Forwarded: Sapir-Whorf on its head

Lief M. Hendrickson (hendrick@NOSC.MIL)
Sat, 31 Dec 1994 01:27:22 PST

> Ref: Dec 30 posting by Mike Lieber

>As far as standing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis on its head, what's
>so bad about that? A hypothesis like this one, without (to my
>knowledge) a shred of unambiguous evidence to confirm it, doesn't
>take on the status of a canon just because people keep referring
>to it. It's about time it got stood on its head, and Ruby is as
>welcome to do that as anyone else.
Is that what she was doing? What it looked like was a series of
individual short meaningless barbs with no clear reference who
they were directed against (except the headers- if we happened to
remember the connection). There didn't seem to be much substance
though maybe you've toned it down now.

>Indeed, the evidence in support of the notion that by changing
>language usage one can change the premises that underlie it is my
>stronger than anything to the contrary. The best examples of
>this that I know are Alcoholics Anonymous and Synanon ...
I think the big difference here is that AA did not insist that
the rest of the country change its language. By keeping the
meaning of certain expressions the same, avoidance of these
expressions led to avoidance of the accompanying behavior. It
would do no good for the rest of society to change meanings so
that the newly learned way of talking then meant participating in

>When feminists chose key terms in English that imply denigration
>of women in an attempt to substitute for them other terms that
>communicated equality, they did so with clear, hard-won
>precedents... It is amazing that the language usage strategy has
>worked as well as it has.
There are factors, in addition to language, that have contributed
to the changes in the role of women in our society. By the way
from a hidden-meaning-in-language point of view, I see the civil
rights movement has failed to change your language. The word
"denigration", has a primary meaning of "to speak of in a
damaging way". It comes from "to make black"- as in negro- which
is the base of the word. Not a nice association.