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Linguistic relativism

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'''Linguistic relativism''' refers to speculations about the influence of language upon thought, and especially about the varied influence of different languages upon thought. So-called "strong" forms of linguistic relativism are known as [[linguistic determinism]]: The [[Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis]] (or "Whorfianism") is the best known example, in so far as it proposes that perception and cognition is determined or constrained by characteristics that vary between languages. A "weak" interpretation of Whorfianism supposes that linguistic differences may influence performance (in the Chomskyan sense), but do not limit competence. The term '''linguistic relativism''' is sometimes used specifically to refer to this weak form, as opposed to strong Whorfianism or linguistic determinism.
Linguistic relativism is often contrasted with theories of [[universal grammar]] (UG), notably as elaborated by [[Noam Chomsky]]. UG emphasizes the role of evolution in developing a universal "mental grammar" as a capacity of the human species, which is said to serve as a foundation for all natural languages. The concept of universal grammar does not preclude the notion that language has a role in the formation of thought, but suggests that the common biological basis for the human capacity of language provides a "deep structure" (or "logical form") that is a much stronger determinant than differences in the "surface structure" (or "phonetic form") between languages.
 
[[John A. Lucy]] has proposed a three-level analysis:
 
# '''Semiotic relativity of thought''': "Whether having a code with a symbolic component (versus one confined to iconic-indexical elements) transforms thinking. This would distinguish the thinking of species that use such a code from that of species that do not.
# '''Structural relativity of thought''': Whether "different morphosyntactic configurations of meaning affect thinking about reality." This is the level of analysis that is generally described as '''linguistic relativism''', and distinguishes the thinking of speakers of different languages.
# '''Functional relativity of thought''': "Whether using language in a particular way (e.g. schooled) may influence thinking … whether discursive practices influence thinking." This level distinguishes the thinking of speakers in different contexts of language use.
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