

  1. One of Whorf’s central arguments in his paper on language determining thought was that the Hopi terminology for time gave the Hopi a different and unique understanding of how time worked, distinct from the typical Western conception of time. Pinker (1994) argues that Whorf had never actually met anyone from the Hopi tribe and that a later anthropologist discovered, in fact, the Hopi conception of time was not so different from the traditional Western understanding of it.
  2. The problem of translatability: if each language had a completely distinct reality encoded within it, how could a work be translated from one language to another? Yet, literary works, instruction manuals and so forth are regularly translated and communication in this regard is not only possible, but happens every day.

Summer Schools and Training Courses

Our posting area of Summer Schools and Training Courses was launched in December of 2012. This area contains an online registry where organizations and institutions may announce summer schools and short training courses relevant to linguistics. As of today, we are pleased to say that there are 47 sessions currently in our database.

The idea of this area was not to have postings for just undergraduate students, but for those who wish to have a life-long education. In order to make it so you can find the course that is right for you, we have added filters that include location, minimum education, languages, dates, linguistic subfields, and registration deadlines.

If you have a Summer School and/or Training Course that you would like to announce on The LINGUIST List free of charge, simply visit the posting area and click “Submit.” From there you will be prompted to include information related to your session. We do require that you include your contact information during the submission process. This is simply so that we can contact you with any questions and will not be publicly displayed.

If you have any questions or concerns about a Summer School or Training Course, please feel free to contact the Summer School editors at [email protected] As a general reminder, we do not accept posting announcements by email; all submissions need to be filled out using their respective online webform.

The LINGUIST List Welcomes the Summer Interns

This summer, we are happy to welcome 10 interns for this summer! They will be put to work by working on various projects such as ELCat, LL-MAP, and MultiTree.  Congratulations interns on being selected for 2013! If you are interested in becoming an intern, be on the look-out for our application cycle to open again next spring. In the mean time, there are other ways to get involved here at LINGUIST List. Just contact us for more information.

Eric Benzschawel [ˈbɛn.ʃɑl]

Eric at the Basler Münster in Basel, Switzerland, taken last spring when he was studying abroad at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Breisgau), Germany.

I’m Eric Benzschawel, a BA candidate for spring 2013, receiving a degree in Linguistics with honors and Germanic Studies, and minors in Dutch and Western European Studies. I’ll be working this summer as an intern at the LINGUIST List through early August, contributing primarily on the MultiTree and LL-MAP projects.  I speak German and Dutch as second languages.

My personal areas of interest in linguistics are: syntax, morphosyntax, morphology, corpus linguistics, and computational linguistics. I’m a Germanophile too, so I enjoy Germanic historical linguistics or linguistic work on modern Germanic languages.  I have a keen interest in Faroese everything (seems like such a cool place!) and histories of Germanic peoples, especially the Dutch Golden Age and the Holy Roman Empire.

All the schoolwork definitely keeps me busy, but that doesn’t mean there’s no free time! I deeply enjoy reading high fantasy, science fiction, history, and linguistics books.  I enjoy music of all genres and play saxophone in the Indiana University Marching Hundred.  I’m also a fan of football (Green Bay Packers), college basketball (Indiana Hoosiers), hockey (Chicago Blackhawks), and soccer (Seattle Sounders FC, Deutsche Nationalmannschaft, Nederlands voetbalelftal).

Emily Remirez

Emily with her dog Sophie.

I was born and raised on the Gulf Coast of Texas and am currently a junior at Rice University in Houston, majoring in Linguistics with a concentration in Cognitive Science and minoring in Anthropology. I have been interested in language for as long as I can remember, and there is very little that I dislike about linguistics. My main interests (for now) are L1 acquisition, cognitive linguistics, linguistic relativity, animal communication, language typology, syntax, morphology, Central and South American languages, language contact, creoles and pidgins, historical linguistics, and phonology. Outside of linguistics, I like animals, reading, Wes Anderson movies, absurdity, science fiction, and Arrested Development.

Dana Fallon

Dana enjoying the scenery in Cinque Terre, Italy.

My name is Dana Fallon and I’m just about to graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a BA in Linguistics! I also have a French minor and I had the wonderful opportunity of studying abroad in Lyon, France, last year, during which I got to travel through a lot of Europe. In addition to French, I’ve studied Japanese and some Latin. In my spare time, I’m usually playing guitar or piano, knitting/crocheting, or seeking out dogs to play with.

Kaveh Varjoy

Kaveh at a 2012 piano recital with three of his students.

My name is Kaveh Varjoy. I’m a California-born-and-raised linguistics major at UCSB, going into my senior year. I spend my free time going through used bookstores, splashing around in the ocean, and playing the piano (or at least trying to). My favorite TV show is Arrested Development (it’s back – yay!) and my favorite book is Dante’s Divina Commedia, and there is no limit to the amount of music I enjoy, though I do have a soft spot for jazz and the rat pack. My interests in linguistics are based around language documentation – especially sign languages and Deaf culture, North American languages, and African languages – and the sociocultural intersect between form, identity, and (in)justice/equality.

Bryn Hauk

I have known since high school that my passion was linguistics, but it wasn’t until my freshman year at the University of Michigan that I learned of the myriad subfields from which I was expected to choose a lifelong path. Having tried and loved everything from semantics to second-language acquisition, I finally discovered documentary linguistics, which seemed to combine the best parts of all specializations with the added bonus of fieldwork in faraway places. I have been lucky enough to do just that in northwest Russia with the Veps people, and I hope to continue documenting indigenous languages of Russia in the future as I pursue my MA at EMU. At the LINGUIST List, I get the opportunity to flex my documentary muscles working on our Catalogue of Endangered Languages and to learn important new technologies and scripting languages.

