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Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

6 December 2009

There are two primary “horns” of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which relates cognition and linguistic ability.

Hard horn: We can understand nothing that our language cannot express. The limitations of our vocabulary and grammar restrict our ability to contemplate things beyond them.
Soft horn: The vocabulary and grammar of our language fundamentally shapes the way we understand the world. We are not limited in the scope of things we can consider by what we can express, but our expression does affect our understanding.

The hard horn has been nearly universally denied by linguists, most especially Noam Chomsky. However, the soft horn retains support from socio- and cognitive linguists in face of the Chomskyan school, which is little by little acknowledging learned language’s (rather than on universal linguistic ability) influence on cognition.

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