Have you ever thought that the peculiarity of each cultural worldview is based on the language that we speak? Is it possible that as the descendants of nomadic people, whose means for survival was a horse, Kazakhs have wider lexicon to describe the horse and thorough understanding of this animal than other nations? Or do Eskimo people have more words to express qualities of snow just because they live in the longtime winter? Wouldn’t it be convenient to write our weak abilities off for a justification that it is not fully described in our language?
No wonder that this matter happened to be a hot subject of discussion in linguistics areas and is known as Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis as well as Linguistic Relativity, which says that the language we speak directly affects how we view the world. The term Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is not quite accurate as linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf never co-authored together, and it was Whorf, who further developed the hypothesis claiming that speakers of different languages have correspondingly different thoughts.
He started his controversial work on the Uto-Aztecan language Hopi and came to conclude that Hopi people viewed time differently from English speakers, which was a direct result of the nature of their language. Whorf stated that the Hopi language had no way to directly refer to the present, past or future – or to the passing of time at all. He also claimed that Eskimo Yupik people have an expanded vocabulary for different types of snow.
Whorf’s linguistic claims have been heavily criticized by many linguists. One of the criticizers, Geoffrey Pullum argued that any English-speaking skier has as many words for snow as Yupik speakers are claimed to have. According to him, the wide lexicon for snow is no more interesting and barely noteworthy to be headline news. Also, the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Linguistic Determinism, has been argued to be not only wrong, but also dangerous. As Whorf’s quote illustrates, it can easily produce stereotypes.