Language in Society


Whorfianism of the third kind: Ethnolinguistic diversity as a worldwide societal asset (The Whorfian Hypothesis: Varieties of validation, confirmation, and disconfirmation II)*

Joshua A. Fishmana1

a1 Ferkauf Graduate School Yeshiva University


Two hypotheses associated with Benjamin Lee Whorf, W1, or the linguistic relativity hypothesis, and W2, or the linguistic determinism hypothesis, have overshadowed a third, W3, that champions ethnolinguistic diversity for the benefit of pan–human creativity, problem solving and mutual cross-cultural acceptance. With respect to W3, Whorf is a disciple of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) with whom he shares many themes and basic perspectives. It may be that different basic methodologies and philosophies of science, particularly those that distinguish linear, quantitative experimentalism from the reborn holistic and ethnographic stress on meaning, will ultimately make it just as difficult to conclude what has been empirically demonstrated with respect to W3 as it already is with respect to W1 and, particularly, W2. Nevertheless, W:3 has a valuable humanizing and sensitizing effect on the language-related disciplines. Indeed, in that respect it may well have value above and beyond its scientific validity. (Whorfian hypothesis, Johann Gottfried Herder, multilingualism/multiculturalism, methodology–theory relationships in the language sciences.)


* One of a series of invited papers commemorating a decade of Language in Society.

† This paper constituted my “Linguistic Society of America Professor” address at the meeting of The Linguistic Society of America, University of New Mexico, August 3, 1980, and was prepared under Grant G-00-79-01816 from the Research Section, International Studies Branch, Department of Education (“Language Resources of The United States Revisited”).