Myles Gurule

I’m a sophomore at Brown University, tentatively planning to double-major in Computer Science and Linguistics. My interests include formal language theory, natural language processing, and Slavic languages. I grew up in northern New Mexico and in my spare time, I coach policy debate, read, and go hiking. I’m excited to learn about current linguistic research and discussion as well as the practical linguistic applications of CS.

Jacob Collard

Jacob at a May Day Festival, performing a Longsword Dance.

I am a rising Junior at Swarthmore College and have now been interested in linguistics for over six years, doing work with endangered languages (Ju|’hoan, Valley Zapotec, and Cherokee), computational linguistics, and syntax. I’m also interested in storytelling, writing, and literature, as well as folkdance, board games, and roleplaying games. I tend to lose myself in the forest, as I enjoy hiking and exploring, which I try to do every day.

Lesley Dennison

Hi, I’m Lesley and I am excited to join The LINGUIST List as an ELCat team member! I’ve been interested in languages ever since high school French class, where I would write notes to my best friend in IPA.I graduated from Eastern Michigan University in April of 2013 with a BA in Linguistics and a minor in Japanese. I will be starting my MA in Linguistics at Eastern in the fall of 2013. When I am not doing linguistics, I like to read, write, travel and cater to my adorable cat, Esteban.

Sara Couture

I recently earned a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics with a minor in German from Wayne State University and I’m currently a summer intern at LINGUIST List. At LINGUIST List, I’m mainly working on the MultiTree project, but I’m also part of the Catalogue of Endangered Languages team and the LL-MAP team. I’m really excited about being immersed in linguistics all summer, learning about the nuts and bolts of language documentation and the technology that is involved.

In hindsight, majoring in Linguistics was inevitable for me. I was one of those nerdy kids who liked to make my own secret codes and alphabets and had notebooks filled with information about Elvish and other constructed languages. Language has always been one of my passions. But I didn’t find the formal field of linguistics until college. I had decided to major in English with the vague notion of becoming an editor or a technical writer. The English degree had a theory requirement, and I chose an Introduction to Linguistics. I absolutely loved it, and when I found out I could become an editor with a Linguistics degree as well as an English degree, I switched majors immediately and the rest is history.

I have an insatiable curiosity about all things linguistic, so it is very difficult for me to narrow down my interests. But at the moment, my primary interests are historical linguistics, dialectology, sociolinguistics, syntax, Germanic linguistics, Celtic linguistics, and English linguistics. Outside of linguistics, I’m always in search of a good story to keep me entertained. I love to read and watch movies. I have a wide, eclectic taste in genres, and I have dabbled in fantasy, science fiction, mystery, historical, classic, thriller, horror, contemporary or westerns. When I’m not doing any of these things, I try to give my mole eyes a rest and go bike riding.

Thomas Haider

I was born 1985 in the area of Munich, Germany. After a sheltered childhood in the middle of Bavaria and some education I pursued an apprenticeship in a physics lab, followed by some more education, a civil service in a youth hostel to finally end up in Heidelberg to study Computational Linguistics and Philosophy. Apart from one year abroad in the Netherlands I have been there for 5 years now, meanwhile enrolled in a Masters programme, writing and reading poetry on stage, dealing with lexical semantics, transgressing borders of verbose gibberish and densified expression.

Job Postings and the DOW Industrial Average

Ever wondered how the job market is faring for linguistic jobs? Here at the office we decided to answer that question for you by comparing the amount of annual job postings against the December 31st numbers for the DOW Jones Industrial Average. Below you can see the peaks and valleys of the job postings as they relate to the effects of the market.





We first started posting linguistic jobs in 1990 and had a meager 4 jobs that year, but since then we have surpassed that amount. In 2000 we had 853 job postings, which was our highest yet! Even though job postings dropped due to the market flux, this does not mean that the market for linguistics is on the decline completely. We have noticed that since the market crash, there has been a steady increase in job postings and last year we posted 730 announcements! This year, we expect this trend to continue on into the future.


Year Number of Job Postings DOW
1990 4 2633.66
1991 94 3168.83
1992 140 3301.11
1993 193 3754.09
1994 290 3834.44
1995 324 5117.12
1996 389 6448.27
1997 457 7908.25
1998 519 9181.43
1999 575 11497.12
2000 853 10787.99
2001 672 10021.57
2002 399 8341.63
2003 535 10453.92
2004 647 10783.01
2005 618 10717.5
2006 594 12463.15
2007 649 13264.82
2008 644 8776.39
2009 513 10428.05
2010 586 11577.51
2011 700 12217.56
2012 730 13104.14


Are you interesting in finding a job or a post-doc position? Check out our database of linguistic positions that have been submitted to us. You can filter not only by international locations, but also by languages and linguistic sub-fields.

Are you looking for funding for your studies? Take a look at our Support section. There we post opportunities for students to apply for funding for their education whether it is for undergraduate or PhD work.

Are you looking for an internship instead of a job? Take a look at our Internship section. Since we only announce internships that are directly relevant to the field of linguistics, you will be sure to find something that will be relevant to your studies.

Are you a company or university looking for linguists? You can post job announcements on our site that will be posted within 48 hours, though most of them are posted the same day. For information about posting a job announcement, please view our policies for posting.